Data showing most people dumping iOS Maps seems legit

iOS 6 Maps showing Eiffel Tower

Last week, data surfaced from app development shop, Snappli, suggesting that a large number of iOS users quickly tried iOS Maps and just as quickly dumped it. Since Apple launched Maps, its CEO, Tim Cook, offered up a public apology on the mapping issues and the iTunes App Store began featuring map alternatives. Clearly, there’s something not quite right. But folks looking to see the bright side of the picture don’t believe Snappli’s data so on Tuesday, the company penned a blog post to explain the methodology behind the numbers.

Because Snappli is a data compression service, some assumed that Snappli was simply looking at smartphone data usage to determine that Maps had a fast uptake, only to see 1 in 25 users continue to use it. And since Apple’s Maps use vector graphics combined with pre-loaded map data, it doesn’t need to keep getting more data for usage, so Snappli’s report was considered inaccurate. That’s actually a reasonable assumption, but it’s an incorrect one based on Snappli’s post, with emphasis added by me:

“[W]e were looking to see if we could detect any anonymized traffic from the Apple Maps app on any given day. We were not looking at the total amount of data used by the app. Our goal was to measure popularity, not how data hungry the app was, nor the impact of vector graphics.

Some of you have asked us whether we accounted for variability in traffic over days of the week – the answer is yes, we made the effort to look at usage for the five days before and the five days after a day zero (with day zero being the day each user updated to iOS 6).”

As I read this then — and I’ve clarified multiple items with the Snappli team over email today — the company’s report last week had nothing to do with the amount of data use for iOS devices running Maps; it simply checked the usage of maps, which would throw out the whole vector graphics argument. A Snappli rep told me in no uncertain terms that “Data we published was based on users using the app at all rather than on how much data.” I did additional inquiry, asking about Snappli’s process for apps that don’t use any data and was told:

“Snappli would know if any app was accessed or engaged with as long as any amount of data whatsoever is requested. When we used the terminology “using the app” we mean the user or the app itself actually making a data request of some kind however minimal. While Apple Maps has been shown to use less data than Google on iOS on a like for like basis due to use of vector graphics, there is still almost always a data request of some kind when users engage. So while its possible for a user to open an app, scroll a previously downloaded map and hence not pass any data whatsoever and therefore not be measured by Snappli, this is certainly an edge case.”

Essentially then, any iOS Maps user that didn’t request a single byte of data would pass by Snappli, sight unseen. That scenario — called an edge case by Snappli — would skew the data towards fewer Maps users, but even with those cases, it’s reasonable to believe that in Snappli’s data set, a large number of users stopped using Maps within a few days of upgrading to iOS 6. Other possibilities for the Snappli results: Perhaps the sample simply doesn’t use Maps on a regular basis or Maps is so efficient that it works with local device data for the majority of people’s needs.

Apple users are typically supportive of the company’s devices and services — and I mean that in a good way — so I wasn’t surprised to see enthusiasts dig a little deeper into Snappli’s original data. Besides, Snappli is a young startup so again, it’s reasonable to make certain assumptions and question them.

However, it appears that among its sample size of 5,000 Snappli users, most are looking outside of Apple for mapping needs. And the company’s founders, Eldar Tuvey and Roy Tuvey previously founded ScanSafe, which mined over 3 billion daily web requests, creating weekly industry research for several years before Cisco acquired it.

Will the Maps issue to any extent slow iPhone sales or have any major impacts to Apple? I doubt that; if anything it will help Apple make a good product even better as the company moves quickly to fix any issues in the Maps application.

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