Garmin's Year of User Revolt Over Switch to Bing Maps

Adam DuVander
Dec. 05 2011, 12:00AM EST

A year ago users of Garmin's sport tracking devices logged into its Garmin Connect site to find a seemingly minor change. Instead of embedding Google Maps, the GPS manufacturer had switched to Microsoft's Bing Maps. According to the 38 pages of comments in Garmin's forums, this was in actuality a major change. A year later, Garmin responded in October by giving users the option of Bing or Google.

Users of Garmin Connect are outdoor enthusiasts. They often go to remote places and track hikes, runs and rides. Garmin did not seem to understand that these users made extended use of terrain view in Google Maps, something not available in Bing Maps. Also, users in rural areas found Bing's aerial views lacking detail. Others just didn't like the way it looks:

Garmin, I've been extolling the virtues of Garmin Connect to every runner I meet - simple to use, very intuitive, and beautiful to look at. This afternoon, after seeing the new Bing maps, I may have to stop spreading the Garmin Connect love. The Bing Maps text is difficult to read, and the graphics look terrible. A drastic step backwards for Garmin Connect.

The forum posts go on and on. It appears non-U.S. coverage is the biggest complaint after terrain view. Some enterprising Garmin users even created Greasemonkey scripts and other tools to convert the Bing Maps back to Google Maps.

Runners World forums show more support for Bing, but likely because the users are in the United States. One user highlighted some of Bing's issues:

Where I live Bing has almost no mapping, and the maps that are available look like they were drawn by a 2 year old. None of the roads that I run on are shown, and the run I did around the waterfront last night looks more like an ocean swim because the Bing shoreline is wrong by more than 200m.

Google MapsNow a year later, Garmin acted. Users may now select which of the two providers to use. It's a bit of a cop-out fix, likely due to the positive things some users said about Bing. Or, perhaps it is based on an agreement with Microsoft, as many forum posters wondered.

Most likely, Garmin is now paying twice for its mistake. Both Google and Microsoft have enterprise versions and Garmin is likely not eligible to use the free versions. Something as simple as switching from one map to another caused an uproar that lasted an entire year. Regular users may not necessarily understand APIs, but they do understand when the apps they count on change drastically. And apparently, they know at whom to point their fingers.

Screenshot from cycKick.

Adam DuVander -- Adam heads developer relations at Orchestrate, a database-as-a-service company. He's spent many years analyzing APIs and developer tools. Previously he worked at SendGrid, edited ProgrammableWeb and wrote for Wired and Webmonkey. Adam is also the author of mapping API cookbook Map Scripting 101.

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