As Apple fans howl about the about the new iOS6 Maps feature which replaces the old one driven by Google Maps, it’s useful to get a cartographer’s view of how Apple got things wrong.
Michael Dobson’s analyis deep dives into the complexities of mapping which can be summed up in one phrase; “their problem is that they thought they did not have a problem.”
Those Rumsfeldian ‘unknown unknowns comes back to bite a company again.
Like many things in life, mapping is a lot more difficult than it looks and assuming that a drawing or an older map is correct or the features unchanged is risky.
This is not a job you just leave to machines sucking down data from various sources; details needs to be checked, validated and checked again before being added to a map.
What’s worrying about Apple’s map snafu is this probably wouldn’t have happened under Steve Jobs as he’d have used the app himself and yelled at people when it didn’t work.
Apple’s decision to run with a substandard service smells horribly of decision by committee and compromised products being release to suit managerial imperatives rather than delivering one perfectionist’s vision of what worked.
We may well be seeing the beginning of Apple’s evolution into an anonymous corporation.
One of the positives of that is we may also discover a less secretive or hubristic Apple.
How Apple fix their map application is going to be interesting, they certainly have the funds to hire the best brains in mapping along with the 7,000 other employees Google are estimated to have in their mapping division, the question is should they?
For Google, having a huge division building and improving their maps search as geolocation is a key part of their local services and search tools.
Apple on the other hand doesn’t need a stand alone mapping division and while they can afford one, it certainly isn’t an effective use of their capital or management time.
It may well be that Apple will have to swallow their pride and license the data feeds back from Google or even Nokia, or perhaps they could even put in a bid for Nokia just to mess with the minds of Microsoft’s management.
Regardless of which way Apple decide to go, they’ve got themselves in an expensive mess which is going to take some time or money to fix.
For now, I’m sticking with iOS5 on my phone as I like my mapping app too much, particularly the integrated public transit features. My guess is I’m not alone.