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Wednesday, Feb 06, 2013 1:30am
Apple again hiring for iOS Maps team; possible overhaul?
A raft of positions available with Apple at its Cupertino headquarters dealing with nearly every aspect of the company's iOS Maps program have been revealed through new job postings. A total of ten engineering positions dealing directly with Maps suggest either that Apple is replacing those hired for nearly identical jobs in September, or expanding the team significantly in another push to help the program realize its potential. While Apple's Maps has improved significantly from its debut, it still lags behind Google, Nokia and other competitors in a number of aspects.

Given the emphasis placed on improving Maps after its weak debut, chances are that the new positions represent a doubling of the September team and a renewed effort to relaunch the program entirely -- the positions advertised seek software engineers to work on the user interface, Siri and other app integration, points of interest labelling, the 3D Flyover feature and real-time map display among other areas, reports AppleInsider.

Apple was forced to start up its own map application to replace the Google-powered Maps app that had been part of the default apps on the iPhone after Google refused to implement more advanced features it was using in the Android version of the app -- including turn-by-turn and voice navigation -- in the iOS version. The new Maps app debuted with the otherwise well-received iOS 6, but was lambasted for errors, omissions, graphics issues and a general lack of "Apple polish."

The backlash prompted an apology by CEO Tim Cook and the firing of the executive in charge of the program, and is said to have played a significant role in the ouster of former iOS chief Scott Forstall. Ironically, the brouhaha prompted Google to deny and then admit that it was actively working (and had been for some time) on a Maps application that had all the features Apple had requested and then some.

After initially saying it would not be ready for many months and feigning surprise at Apple's decision to do its own version, the company produced the finished Google Maps application less than three months after the initial release of iOS 6. While criticism of Maps has largely faded as improvements have been made, Apple still takes some flack for consciously omitting transit and walking/biking directions from Maps, which remain a popular feature in Google Maps. The release of Google's own Maps app saw a small uptick in the speed of iOS 6 adoption, hinting that some users had held off updating until the Google Maps app was ready.

Even the programs critics, however, saw potential for Apple's Maps in its superior, vector-based graphics and clearer, clever turn-by-turn implementation, Siri integration -- even the Flyover feature (where it was initially available) was considered well done and an innovative take on photo-views of maps in some quarters. Apple has been continuously (but silently) upgrading the program ever since, and has fixed most of the more grievous errors. Several publications as well as MacNN have tested the Apple Maps app and found it generally equal or superior to both Google Maps and standalone GPS units for driving directions in major cities around the world.

The new hires will work on both the Maps app itself and MapKit, the foundation that is used by iOS applications that draw data from Maps. The nature of the positions in user interface, app and Siri integration and other aspects of the program -- including one engineer job devoted exclusively to navigation -- suggests that Apple will give the program a significant overhaul at some point in the future.

The expansion of the team, if indeed these job listings turn out to be for that, imply that the company is accelerating efforts at not only improving its core functions, but enhancing existing features and adding new ones. It also further hints at expansion of Siri, which had been previously revealed again through job listings.