Just the other day, Bloomberg reported yet another staffing change at Apple. Seems that Richard Williamson, who supervised the mapping program at Apple, and had worked with the company since the days of NeXT, has recently been shown the door. If true, it would represent even more evidence that Senior Vice President Eddy Cue is working extremely hard to clear up the leadership problems that might have impaired development of Maps for iOS 6. As most of you know, the flawed mapping service, designed by Apple to replace Google Maps, had a very shaky debut.
Despite being represented as an innovative approach to a mapping service by Scott Forstall at the WWDC last June, the promise and the reality were very different. From almost the first day, disappointed iPhone and iPad users reported amazingly stupid flaws in Maps, from visions of melting bridges, to incorrect location displays and, at times, wrong directions when you used the turn-by-turn navigation feature.
Now it’s not as if Google Maps is necessarily perfect. I’ve seen some real foolish mistakes, such as the time when Google underestimated the location of a nearby health food store by more than two miles. But Google’s imperfections were not as glaring as those in Apple’s Maps.
Now if Apple simply called it a public beta, some of the lapses might be forgiven. Holding off release for six months might have had a greater effect, assuming the time was used productively to iron out as many of the serious bugs as possible.
Indeed, Maps is perhaps the worst possible program to yield flaws. All it takes is a screenshot of a serious display or navigation flaw to drive the point home, and when those screenshots pollute the online world, you can see where Apple got real bad publicity early on. Yes, CEO Tim Cook apologized, and it may well be that Forstall’s alleged refusal to add his signature to that document may be one of the reasons why he was relieved of his post as iOS chief. Forget about his supposed abrasive personality. If he did the right thing, or made sure Maps wasn’t so seriously flawed on the day of release, he’d still be iOS chief despite the personality quirks.
The Maps debacle came at a bad time, though it doesn’t seem to have hurt iPhone or iPad sales. But Apple is engaged in a battle royal with Google over mobile platforms, and being second best by a huge margin must have stung. Now according to Bloomberg, in addition to Williamson’s discharge, Cue plans to install a new leadership team for the mapping group, and is supposedly working hard to fix the most serious mapping flaws, particularly the visual and location mistakes, and fine tune the entire service as quickly as possible.
Based on my recent tests, and some published reports, it does appear that Maps has become more reliable, though it still manages to confuse left turns and U-turns when I attempt to navigate to some nearby restaurants here in Arizona. But it’s hard to expect that Apple can, in the space of months, match what Google has done over the years to make its mapping service fairly reliable — and there are still significant flaws here and there. If Apple can deliver a product that provides near-parity in a short time, it will be a miracle, the result of extreme good luck, and no doubt evidence of a crack management and development team that can do the impossible. In this case, the management shakeup will have had a positive result.
Besides, there’s no reason to feel sorry for Forstall and Williamson and other Apple employees who are being discharged. Most likely, they have healthy golden parachutes that will keep them in the 1% bracket for the rest of their lives.
Over at Microsoft, the departure of Windows chief Steve Sinofsky may be due to several factors, and the perceived misfire of Windows 8 may be just one. Some say it was all his abrasive personality, although he maybe just wanted to get a life. He may have also been a serious rival to Steve Ballmer for the CEO spot.
But Microsoft is also reporting that some 40 million Windows 8 upgrades were sold the first few weeks, which seems pretty decent number except when you consider the price was far less than previous versions of Windows. Maybe Microsoft lowered the price (until January 31, 2013) to compete with Apple and cheap OS X upgrades, or maybe it was a fire sale designed to speed up the rate of early upgrades before people woke up and saw what a train wreck Windows 8 really is.
Sinofsky was replaced by Julie Larson-Green, lead programmer for Windows 7 and Windows 8, which doesn’t appear to signify any serious policy changes. That is unless she would have taken a totally different direction had she been at the helm. But it really looks like more of the same at Microsoft, and things probably aren’t going to change unless Windows 8 at the end of the day is a huge failure after the early uptake. Even then, it may require getting a new CEO and replacing other members of the management team to alter Microsoft’s obsessive belief that it’s Windows everywhere now and forever.
In short, I don’t expect to see much of a difference after the corporate musical chairs at Microsoft, but it seems clear that Apple’s reorganized executive team are working hard to make the changes necessary to set things right.