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Chinese iPhone 4 Comes with Crippled Maps App

Chinese Google Maps altered
(Images courtesy of Ogle Earth)

By all accounts, the iPhone 4 launch in China last weekend was an unqualified success — but there appears to be at least one element of the new device that is disturbingly crippled.

Ogle Earth is reporting that a new iPhone 4 officially purchased in China comes with “an aggravating quirk” in the Maps app: It appears to be hard-wired to Google Maps’ censored data for the Chinese government, with an altered version of the country’s borders.

As you can see in the screen capture above, the “quirk” means that the Chinese government can essentially claim disputed territory as their own — in this case the Arunachal Pradesh region which is currently under dispute by China and neighboring India (as seen in the second image below). Despite the fact that the region is presently administered by India, on the Chinese version of Google Maps, it’s clearly part of China.

Chinese Google Maps unalteredIt turns out that the same quirk existed with the previous iPhone 3GS, where Google Maps has a censored dataset for the Chinese government. However, one could get around that problem by going online with a VPN, which then show the correct map and properly displayed Arunachal Pradesh as a disputed region.

So how is the new Chinese iPhone 4 different? Apparently Google Maps is now hardwired to the device somehow, meaning the censored map data appears whether you’re using a VPN or not.

The real question now is, did Apple voluntarily allow the Chinese government to cripple its Maps app in order to appease the powers that be? It wouldn’t be the first time Cupertino has had to do so — as Ogle Earth notes, the original iPhone in Egypt had the GPS receiver removed entirely to comply with a local ban, and most everyone knows that the first Chinese iPhone 3GS was released without Wi-Fi to get around restrictions there.

Turns out that there is a way around the crippled Maps issue: “I’ve now buried the Maps app in an obscure folder, and instead replaced the icon with a direct link to maps.google.com, whose mobile-enabled mapping template is just great,” Ogle Earth writes. “Compared with Apple’s app, it serves up a reality-based map in China even without VPN, has much better search (with suggestions) and content such as Wikipedia and Panoramio photos. (Directions are lacking the mobile version, though.)”

Ogle Earth also suggests using Google Earth, “which looks simply awesome on the iPhone 4’s screen.”

Follow this article’s author, J.R. Bookwalter on Twitter

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