updated 11:39 am EDT, Mon October 1, 2012
Interviews with ex-staff suggest failures start at top
After the negative reaction to Maps in iOS 6, the spotlight has once again shone on some of Apple's other large-scale service-based failures. Interviews with former employees, carried out by the New York Times, suggest that a set of repeated failures in Internet services stems from the top.
The original Maps app, for instance, is said not to have been planned for the original iPhone unveiling. A number of weeks before the event in January 2007, Steve Jobs asked for the app to be created with the ultimate aim of demonstrating the touchscreen capabilities of the phone. A former Apple engineer claims that it took a pair of developers three weeks to construct the app, using mapping data supplied by Google. After the iPhone became popular, Apple executives became concerned by the amount of customer data being handed to Google on each request for maps, something the company thought effectively helped their main competition in the development of Android.
The current version of Maps started construction in 2009, with the purchase of Placebase and other mapping startups. Despite the longer development period, issues are thought to relate to the mapping data used by the service, which comes from multiple sources and had to be merged together. Apple is now trying to improve the data supplied to the app, and has taken the step of suggesting its customers use other map applications or websites, including Google Maps, until problems are solved.
MobileMe suffered a number of technology-related issues when it started, which led to the firing of the MobileMe team. Interviewees called the MobileMe saga a byproduct of Apple executives not understanding the differences between a service offering downloads, such as iTunes, and a service that needs to be robust enough to deal with constant updates with as little downtime as possible, such as MobileMe. Company secrecy made stress-testing difficult to perform, which executives discovered after MobileMe moved from Apple-only testing to full public usage. The replacement for MobileMe, iCloud, has had its fair share of hiccups, but all significantly smaller in scale than its predecessor.
Not all of the difficulties with online services can be blamed on Apple's leadership or technical flaws. The iTunes-based social network Ping lasted two years before closing on September 30th, with low usage cited as the primary reason. It will be replaced with Twitter and Facebook integration.