Apple’s new Maps app and service in iOS 6 is clearly a work in progress, and some would argue I’m being too generous even with that. Considering the circumstances, there may have been no other way. But there is a way we can help.
As the story goes (since neither company will officially comment), Apple and Google don’t get along well, so Apple removed Maps and YouTube from iOS and created its own replacement for the one deemed most critical to the purpose of owning a smartphone.
Remember, though, that Apple’s contracts for those two services expired this year. Again, neither company will comment, and while Google got a YouTube iPhone app in the store a little while ago (with an iPad update supposedly on the way), a separate Google Maps app is missing-in-action as of this writing.
Apple Maps is powered by TomTom and a number of other smaller providers, and there are plenty of inaccuracies to be found, from simple pins being out of place all the way up to massive chunks of areas being missing or significantly misrepresented. In fact, right on cue, there’s a new Tumblr to document users’s misadventures with the service.
It’s a pain in the butt for some, a serious problem for others (though I question anyone depending on free consumer services for anything mission critical). Like many of you, I sure am glad Google makes a decent mobile version of maps.google.com, especially since I use public transit (one of the things Apple’s Maps cover yet) a fair amount in Chicago. But what if there was no other way for Apple to go with Maps?
Think about what the consumer map market really look like right now. I’m talking broadly available and capable services that work reasonably well around the world. I think it’s just Google, Microsoft, and… Nokia? Yahoo Maps is powered by Nokia now, and Facebook maps is Bing. I believe Garmin and TomTom are the only other two broadly avaialble services that make their own maps, and their businesses have been rocked pretty hard by the rise of map-enabled smartphones. So unless I’m missing something, that’s just five companies.
I’ve never had a need for stand-alone GPS devices, but I do remember a time when Google Maps had its own fair share of inaccuracies and missing or incomplete data. I remember when it also didn’t have transit or biking directions, even in a desktop browser. I also remember the countless times, including just last week, that Google Maps provided significantly incorrect driving directions, and I live in the third largest city in the US.
I’m not trying to give Apple a pass, but I am trying to offer perspective. Mapping is immensely difficult, and like Final Cut Pro X, Apple is starting over, not quite from “square one,” but close enough. We’re talking about a data set with a size and complexity that would probably give you an aneurysm. What’s worse, this isn’t a contained app or service like an audio editor or task manager; the majority of the work has to be done while the product is live in the wild.
Maybe Apple should have started building its Google Maps replacement sooner. Maybe Apple and Google shouldn’t be involved in such an arguably petty spat. Maybe TomTom’s data wasn’t the right choice. We can talk about a lot of this stuff till we’re blue in the face, but it probably won’t help anyone very much.
Do you want Apple Maps to get better? Then do what a lot of people did, and still do, for Google Maps—lend a hand to improve results. Use the Report a Problem button as often as you find reason to. You can find it at the bottom of the details view for any location, even if you just tap-hold to drop a pin. That way, we help fix the problem and improve the service for everyone.
Update: Apple has officially commented to some website on the situation, basically stating the same thing I did. Spokeswoman Trudy Miller:
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.