Google admits purposely blocking Windows Phone users from Maps

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It looks like Windows phone users did not have a peaceful weekend and the reason for their anguish was an ongoing rivalry between Google and Microsoft. On Friday, many Windows Phone users reported that while trying to access the Web-based version of Google Maps, they were being redirected to google.com on their phones.

Though initially, the search giant remained quiet about the problem, it later issued a statement to The Next Web offering an explanation.

"The mobile web version of Google Maps is optimised for WebKit browsers such as Chrome and Safari. However, since Internet Explorer is not a WebKit browser, Windows Phone devices are not able to access Google Maps for the mobile web."

This was followed by a statement from Microsoft falsifying Google's explanation. In its defence, Microsoft argued that the company uses the same rendering engine in the version of Internet Explorer used in Windows Phone 8 as the one in Windows 8.  The latter has no trouble accessing Google Maps.

However, people could use the desktop version of Google Maps just fine by changing the user agent on the Windows Phone simulator to something that doesn't say Windows Phone or identifies itself as Internet Explorer for Windows Phone. To be more specific, misspelling "Windows Phone" makes Google Maps work, which is interesting.

Now, in a fresh statement to Alex Wilheim of The Next Web, Google admits that it chose to block access to Maps from Windows phone for other reasons, mainly that it didn't think that Internet Explorer was good enough. It also mentioned that Mozilla's Firefox mobile browser "did offer a somewhat better user experience" and so the company chose not to redirect those users.

We periodically test Google Maps compatibility with mobile browsers to make sure we deliver the best experience for those users. In our last test, IE mobile still did not offer a good maps experience with no ability to pan or zoom and perform basic map functionality. As a result, we chose to continue to redirect IE mobile users to Google.com where they could at least make local searches. The Firefox mobile browser did offer a somewhat better user experience and that's why there is no redirect for those users. Recent improvements to IE mobile and Google Maps now deliver a better experience and we are currently working to remove the redirect. We will continue to test Google Maps compatibility with other mobile browsers to ensure the best possible experience for users.

What do the "recent improvements" include aren't really clear. Also, which version of IE Google is talking about. But many believe that the Firefox explanation doesn't' makes sense since it does not use Webkit and despite that Google Maps seemed to be working fine. What it has all come down to that Internet Explorer doesn't have any more charm left for users to care much about it. The fact that websites aren't paying attention to it says it all.

As far as the epic battle between Microsoft and Google is concerned, this is a continuation of Google's war on Microsoft. It recently announced plans to drop Exchange ActiveSync support for Gmail, which means Windows Phone users will not be able to use Gmail on their phones.

In more recent events, the software giant stepped up its criticism of Google on antitrust grounds, claiming the Internet giant refuses to allow Windows Phone users "proper access" to the YouTube video service.

A Google spokesperson argued saying, "Windows phone users can access all the features of YouTube... In fact, we've worked with Microsoft for several years to help build a great YouTube experience on Windows phones."

Google recently won a U.S. antitrust probe where the FTC unanimously concluded that there is not enough evidence to support complaints from rivals, including Microsoft that the company shows unfair bias in its search results toward its own products. But it still continues to face an investigation by the European Union.

Microsoft's Vice President & Deputy General Counsel, Dave Heiner was disappointed with the decision, which he highlighted in a blog post.

The FTC took steps today to address some of Google's improper business practices. We find it troubling that the agency did not adhere to its own standard procedures that call for the agency to obtain industry input on proposed relief and secure it through an enforceable consent decree. The FTC's overall resolution of this matter is weak and--frankly--unusual. We are concerned that the FTC may not have obtained adequate relief even on the few subjects that Google has agreed to address.

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