‘Try Other Map Apps’

11/30/2012 3:50:30 PM

Apple says sorry for iOS 6 Maps, recommends rival products

APPLE HAS APOLOGISED to iOS 6 users for serious problems with the new Maps app that replaces the Google-based version included since the first iPhone. In an open letter on Apple’s website, CEO Tim Cook wrote: ‘We strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers. With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment.

‘We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.’

Description: ‘We strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers’

‘We strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers’

Cook explained that Apple ‘had to create a new version of Maps from the ground up’ – using a completely new display engine to present mapping data from other source because ‘we wanted to provide our customers with even better Maps including features such as turn-by-turn directions, voice integration, Flyover and vector-based maps.’

According to reports, it was Google’s decision not to offer turn by turn directions in the iOS version of Maps a feature available since 2010 in the product for Google’s own mobile OS, Android that prompted Apple to develop its own system, with which it then ambushed Google.

The New York Times, quoting unnamed sources, said the search company would offer a standalone iOS app within months, but remarks by Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt cast doubt on this.

Welcoming feedback and promising to ‘keep working non-stop’ until Maps reached Apple’s ‘incredibly high standard’, Cook made the unusual move of suggesting iOS users ‘try downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on [the] home screen’. Google Maps has long been available as a web app in Safari for iOS, but without the Street View feature that many users miss in Apple Maps. As we go to press, Google has added this in a limited form.

MAPS WAS ONE of the key new features preannounced for iOS 6, but testers were wary of commenting on its performance until the final version appeared although unlike Siri, Apple’s previous feature innovation, Maps wasn’t labelled as ‘beta’ at launch. Users began to report problems as soon as iOS 6 was publicly released on 19 September.

Description: TURN-BY-TURN DIRECTIONS, similar to an in-car satnav

TURN-BY-TURN DIRECTIONS, similar to an in-car satnav

Some of the most glaring errors are in the ambitious new 3D views, including mangled bridges, bizarrely distorted landscapes and an invisible Statue of Liberty, manifested only as a shadow. There are also widespread problems with labelling (the Washington Monument is incorrectly marked), search (in the UK, entering ‘Luton’ shows only the small town of that name in Devon, not the much larger Luton in Bedfordshire) and localisation (a MacUser reader in Bangkok found all the streets suddenly labelled only in Thai script, despite a Settings option to show mapping in English).

Irish justice minister Alan Shatter voiced concern that the 35-acre estate of Airfield in his constituency had been designated as an airport. ‘Clearly this is not only wrong but dangerously misleading,’ said Shatter. ‘I have requested that it be urgently corrected.’

In many places the satellite images used fall far below the quality and resolution users have come to expect from Google, with Stafford and Brighton, for example, so badly blurred it’s difficult to make anything out at all. Poor stitching of imagery from different sources means landscapes can change sharply from day to night or summer to winter, with some features omitted or appearing twice.

TURN-BY-TURN DIRECTIONS, similar to an in-car satnav, will be welcomed as a built-in feature, since third party apps offering it have been among the most expensive on the App Store. In the UK, one of the territories where data has been provided to Apple by satnav maker TomTom, turn-by-turn seems to be working well. Elsewhere, however, users have reported that it failed to find a direct route or misdirected them completely.

The errors prompted Noah Bardin, CEO of Waze, which is also listed as a mapping partner by Apple, to offer candid criticism to Business Insider. ‘Apple went out and partnered with the weakest player,’ said Bardin, referring to TomTom. ‘They’re now coming out with the lowest, weakest data set and they’re competing against Google, which has the highest data set. What’s going to happen with the Apple maps is that you’re literally not going to find things. When you do find them, they might be in the wrong position geographically. And if you do have it, the route to it may not be the optimal route.’

Bardin later softened his remarks, saying Apple Maps was not ‘terrible’.

Former Apple marketing chief Jean-Louis Gassée pointed out on his Monday Note blog that the ridicule poured on Maps was Apple’s own fault for raising expectations during the iOS 6 launch event. ‘The demo was flawless… not a word from the stage about the app’s limitations, no self-deprecating wink, no admission that iOS Maps is an infant that needs to learn to crawl before walking, running, and ultimately lapping the frontrunner, Google Maps. Instead, we’re told [it’s] “the most beautiful, powerful mapping service ever”.’ Apple has since deleted this claim from its marketing of iOS 6.

That demo, like Siri’s in 2011, was given by Scott Forstall, head of iOS software, and commentators such as veteran tech writer Philip Elmer-DeWitt were quick to allocate blame for both products failing to live up to the hype. ‘Does Apple have a Scott Forstall problem?’ asked DeWitt on

‘We think it would have been better if they had kept our [app]. But what do I know?’ was the disingenuous comment of Google’s Eric Schmidt, whose conflict of interest as an Apple board member and the search giant’s then CEO originally sparked the bitter rivalry between the two companies.

Tim Cook must be tempted to agree.

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