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iOS 6 Maps debacle exposes Apple’s Achilles’ Heel: services

You known something has gone terribly wrong when a major feature of your most anticipated software release of the year has a parody Tumblr blog and Twitter account in less than 24 hours.

If you’ve been on the internet in the last 24 hours, you know that Apple’s (s aapl) getting roasted over its new Maps app, which many customers tried out for the first time Wednesday when iOS 6 was released to the public. While the basic look and feel of the new Maps app Apple created to replace Google Maps is nice, there are some serious deficiencies: inaccurate location placement, mangled satellite imagery, lack of basic points of interest in major cities, and the confusing replacement of native transit directions with third-party routing apps, some of which are not yet available.

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports Google is already working on a Maps app to submit to the App Store. And Apple seems aware that people are unhappy. A company representative told AllThingsD on Thursday: “We launched this new map service knowing it is a major initiative and that we are just getting started with it. Maps is a cloud-based solution and the more people use it, the better it will get. We appreciate all of the customer feedback and are working hard to make the customer experience even better.”

While some may be surprised by the seeming lack of quality control over Maps from a detail-oriented company like Apple, this kind of situation is something of a tradition when Apple rolls out a new service. Hardware? Apple’s mastered that. Software? Rivals have been scrambling to catch up for years.

You just can’t say the same thing about Apple’s forays into web services. Looking back, the debut of this Maps app is arguably the most significant iPhone-related gaffe in the last five years.

Sure, “Antennagate” of 2010 caused a pretty good stir. But Apple (begrudgingly) called a press conference, apologized, gave out iPhone cases for free, and that was the end of the issue. Plus, it wasn’t necessarily a universal problem for users.

Siri launched in beta last October, and it felt like it. Mocking videos about Siri’s inability to understand questions popped up on YouTube. Apple employees were quoted anonymously saying Steve Jobs “would have lost his mind” over Siri. But the service’s deficiencies didn’t constitute a dealbreaker for people buying a new iPhone, and the service was clearly labeled as a beta: a rare move for Apple. The Ping music network was lame from the start when it launched in 2010, but it wasn’t necessary — no one had to be part of a music-based social network.

Up until now, you could have been on solid ground arguing that MobileMe was the biggest product launch disaster for Apple in the last five years. The transition from .Mac to MobileMe was a huge embarrassment for Apple in July 2008, one which resulted in people’s calendars, email and contacts stored in the service being completely inaccessible for days. Some customers were inexplicably overcharged for the service too. Jobs famously eviscerated the product team in a closed-door meeting that year, the details of which were later made public.

Apple managed to fix the service, eventually made it free, and then scrapped the whole thing in favor of iCloud last year. Even though iCloud eventually replaced MobileMe, it hasn’t left its problems behind — there have been several outages of the service in the past year.

Fixing something that wasn’t broken

But this Maps debacle is a way bigger deal. Mobile navigation is an integral part of the modern smartphone experience. If you use one, it’s likely your most-used application (or at least in the top three) up there with Mail and Camera. It’s been one of the best, most reliable features of the iPhone — until now.

It’s true that Apple isn’t solely responsible for the app: it’s getting its data from Waze and from TomTom. But, as Waze’s CEO put it very honestly on Thursday, TomTom’s location data isn’t nearly at the level of Google’s. It’s looking like Apple’s decision to go with that company is part of the problem.

Sure, there are alternatives to using the Maps app. You could also use the web-based Google Maps service in your mobile browser. But none are ideal.

Friday heralds the arrival of the iPhone 5, the device that is already the company’s fastest-selling yet. But instead of customers tweeting about plans to stand in line at an Apple Store, or when the FedEx delivery guy is supposed to show up, Apple is dealing with a rare problem with its iOS software: some people are wondering if they should upgrade to iOS 6 at all.

32 Responses to “iOS 6 Maps debacle exposes Apple’s Achilles’ Heel: services”

  1. Eric Idle

    Nobody seems to be mentioning that Apple is REFUSING to let people downgrade. Many people upgraded their iPhones, even made backups ahead of time, and then when core functionality (that they paid for) is broken, there is no resolution. Apple did not tell us this upgrade was un-reversible.

    Apple absolutely refuses to allow people to downgrade to iOS 5.1.1.

    That is the problem. If the new Apple Maps works for you, then you are all set. But if the new Apple Maps doesn’t work for you, they won’t even let you go back to the working version of the software.

    Apple did not make any mention that “upgrading” to iOS 6 was a one-way trip, even for technologically advanced users.

    Coincidently, the only people who can go back to iOS 5.1.1 are people who previously used jailbreak software and backups on their phones.

  2. Innovation without aggravation, isn’t that the key? Apple should not have removed Google maps from iOS6 until their maps app was on par giving end users a choice. But, in classic Apple style, it’s our way or no way, you’ll take it and like it. Epic fail, Apple.

  3. Is it possible to downgrade to ios5. This map problem is significant. No street view. More than 3 year old map data. What the heck do I need a 3D flyover of a city for when I am walking the street and trying to find some obscure location. Really need the old maps back. Android is definitely back in the picture for my next phone upgrade.

  4. Marco Ruocco

    The map issue differs from other technical breakdowns in Apple’s offers in that it is at the cornerstone of the wiring of the user with the environment. It is useless concentrating resources on adds-on idea like crowdsourcing and personalisation of data when failing to support the basic task of orientation. Apple preferred to combine low quality and cheap data sources while thronged forward by its users to assist new hypes.

    • Lordthree

      You git. Do you even know what crowd sourcing IS? That’s how these fucking data bases are built. The more people providing up to date road and region info, the more accurate the maps become. It’s not some ‘flash-in-the-pan’ bullshit add on. Give your head a shake and give Apple a little credit for tackling this huge project in a new and novel way.

  5. For me, Google Maps in iOS has never been as good as the combination of Google Maps and Navigation on Android. That said, neither version was accurate 100% of the time. Both would route me to a destination in sometimes the most circuitous way and street view was often inaccurate. For iOS (prior to iOS 6 anyway) I thought the Mapquest app was the best solution and the one that most favorably compared with the turn-by-turn voice functionality of Google Maps/Navigation on an Android device. I think it remains to be seen if Apple gets this as right as Google, but the competition has got to be a good thing for everyone. In the meanwhile, the author’s premise is right, services have never been Apple’s strength. For another example, check out out the description of Apple’s foray into email and internet services, eWorld, on Wikipedia.

  6. Maps is not that bad. It’s not great, but it’s not such an utter disaster as everyone is making it out to be. And Google Maps has screwed me over countless times in the past. It once routed me to Vermont when my destination was Boston Logan airport. Seriously.

    Anyway, I like how the new maps is tied to Yelp. It will ultimately be better for my small business. As more people use it, it will get much better based on user data alone.

    All that aside, I use Waze. :-)

  7. Brian Dowtin

    The Apple Way is the right way.
    Some times they get it right and people cheer. Other times they don’t and people boo. Apple has consistently presented ‘the only way’, its worked for them. The only hardware. The only operating system. The only phone. The only music. The only apps. They only store to buy apps.
    The successes only have to slightly beat the problems for the whole thing to work.
    Many of Apple’s ‘only ways’ are clunky, I mean ‘poorly received’. But in the end they know, they know better than you, what you want. And its with that confidence, that they ditch the old, and embrace the new, and only choice. iMovie, FCPX, Spaces, Rosetta, Printing, Color in the sidebar.

    They (Apple, Microsoft, etc.) are compelled to innovate. Which means change everything, sometimes for the better. To the uneducated this looks a lot like moving the Import Account button in Outlook to the Export Dialog (absolutely true) or Changing the way your film editing software works without giving you any option to work the way you want to in it for no good reason -but its Innovation. In every Apple release of the last few years, there are “over 200 new features” TM Apple. Even an enthusiast would be hard pressed to recall more than 10-12. But the features are critical, even if they seem at first glance only to change something that worked fine just the way it is.

    The maps will get better. They have to, simply from the application of resources and manpower. And it may be best that google introduces its own app. Tired of my phone giving exceedingly poor directions in ios5, i switched to using a Magellan device to get me from place to place. And it ‘just works’ just fine.

  8. I don’t know about any of you guys, but instantly getting a street view of the location you are going to is a MAJOR help to me when I’m going to a location for the first time. I use that feature very often. You get to see what the building or house looks like, you get a idea of what kind of neighborhood it’s in.

    And we traded this for that REDICULES 3D feature? ARE YOU KIDDING ME???

    For this reason I will be downloading the Google app the moment it becomes available. I know there are other ways to get this feature on the web…But it was so easy and convenient to have it in the same place as the directions. MAJOR FAIL on the part of Apple. And I’m a Apple Fanboy. How embarrassing.

  9. Okay so Apple has a beef with Google. That stuff happens. But when it pushes you into replacing a good app (your competitor’s) with a faulty one (your own) you’ve allowed your emotions to replace making sensible business decisions. A lesson for Cook.

  10. Club Mañana

    Where I live, Google’s data and satellite images are more than three years old. Bing maps are horribly wrong, placing addresses in entirely wrong cities. Apple is the only one of the three to get it right.