Chinese iPhone 4’s Maps Are Censored and Hobbled

Stefan Geens has discovered that the Maps app on the Chinese version of the iPhone 4 shows the Chinese-censored version of Google Maps (e.g., with the “official” national boundaries approved by the Chinese government), whether or not the phone is being used in China. Stefan discovered this when he bought an unlocked iPhone 4 in China to upgrade from his existing iPhone 3GS:

On my 3GS, I knew exactly how the Maps app worked: If I went online in China without a VPN, the Google Maps dataset was an English-language version that nevertheless had borders which complied with Chinese law (i.e. they show Arunachal Pradesh as being Chinese). As soon as I turned on my VPN to tunnel into San Francisco, the refreshed base map automatically showed the proper international version, the one which the rest of the world gets to see. […]
But my new Chinese iPhone 4 does things differently, even though ostensibly it is meant to be running exactly the same software as my old phone. The Maps app always shows China’s borders as the Chinese government would have them — regardless of whether I use my VPN or not. If I take this phone to the U.S. or Europe, it will still show the same crippled, semi-fictional base map. And there is no way that I can change it.

Less-ominous but equally crippling quirks include Chinese placenames outside China, Canadian street names in Chinese-only, and no street names at all in other countries. Stefan is using the mobile web version of Google Maps as a workaround.