The Apple Mapocalypse

Sep 24 2012 @ 5:25pm

I0s 6 map

iOS 6, the new iPhone/iPad operating system released last week, has replaced Google Maps with a a map app Apple built itself – except, as Tom Simonite notes, it doesn't really work:

People living outside the US seem to have been hit hardest, suffering problems such as one of Tokyo’s largest railway stations disappearing, large towns such as Antwerp in Belgium relocating, and Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace, even disappearing altogether. Many people have also reported problems with directions given by the app, such as their offering a route to the wrong place.

There are also significant bugs with the 3D view function, as seen above. Kyle Wagner believes Apple's maps will definitely get better, and that it's important to understand the sophistication required:

Maps are tough. They're not just about dumping data onto vector graphic maps and making it look pretty. Most mapping systems are built from a few huge data sets that are constantly being optimized and updated. But Apple's maps … are not updated, and they are certainly not optimized. They don't know that asking for "heathrow" is absolutely a question about the airport in London.

Google is working on a standalone app for iOS to replace the one Apple discontinued, but has said it could take months to arrive. In the meantime, Apple remains severely behind, as Rebecca Greenfield explains:

 [T]he issues stem from more than just a lack of data: Apple has a people problem. On top of all the technology stuff, there is a team of human beings behind all maps, who iron out the kinks and turn the data into a whole product the works well together. (Right now Apple's human are "under lockdown … working to fix it," says Apple.) Compared to Google, Apple's team is a joke in [mapping industry executive Mike] Dobson's book. Not only does Google have 7,000 people already working on mapping, but, the smaller contigent at Apple was not as involved in the map-making process. As Alexis Madrigal's [excellent piece about Google's mapping operation] made clear, people make a huge difference when it comes to map quality. "The sheer amount of human effort that goes into Google's maps is just mind-boggling. Every road that you see slightly askew in the top image has been hand-massaged by a human," he wrote. Apple just doesn't have enough humans on hand to take that kind of care.

David Talbott is ticked

It’s nuts that a service that used to work well (when it was Google Maps) suddenly become not only ineffective—but actually counterproductive, even dangerous.  So much so that this debacle might warrant re-asking the question of why the software industry has to meet virtually no standard, no bar of accuracy, no guarantee of reliability–on what tens or hundreds of millions of people increasingly rely on.

(Image via The Amazing iOS 6 Maps Tumblr – another good example here)