While re-reading my previous post on an iPad today, I discovered some odd behavior on the iPad’s Maps app: When zooming in on satellite imagery of South Korea, the app prevents close zooms in the same manner as Google’s maps.google.co.kr, even though the app serves Google’s reference content from maps.google.com. This constraint does not exist when accessing maps.google.com via Safari for iPad, the new Chrome for iPad or Google Earth for iPad, which leads me to conclude that Apple has decided to hobble its Maps app globally when it comes to viewing satellite imagery of South Korea. I suspect this is because Apple sells iPads in South Korea with the Maps app included, turning it into a purveyor of South Korean maps, and thus responsible for compliance with the South Korean laws mentioned in the previous post.
Specifically, the area in which close zooming is prevented is a rectangular box between 125º and 130º East longitude, 34º and 38º45′ North latitude (not 39º, as that would bisect Pyongyang, which would presumably have made people wonder what’s going on.) Here it is embedded on Google Maps:
View Apple iPad Maps app zoom restriction for South Korea in a larger map
Surprisingly, this bounding box does not actually cleanly encompass South Korea. The large South Korean island of Jeju lies completely outside this perimeter, as well as some other small islands hugging South Korea’s southern coastline. (Does this mean Apple is still in technical breach of the relevant South Korean law?) Meanwhile, the large Japanese island of Tsushima lies completely inside the perimeter, and is thus censored in equal measure as the rest of South Korea. (maps.google.co.kr accurately censors Jeju but not Tsushima.)
Apple’s action contrasts with Google’s because Apple has let its compliance with a local law “bleed” into its global product — my iPad bought in Sweden. It is also in contrast to previous Apple actions, which saw it offer a special non-GPS iPhone in Egypt, a special non-wifi iPhone in China, and a special hard-wired mapping solution that only allowed maps.google.cn content to display on iPhones sold in China. Perhaps South Korea is not large enough a market to qualify for its own specially hobbled product; or perhaps Apple has changed its approach, and is now more willing to apply local censorship demands globally. It will be very interesting to track Apple’s responses to the censorship demands Google has faced down when its mapping service goes live in iOS 6.