updated 09:00 pm EDT, Thu September 20, 2012
Reminds customers that it is a 1.0 product, is 'working hard' on it
Apple says it is working hard to correct some flaws and inaccuracies in its new Maps application, which replaces Google Maps in iOS 6. On top of complaints that transit and walking directions were dropped from the new applications compared to Google's, users have pointed out satellite imagery errors and other inaccuracies that include outdated images, less-specific road maps, lack of "Streetview" and some business names, and inaccurate names on points of interest. Apple thanks users for their feedback but also reminds them that the app and its service are new, and that it will improve.
The statement, given to AllThingsD, says that "Customers around the world are upgrading to iOS 6 with over 200 new features including Apple Maps, our first map service. We are excited to offer this service with innovative new features like Flyover and Siri integration, and free turn by turn navigation. We launched this new map service knowing that it is a major initiative and we are just getting started with it. We are continuously improving it, and as Maps is a cloud-based solution, the more people use it, the better it will get. We're also working with developers to integrate some of the amazing transit apps in the App Store into iOS Maps. We appreciate all of the customer feedback and are working hard to make the customer experience even better."
The statement subtly reminds users that Apple's Maps is a 1.0 release and is likely to improve with future updates, as did Google Maps over its five-year tenure on the iPhone. It acknowledges the major complaint -- a lack of transit directions -- and says it will provide a solution beyond its current options (third-party apps that work fine for major metropolitan centers but do not cover all cities with transit systems). It says the company is "just getting started with it" but needs to quickly address serious errors in satellite imagery, such as a doubled bridge seen in Massachusetts and numerous labelling errors in Japan and Hong Kong.
The most obvious issue, however, is simply that Apple's maps are not yet as detailed as Google's, which had more than a five-year head start (and can still produce errors even today). Google Maps also featured a street-level view that Apple's Maps, while still labelling businesses and points of interest, lacks. Reports hint that Apple's map team is in "lockdown mode" to find and fix the more grievous errors, such as an Irish suburban district being mistakenly identified as an airport. While the Flyover feature has been widely praised in reviews, it is only available in select cities, limiting its value elsewhere.
Apple may not have had much choice in the timing of the new Maps debut, as it said it simply didn't renew the license between the two companies that gave the iPhone its original Maps application. It's not clear whether the disagreement was simply over licensing terms, a lack of updates in the original Maps app or part of a growing feud between Apple and Google, whom the former accuses of profiting off stolen Apple patents and technology (though there are no such accusations regarding Google's mapping service, it should be noted).
As one of the most popular technology companies, Apple's missteps -- while rare -- are magnified by its now-industry-leading position. The company has acknowledged errors in the past, dropping services such as Ping and products such as the G4 Cube when they failed to connect to audiences. Most recently, Apple withdrew products from the EPEAT standard as part of a protest against the government's rigidity on some outdated portions. The move was widely reported in the press as Apple turning away from environmental friendliness, and Mac hardware chief Bob Mansfield had to acknowledge the PR mistake and return the devices to the listing, which many institutions use as a mass-purchasing requirement. Apple eventually got its way on the rule changes and reform points that had prompted it to quit in the first place.
MacNN has confirmed that Google had submitted a competing Maps app for iOS 6, and that it is simply waiting approval from Apple. Given the outcry over the downgraded experience, Apple may allow the app through in due course while it bolsters its own application. Apple also dropped Google's YouTube app from being a default part of the new iOS 6, but Google was able to provide an improved replacement (albeit now with advertising) just before the launch of the new iPhone, blunting the impact of the change and giving users the option of downloading a free replacement.
In the end, it's possible that Apple simply underestimated the public's dependence on Maps as a staple part of the overall experience of the phone. As more users work with the free turn-by-turn voice navigation (normally a premium paid feature on most GPS apps), and as updates improve the quality of the maps, the brouhaha may subside; for now, however, the abrupt change in user experience with Maps has turned out to be a misjudgement -- or perhaps a rush to market -- on Apple's part.