Can't access Google Maps on your Windows Phone? Blame Microsoft

If Internet Explorer supported WebKit, Windows Phone users would have no trouble getting at Google Maps

Microsoft's complaint that Google is hoarding its YouTube metadata has fueled a new conspiracy theory: The search giant has pulled levers to prevent Windows Phones from accessing Google Maps. In reality, this phenomenon likely has little if anything to do with chicanery on Google's part and everything to do with Microsoft's reluctance to support the WebKit browser framework.

First, the background: A post on the WMPoweruser site popped up on Reddit titled "Now Google is blocking Windows Phones from accessing maps.google.com." In it, the poster states, "Google has already said they will not be making apps for Windows Phone and Windows 8, but now they have taking things a step further by blocking Windows Phones from accessing maps.google.com. If you try you are automatically redirected to Google's mobile search page."

Indeed, in attempting to access maps.google.com on a Nokia Lumia 900, I was redirected to www.google.com/m, Google's mobile site home page. One commenter said that he had the same experience when attempting to access Google Maps via Symbian and Opera.

This is all perfect fodder for a conspiracy theory in the wake of Google's deal with the FTC, one that paints Google as an evil hoarder of data that is using unsavory tactics to quash Microsoft's mobile ambitions while sending a message to anyone else who dares challenge its search supremacy. But there's an important point to ponder: Google optimized its mobile Maps site for WebKit, a browser engine based on WTC and IEC standards meant to promote a modern, open browser environment. Safari and Chrome, for example, are built on WebKit; Internet Explorer is built on Trident.

Microsoft has resisted supporting WebKit for some time. Back in 2009, Google went so far as to develop a Chrome Frame plug-in for Internet Explorer that enabled the browser to use the WebKit rendering engine. Last April, Microsoft told .Net that it would not join Opera and Mozilla in supporting WebKit prefixes.

As to today's revelation, a Google spokesperson told InfoWorld that the company hasn't made any changes to suddenly cut off Windows Phone access to Google Maps. Curiously, "Google Maps was previously accessible to some degree on Windows Phone. For many, that's no longer the case," according to The Verge.

InfoWorld Contributing Editor Peter Wayner, who has an extensive background in application development, said, "It's rare for these differences to be true impediments. Most of the browser differences have been abstracted by the creation of libraries like jQuery. I'm guessing Google could smooth over the differences with a layer like that."

He added that it's difficult to know for certain without specific information as to which API calls are in WebKit but not in IE: "If you can get the method/procedure calls, programmers will be able to decide for themselves."

This story, "Can't access Google Maps on your Windows Phone? Blame Microsoft," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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