Google on Thursday released a version of its Latitude mobile application for the iPhone. But Apple, curiously, has decreed that it be a Web-based app and not a native iPhone app, which has raised some eyebrows.
In announcing Latitude for iPhone, a Google blog post noted that the application works much the same way as on other platforms like Android, Symbian, Blackberry, and Windows Mobile. It allows you to show your location on a map so that friends may find you.
The big exception for the iPhone version is that you have to use the service in the Safari Web browser. As for why, Google put it this way: "We worked closely with Apple to bring Latitude to the iPhone in a way Apple thought would be best for iPhone users. After we developed a Latitude application for the iPhone, Apple requested we release Latitude as a Web application in order to avoid confusion with Maps on the iPhone, which uses Google to serve maps tiles."
"The way Apple thought would be best for iPhone users" isn't a new concept: The company has tightly controlled what kind of applications are allowed access to the App Store--albeit sometimes without clear policy. But Apple telling Google what to do? Now that's interesting. The companies have a history together, such as when Google was allowed access to unpublished iPhone APIs for its Mobile app. And of course, Google CEO Eric Schmidt is on Apple's board of directors.
Apple's reason given for why the iPhone version of the Latitude is crippled is, as Google notes, that Apple was afraid people would get confused between a Google Maps app and a Google Latitude app. How? And why isn't Apple worried about this in other areas? For example, a brief search of the App Store reveals approximately 13 To-Do List applications and 30 streaming music apps. There doesn't seem to be concern about customer confusion for those two categories of apps. But there shouldn't be, since most people will just figure it out.
So from where exactly does this concern come? Perhaps Apple has a similar feature coming for the iPhone that it doesn't want competition for. If not, the solution appears simple: Why not just make Latitude a feature of Google Maps instead of a separate app? Clearly, there are a lot of unanswered questions.
There's also good news for Google here. It's a company that loves the Web and wants everyone to be on it. So Apple forcing the company to make a Web-based version of its own application is perhaps not exactly a punishment. Plus, it pushes Google to improve the overall experience of Web apps, the mobile browser experience, and HTML.