Thursday, 20 September 2012

Apple maps (in the loosest sense of the word)

The new Apple iOS6 release has led to a wave of map related hysteria.  There's a terrific Tumblr that's doing a great job of compiling some fantastic carto-gaffes in the new Apple maps app.  My current favorite...


BBC News gives Apple's maps a pretty rough ride as do any number of others including Apple Insider and Gizmodo. It's all very amusing and, one suspects, Google are having a pleasant day at the office having been dropped on iOS6 in favour of Apple's own map app.  But what are we actually seeing?

We're seeing a company renowned for highly polished product pushing out a poor map and that in itself is feeding the sneering hordes.  Sub-standard product would make Steve Jobs turn in his grave but it proves one thing...making a solid, accurate, searchable, well designed and useable online map (and one that works well on a mobile device) is no easy game.  You can't do it quickly and if you don't know what you're doing you're going to make the sort of errors that we're seeing.  Let's not forget though, Google's own initial efforts were ridiculed and they had their own carto-gaffes in the early days...poorly matched satellite imagery, administrative boundaries in the wrong place, labels poorly positioned...not to mention the awful colours, layout and the fact that most of the known world was missing initially.


The problem for Apple is they need to react quickly to get their map app up to speed.  Google have had 7 years of development.  They have learnt a lot in that time, not least that cartography is not easy.  Apple's initial offering seems to suggest they've poured their map data into a really agricultural and restrictive set of styles.  They've done precious little error checking and none of that manual grunt work required to iron out the problems so we're seeing all manner of missing or incorrectly located POIs, weak navigation and search, terrible satellite imagery...an even worse hybrid satellite/map effort and more.  It'll be interesting to see how they improve on their map app over the coming months and years but of course...everyone else has a huge head start and will be working on their own products.

Quite simply, Apple dropped the ball on this one and didn't appreciate the difficulty of making a good map that people can use. With maps and location being absolutely central to how we use mobile devices this is potentially a really big deal. I suspect many will simply not upgrade to iOS6 or will just overcome the mild inconvenience of launching a web browser to hit a better map....or they may just wait until Google publish their own Google iO6 map app in the Apple store which will just make Apple's job even harder.

Me? I use Android...

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