September 21, 2012

Off Track About That Apple Map App

There are a few things everyone should know about the Internet community:

  1. They’re really, really quick to point out faults
  2. Doubly so when these faults are linked to a successful company
  3. Tumblr accounts will almost always be created for no other reason than to give everyone an opportunity to broadcast these faults

Add in a heady dose of Smartphone rivalry, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for disaster.

Case in point, Apple’s new Maps app in iOS 6.

It surely doesn’t help that Apple, for reasons largely unbeknownst to the general public, pushed away their largest smartphone competitor to create their own version of maps. Now, in addition to a very buggy first version release, the conversation (as it often does) has grown to include a good, old-fashioned platform debate.

The normally yawn-worthy topic of Maps and mapping technology was a hot button issue earlier this year when news broke of Apple dumping Google for their maps data as they worked to create an app all their own.

This wasn’t really a surprise move, of course, as Apple had announced last year that they were hard at work to create this very app, complete with traffic data. Rumors of such an app had surfaced even before this announcement. The strained relationship between Apple and Google was showing, and whether or not this move came as an extension of this distress, many certainly saw the change in this way.

In the days before Apple’s June WWDC keynote wherein iOS 6 and subsequently, the new maps app, was revealed, Google hosted their own little event, touting their mapping and navigation options. They even announced a few features which would be Android-specific, a move which seemed to come from a very hurt place.

So, as millions rushed to download Apple’s latest iOS offerings and transform their phones and tablets into something a little more modern and cutting edge, many went immediately to Maps to see what all the hubbub was about. That’s when things went terribly wrong for Apple.

Tweets began to roll in about how landmarks and businesses were in the wrong location. iPhone users began to post pictures of unfortunate satellite images which looked as if they were pieced together by a Kindergartner on a sugar high. Beloved tech pundit Andy Ihnatko even posted a picture of Fenway Park, which just so happens to have been set up for a concert whenever Apple’s planes flew by for a picture. Roads were missing, roads were located in rivers, and some rivers seemed to appear out of thin air with no real beginning or end.

To be fair, some reviewers, namely Walt Mossberg, had called Apple out on their new Maps app in his review before iOS 6 became available to the angry masses.

“But the app is in other ways a step backward from the familiar Google app,” writes Mossberg.

“For instance, while Apple’s maps feature a 3-D “Flyover” view of some central cities, they lack Google’s very useful ground-level photographic street views. And they also lack public-transit routing. Apple will instead link you to third-party transit apps.”

This was only the beginning of Apple’s troubles. While many should have been more upset about the lack of transit routes— an incredibly important and useful feature— many reacted instead at how their towns were mislabeled, train stations lost, towers shrunk and brand new airports generated out of thin air.

As told by the Guardian, the entire city of London had been moved to Canada. Additionally, a search for Paddington Station in London takes you to Paddington Street, which is not very close to the station at all.

Dublin’s Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, even issued a statement about Apple’s new Maps, showing particular concern for a new airport which seems to have magically appeared in this digital representation of Dublin.

“I know on occasion mistakes can be made and I am surprised to discover that Airfield, which is in the center of my constituency in Dundrum, has, in Apple’s new operating system iOS 6 maps application, been designated with the image of an aircraft,” writes Shatter, pointing out that Airfield isn’t an airport, rather a 35-acre estate with a cafe, formal gardens and a real working farm.

When Maps and turn-by-turn navigation was first announced in June, those third-party developers who also write mapping apps for iOS likely became worried that their businesses could suffer. Waze, in particular, offered free turn-by-turn navigation long before Apple’s announcement. In the days after the WWDC keynote, Waze announced a new update which gave users the ability to find gas prices, gas stations and other stops along their route. Waze even partnered with some of these gas stations to give users a discount on fuel and other items inside the store.

Now that Maps is out in the open and has become the public laughing stock of the Internet, Waze’s CEO might not be so worried about the future of his business. In fact, he’s even on the offensive, speaking out against Apple’s Maps.

As it turns out, Apple uses data from both TomTom and Waze to compile their new apps. According to Noam Bardin, Waze’s CEO, Apple chose to use more of TomTom’s data instead of data from Waze, and that has made all the difference.

“What’s going to happen with the Apple maps, is that you’re literally not going to find things,” said Bardin, speaking with Business Insider.

“When you do find them, they might be in the wrong place or position geographically. And if you do have it, the route to it may not be the optimal route.”

Tim Cook, though often seen as not the strong visionary as his predecessor, isn’t a pushover. He’s not a man to let Apple fail in areas where they normally succeed. Whenever Apple has a misstep, they normally take a few days to formulate a response and get everyone on board. Many take these days of silence, however, to mean that Apple simply doesn’t care and only responds when the yelling begins to disrupt their REM cycles.

Therefore, it’s possible many may think Apple is going to be fine with telling people to wait for an update.

On the contrary.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Tim Cook is cracking skulls as we speak, giving a very similar speech to the one Jobs gave after MobileMe famously launched to very poor reviews.

This is a problem Apple needs to address and they need to address it quickly. (Apple released a statement late Thursday evening, which can be found below.) To be honest, the fact that Apple’s Maps is largely inaccurate is more a hit to their pride and their image than it is a potentially dangerous issue capable of bringing physical harm to their customers.

It just so happens, of course, that Apple closely protects their image and their pride. There are inaccuracies in every part of the world, but judging from the newly formed Tumblr entitled “The Amazing iOS 6 Maps,” most of these inaccuracies are in other countries. This makes Apple look even worse, as possibly the big American bully company who doesn’t care about the rest of the world.

I’ll say it again, Maps appears to be a terrible fail at present. It’s a huge bruise on the company which everyone assumes is struggling to keep up with Android. (They aren’t.)

To be fair, however, Google’s maps have their inaccuracies, as well. In judging some of the examples on the now viral Tumblr, I found the same misstep in Apple’s Maps in Google’s Maps. When searching for the Washington monument, Apple’s Maps places a red pin just shy of the actual monument, which stands proudly above. The caption to this image simply reads, “Close.”

This sort of behavior happens all the time in Google’s maps, and can be replicated with the same search of the Washington Monument. The red pin isn’t dropped right on top of the monument itself in Google’s maps, it’s just to the side.

Most of the photos posted on the Tumblr are just plain silly, however, an example that no matter how much we depend on computers, they’re still capable of making mistakes. For every advancement they’ve had, they’ve yet to achieve the flawlessness we expect of them.

The fact that this app is nowhere near Apple’s usual high standards is well documented.


There seems to be a similarity between the Siri fiasco last year when the virtual assistant pointed users looking for abortions to Crisis Pregnancy Locations— or clinics that don’t perform abortions— instead. Many had assumed Apple was taking a political stand when their assistant started mouthing off.

It shouldn’t be overlooked that this is the second year in a row wherein a new, touted Apple feature hasn’t lived up to the hype. This is unfortunate and something that should be rectified soon. On the other hand, the fact that Apple misspelled the name of your city and removed a famous landmark or river does not mean that Apple feels your area isn’t worth seeing. They’re taking pictures of the entire developed world. There’s bound to be some screw ups.

Clearly, there are more screw ups than there should be, but the real trouble comes when personal feelings become involved and cities and towns begin to feel slighted.

Furthermore, a few goofy pictures of melted roads and the entire Eastern portion of Portland designated as a park isn’t the issue users should be upset with. Apple’s real failure here is the lack of transit routes and their complete silence on the matter. They couldn’t have thrown in a disclaimer such as, “Oh, and by the way…we don’t have transit routes yet, but trust us, they’re coming…” when they announced Maps, but it should be something they address very soon, and I predict they will. As for the glitchy images home and abroad, this is more an embarrassment for Apple, and I suspect those who are reveling in this misstep are the same types of people who would celebrate the moment a famous supermodel passes wind on the runway.

Apple needs to address the transit issue, and soon. The screwy images? That’s just a black eye for the World’s Most Valuable Company, and not a cause to completely dismiss an incredible mobile OS or positively-reviewed iPhone 5.

Update: Apple released a statement to John Paczkowski late Thursday evening. While they didn’t claim any missteps, they did ask for patience as they are “just getting started.” Apple spokeswoman Trudy Miller also repeated that the new maps  live in the cloud and, therefore, will get better the more people use it.

“Customers around the world are upgrading to iOS 6 with over 200 new features including Apple Maps, our first map service,” said Miller, according to All Things D.

“We launched this new map service knowing it is a major initiative and that we are just getting started with it. Maps is a cloud-based solution and the more people use it, the better it will get. We appreciate all of the customer feedback and are working hard to make the customer experience even better.”

Image Credit: Apple

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