About Apple’s Services

May 29th, 2013

So from the lame pundit school of commentary comes a report claiming that Apple is essentially toast if cloud-based services aren’t fixed real fast. Google is cited as the industry standard, and Apple supposedly has nothing more than a few data centers, and loads of problems. Do you remember Mapgate?

When I read articles of this sort, I sometimes think the writer is living in an alternate reality where down is up and left or right are nowhere to be found. But repeating old news, or disproven claims, is par for the course. Once a story gains traction, it can take on a life of its own.

So consider Maps for iOS 6. When it was first released, there were serious problems, particularly with the 3D Flyover feature. Some locales were improperly rendered, even at times melting. Don’t ask what the Statue of Liberty looked like, and directions were sometimes dead wrong. Perhaps Apple should have faced reality and labeled the thing a beta, which would have deflected some of the worst criticisms. But Tim Cook did apologize for Apple’s missteps, and published reports indicate that Maps has continued to improve. If the service was crafted in stone, unchanged, there would be a problem, but it seems that the people who make the most severe complaints just haven’t bothered to look.

Google, supposedly the standard-bearer, labels its navigation feature a “beta,” with all sorts of terms and conditions that state they aren’t responsible if you get lost. And you can, since Google’s mapping feature, even though it was clearly better than Apple’s as of last fall, could get you lost too. I recall one instance where I wanted directions to a nearby health food store, and Google left me two miles short. At least they got the street correct. Their new 3D service delivers images that are no better than Apple’s last year. But it’s all beta, so you have to expect mistakes. Don’t think it’s beta? Maybe you tapped past the warning notice, and didn’t actually read it. But I did, and it was troubling, to put it mildly.

In passing, let me remind you that some tech writers did a brief mapping comparison in the San Francisco area that included Google and Apple some weeks back. Apple won, but that fact hasn’t received much publicity. Why?

Now the article in question also complains that iTunes isn’t all that great. Well, maybe, but it is still the online music, video and app store by which others are judged. Google gets positives for introducing the Google Play All Access music service, as if Apple is doing wrong in not introducing yet another music subscription/online radio offering. Is Google’s better than Pandora or Spotify? Music subscription services have come and gone, and the jury is still out whether Apple will enter that business. The article doesn’t mention that Google tried the set top box game with Google TV and failed big time.

Google is praised for their online productivity apps, but Apple’s Pages, Keynote, and Numbers, part of the iWork suite, are regarded as “mostly ignored.” Maybe in the curiously twisted mind of the writer in question, but, last I checked, Pages was in the Top 12 among iPad apps, and Keynote and Numbers were in the Top 40. And that’s for all apps, not just those used for productivity. Unfortunately, some commentators simply won’t let facts get in the way.

But this isn’t to say that Apple is doing everything right. When it comes to a pure cloud-based system, iCloud may have 200 million users, more or less, but most are using it for simple syncing of iPhone and iPad backups, contacts and Safari bookmarks. There is support for third-party developers, who find the going treacherous and unreliable. For regular users, the email system has too many breakdowns, and that’s been true from the earliest days of .Mac and MobileMe. Of course, you had to pay for the service then, but it’s not as if the free version is all that much better.

In the scheme of things, the simple-minded Google is great and Apple is bad meme doesn’t wash. There are large gray areas that need to be addressed on Apple’s part, and when is the media going to admit that the mobile version of Google’s mapping service remains a beta, and is not regarded as a finished product? How many will revisit Maps for iOS 6 and see how things have improved?

Well, at least with Maps, it’s quite possible Apple will take the bull by the horns and deliver a detailed update during the WWDC keynote on June 10. I won’t presume to guess how Apple will address the ongoing problems and solutions. I’d think a little humor, displaying the bad version and the good version, would go a long way towards making customers feel warmer and fuzzier about the whole thing. But it’s not as if the flaws in Maps have actually hurt iPhone and iPad sales to any degree, or at least surveys have yet to reveal such a problem. It won’t stop some elements of the media from failing to realize it’s no longer September 2012, unfortunately.

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2 Responses to “About Apple’s Services”

  1. William Timberman says:

    Funny about Maps, isn’t it. Whatever its flaws were, or still are, I used it this week to drive from an obscure address in AZ to an equally obscure address in CA and back, and it didn’t let me put a foot — or rather a wheel — wrong the whole way, even when I detoured away from the route during rest stops, etc. No other turn-by-turn iPhone app I’ve tried has ever managed that, although the competition has probably improved all of them in since I last used them. Good for the consumer, bad for Garmin and Tom-Tom, I guess. Technological progress was always a two-edged sword.

  2. Kaleberg says:

    The whole cloud thing is less solved than people like to let on. For all of Dropbox’s virtues, programs that write files too frequently when compared to the web upload speeds can wind up with damaged files in the local cache and on their server. Obviously, the Dropbox API probably includes some mechanism for dealing with this, but word processor users who are used to saving early, saving often may find themselves at a loss with Dropbox.

    I think both Dropbox and Apple will continue to improve, but distributed database management is hard.

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