Apple is under a lot of fire regarding their new Maps application that is built into iOS 6. Starting with iOS 6 Apple ditched Google’s map service in favor of their own in-house service. On the surface, what Apple is offering seems very cool: fast vector based maps, 3D views, and turn-by-turn directions. However, it seems like the technology isn’t holding up its end of the bargain so far. Let’s take a look.
First off, there are some really weird 3D image mapping problems. The most prominent example that is making the rounds on the internet is that of the Brooklyn bridge. Instead of explaining what it looks like, I’ll just show you a screen capture I took of the problem:
Looks a lot like a bridge doesn’t it?
Next up, as reported by the BBC News, some places are being mapped in the wrong location, others just aren’t showing up, while others are being mislabeled. It seems that this issue is most prevalent overseas, specifically in the UK and Ireland. For instance, Dublin’s Airfield Park is being labeled as an actual Airport, which it is not. As more people explore the maps in iOS 6, it could be found that this a an anomaly or it could be a widespread problem. I’m betting the latter.
On a more political note, since Apple dropped Google Maps from iOS 6, Google has reportedly submitted their own Google Maps application to the App Store, which is in the approval process. This seems to have been an app that Google has been working on for years, but is just now submitting for approval due to the release of iOS 6.
Tying all of this drama together, Apple released a statement to AllThingD regarding the public outcry regarding Maps. Here is Apple’s statement:
“Customers around the world are upgrading to iOS 6 with over 200 new features including Apple Maps, our first map service,” said spokeswoman Trudy Miller. “We are excited to offer this service with innovative new features like Flyover, turn by turn navigation, and Siri integration. 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.”
The AllThingsD piece also notes that the team in charge of Apple’s new Maps app is “under lockdown” working on a fix.
I am not rushing to Apple’s defense here. I hope to merely point out the obvious. Google has done a wonderful job of running a mapping service for seven years now. I can’t remember what Google Maps was like when it launched, but I would guess that the service wasn’t as polished as it is today when it was first introduced. I believe the same applies here- Apple’s new Maps app is going to seem rough, because it is new, and because it is being compared to a service that has been around for the better part of a decade.
Remember, up until Wednesday Apple used Google’s more experienced service to power the backend of their Maps app (and they still do in iOS 5 and older). This means a comparison is formed between what Maps used to be and what it is today even though the Maps app is now based on two totally different backend technologies. The average end user doesn’t know, and isn’t expected to know, about this backend change. All they know is that Maps are kinda weird now.
This puts Apple in a pinch. They have to improve upon their offering in a hurry or run the risk of looking like they’ve lost their magic (whether that be true or not). Plus, Google is trying to submit their own Maps app on the App Store as a competitor to Apple’s new Maps. If Apple turns Google’s app down, it looks in poor taste, and Apple could face anti-competitive accusations.*
Lastly, I have a question I will pose to you, the reader: Would this be as big of a story if something like this had happened to another tech company? Because this is Apple we’re dealing with, the headlines surrounding this story seem to suggest that the company is without hope now and that they’ve lost their luster and don’t know what they’re doing. If Microsoft, Google, Samsung, or another tech giant had made a similar move, with similar results, would it be treated by the media as an issue that could bring down the company’s image? I don’t think it would, but reasonable people can disagree.
In short, I think this is a matter of refinement, and not what we should expect as the new standard from the new Maps app. Apple has just launched the new service and that should be taken into account when using it. Then again, they had been working on it for years; even acquiring mapping companies. One would think that a company as powerful as Apple currently is, could have worked a few more of the bugs out before launch. Alas, I’m not a developer.
What are your thoughts regarding the new Maps app built into iOS 6? Love it? Hate it? Experiencing issues? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
*I’m not an expert on anti-trust law, but if Apple were to keep the Google Maps app out of the App Store, it could raise some flags.
[UPDATE] To keep an eye on how bad these maps are at the moment, here is a Tumblr blog tracking some of the inaccuracies in the new Maps app.