The “Maps” application on my iPhone used to work great. It pulled up the number of a nearby joint so fast I never bothered to save those numbers to my contacts list.

Then, about a month back, something annoying happened. I’d search for a local joint – say Gino’s East, to order pizza – and my normal search result appeared different.

Before

After

While I noticed a difference – my restaurant listing is now a “sponsored link” – I didn’t think much of it. Then the call was answered by GrubHub and not Gino’s East. I hung up.

After further inspection, I discovered my around-the-corner pizzeria is now the unassuming red pin next to the big glaring advertisement.

The math here is pretty obvious – had I completed the call. GrubHub takes a cut from my Pizzeria. Google takes ad dollars from GrubHub. Apple, I’m sure, gets some form of compensation.

Now, let’s talk unintended consequences.

What happens if I succumb to mobile advertising Nirvana and click the default GrubHub ad on every search? I was going to order takeout from my Pizzeria anyway. Similarly, I was going to make a reservation at La Gondola on Saturday regardless of a GrubHub ad. The upshot here is that either my local restaurant takes less profit or raises its prices – one of us ultimately pays for it.

Conversely, what happens if I evade the GrubHub ad? I can – and do – click around the ad to ring my local joint directly. It’s only one extra tap. But it’s a precise tap – while cradling a baby, while walking down the sidewalk, while hanging for dear life inside a CTA train.

Perhaps the precedent is more important. I consider “Maps” an application that I paid for when I bought my iPhone. It came preinstalled. I couldn’t remove it if I wanted to. And the phone certainly wasn’t free.

It’s only one extra tap, but this is the first time I’ve been annoyed by – or ever seen – an ad in a preinstalled application on ANY phone I’ve owned. And this isn’t just any advertising. This advertising affects how I use the phone. Personally, I will pay to avoid being assaulted by advertising. That’s one reason I don’t have an Android phone. That’s the major reason I’m selective about my use of Google.

What’s the upshot?

For me, I see a behavior change. One by one, I’ll add local shops and restaurants to my contact list. Hopefully it’ll take Google a couple more years to find its way there.

For mobile usability, this is a loss, as the extra ad dollar is clearly more important than the paying customer – even on an iPhone.

For my local joints, it’s one more national player trying to take a bite out of their pie. That’s also bad for me.

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