The freakout over Apple’s first Maps program has certainly created lots of headlines. The current meme: iOS 6 is good, but Maps — Mapgate if you will — is bad. Searches are questionable, directions may be wrong, and destinations and landmarks may be incorrectly labeled or misplaced by hundreds or thousands of miles. So why didn’t Apple just stick with Google and let them keep the user traffic?
Well, there’s a published report that has it that Apple tried, without success, to convince Google to add turn-by-turn navigation to the iOS version of Maps. This is a key differentiator, since that feature was already available to users of Android smartphones. It’s not that there weren’t third-party options, but it’s also quite possible Apple was losing business to Android partners because of this missing feature.
Apple’s decision reportedly came even though the Google contract had a year left. But I can’t for the moment believe that Apple was unaware of the problems with their own version of Maps. There’s a lot of good in the interface and feature set, but all those glitches! Had they existed in Google Maps, which does have its own share of shortcomings, though possibly not as many, I wonder how much media coverage it would have received. My experience with mapping services is that they are all imperfect to some degree. Consider getting turn-by-turn directions for a trip from my home to the Ballys casino/hotel in Las Vegas. Maps for iOS 6 came up with what was essentially a route I would have taken. Google Maps devised one that differed slightly for the last few miles, taking you to something called Donn Arden’s Jubilee, a show currently featured at Ballys. All right, it’s the same address, but a glitch is a glitch, and this one is Google’s fault.
On the other hand, Apple needs to hunker down and fix the most serious bugs as soon as possible, particularly the ones that are getting media attention. There is certainly a fairly simple way to report a problem in Maps. Tap the flap at the bottom right of the screen, and tap Report a Problem. You’ll be given options as to the category in which the bug report fits, and you’ll be able to report the issue you’re confronting in short order. It won’t go into a black hole, because crowdsourcing is essential to improving the service’s accuracy. But I couldn’t say how long it’ll take to get from problem report to the final resolution. Other than publicity, problems with the higher number of reports will obviously be handled first.
It’s also fairly obvious that iOS 6 is getting lower customer satisfaction scores. That over 100 million of you installed the update within days means that even relatively minor problems will get plenty of attention. But it’s also true that’s 100 million fewer users of Google’s mapping service, which has to hurt. They are even now reportedly trying to combine the code base of the mapping service and Google Earth, so they can quickly deliver a credible Web version in a few weeks.
By then, however, it’s very possible Apple will have fixed some of the more critical glitches with Maps. If anyone doubts Apple’s commitment make Maps world class, consider these statements from Tim Cook’s apology to customers: “Everything we do at Apple is aimed at making our products the best in the world. We know that you expect that from us, and we will keep working non-stop until Maps lives up to the same incredibly high standard.”
In a curious development for a publication that is no friend of Apple, Consumer Reports tested Maps for iOS 6 and Google Maps, reaching this conclusion: “Both the free Apple and Google navigation apps provide clear routing directions. Apple feels like a less-mature product. But as seen with the initial competing applications for the iPhone, we would expect updates to this new app over time–and Apple has promised as much. When getting down to the nitty gritty, Google provides a better overall package, but we feel that both provide a good solution for standard software. We expect the competition between the companies will benefit customers with ongoing improvements.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time Apple has been dinged on a perceived shortcoming on an iPhone or the iOS. Do you remember the flap over the lack of Flash support? The competition jumped in and claimed that you couldn’t experience the full web on an iPhone or an iPad, because Flash was essential. Of course they neglected to tell you that the mobile versions of Flash were tremendously buggy, and that Web developers would have to make a lot of fixes to allow for touch navigation on many sites.
Now you might have forgotten some of the mobile Flash reviews on Android gear, but it was punctuated with complaints about slow performance and frequent crashes. Adobe cried crocodile tears about how Apple had betrayed them to advance their own agenda, but that agenda meant emphasizing an open Internet, with support for HTML5 rather than a buggy proprietary standard.
I recall my challenges to Adobe, that they demonstrate a version of Flash that worked reliably on the iPhone or iPad. I never saw a response, but I have to tell you that it has been decidedly more difficult to get review product from Adobe since I wrote those highly critical articles.
In any case, it was quickly demonstrated that Steve Jobs was right all along about Flash. Adobe has discontinued the mobile version, and is busy making their Web development tools work even better with industry standards. They aren’t going to ditch Flash anytime soon, and it’s certainly not easy for Web developers to switch because Flash is so entrenched on the Internet. In a few years, as older browsers that don’t fully support HTML5 are upgraded, the need for Flash will lessen. Web developers already have to confront the fact that there are 400 million iOS devices out there that will never run Flash, and that’s a great incentive to change things now.
As to Maps, I expect that, in another two or three months, as the complaints die down, you won’t hear so much about Apple’s problems, or whether they were too quick to get rid of Google. Yes, I suppose Google might have a full-fledged iOS mapping app by then, but it may just be too late to make that much of a difference.