Apple Maps, an Explanation of the Debacle
Okay, so firstly, if you are not familiar with this latest debacle to hit the blogosphere, there have been a large number of complaints from iOS 6 users (the version of operating system that comes on the iPhone 5) about the fact that Apple has removed the tried and true Google Maps from their devices and replaced it with their own proprietary new map application.
Complaints ranging from monuments being in the wrong place, to cities being missing, to airfields appearing where planes have no business landing. Granted most of these complaints are about places outside the States , but it still highlights a bit of an issue I’ve always had with devices that don’t have Google maps.
I remember using an HTC HD7 Windows Phone when it first came out and, while testing it out, tried to find a specific bar nearby that I was supposed to meet some friends at. Some 20 mins of walking later, I arrived at the most peculiar bar. So peculiar, in fact, that it identically resembled someone’s driveway, complete with parked car and overflowing trash can at the end of it. Needless to say, Bing Maps had steered me wrong. This wouldn’t be the first time this ended up happening while using that device and was the precursor to my new found appreciation for good, old Google Maps.
When we all heard rumors that Apple would be ditching Google Maps in favor of its own, I couldn’t help but be worried. Think of all the unfortunate people’s driveways that would be filled with bewildered individuals all staring at their house, then back to their phones, then back at their house with a look of utter confusion that slowly seemed to turn into a feeling of betrayal.
Low and behold, here we are and, while my fears weren’t entirely realized, Google maps still remains tough to compete with.
The reason Google Maps is the dominant force in the industry is the fact that they have tons, upon tons of users all editing and creating locations on the map. Not only that but they’ve been doing it for years. That sort of database of locations is hard to compete with.
Apple did make one smart move though that has saved them a lot of trouble compared to how bad this could have been. Apple enlisted the help of Yelp. Yelp has a huge database of restaurants and retail locations across the US, UK, Canada, and other countries Apple is selling their new iPhone. So instead of starting from scratch with adding locations, Apple at least had the tons of locations Yelp had at their disposal already on the map when it launched. Let’s face it, restaurants and retail locations make up a huge portion of what we’re usually searching for on our devices. But what about that small percentage of time when we need to find a certain park, landmark, or something else that isn’t a retail location. These things have all been added into Google Maps over the years by users, but not by Yelp necessarily.
In addition to this little issue, is the search feature. Google, as one would imagine, are masters of search. With just a few (seemingly random keywords sometimes), Google maps still manages to find a plethora of locations that have at least something to do with those keywords. Yelp, on the other hand, not so much. An example, is when I searched for “Apple Repair” in both Google Maps and Apple Maps. Google Maps ends up showing 14 locations that all specialize in repairing Apple products (zooming in reveals considerably more), Apple Maps, on the other hand, only shows two in all of New York City.
Here is the thing though, this is to be expected and considering the true scale of such an undertaking as creating your own map of the entire world and all its businesses, Apple isn’t doing too bad (thank goodness for Yelp, right?). And as with all of these types of applications, it’ll get better with time as users add more and more to the map through usage. Even using Bing maps on that same HD7 now, shows me where that oh-so-elusive bar that I had once searched for actually is. Know what Apple has that Microsoft didn’t back when the HD7 first launched? 100 million users that have already updated to iOS 6 and the new map application all inputing data via their usage. So, it’s probably safe to say that, despite this being a bit of an annoyance right now, this thing might get sorted out sooner rather than later.