2012-09-20

Apple Maps - some work required

It was with no great surprise that I read this morning of certain deficiencies in iOS 6's Maps application that had become apparent. It seems that the data sources are not all they might be. I enjoyed thumbing through some side-by-side examples of the Apple Maps vs Google Maps. So who's to blame?

TomTom, which also licenses data to a range of other mobile manufacturers, defended its involvement.
A spokesman told the BBC that its maps provided only a "foundation" to the service.
"The user experience is determined by adding additional features to the map application such as visual imagery," a spokesman said.
Right: TomTom data is focused on navigating cars, not people. If you're using your iOS 6 device to guide your driving, all should be well. If you're on foot, less so.

The contrast with the demo images on Apple's site is amusing. At the iPhone 5 / iOS 6 launch everyone was wowed by the 3D images of San Francisco, but didn't note the following:

  • 3D display eats battery life like you wouldn't believe;
  • 3D display is only useful for large cities where the taller buildings form useful landmarks;
  • "San Francisco" and "the world" are very different in size and complexity.
The lack of public transportation data has already been panned by big city dwellers, though I suspect this is not a general user concern. The individual mapping inaccuracies may be correctable, with time and a lot of human effort (and who's going to be motivated to do this? I guess we will be finding out how dedicated Apple fans are). The bad quality satellite images are more interesting; who the hell signed off on all the cloud-covered imagery of Scotland? There's plenty of good-quality modern satellite and aircraft imagery; see Google Maps, or Bing Maps, or Google Earth. Is Apple short of cash to purchase the modern and high quality imagery? If not, are they short of datacenter capacity to store and serve the data, or processing power to merge the various images into relatively seamless tiles?

Steve Jobs must be rotating at 10,000 rpm in his grave. The lack of attention to detail and quality are painful, and not at all what we normally associate with Apple. As far as I can see, Apple have really screwed the pooch here. People are going to back to Google Maps (once they launch an iOS Maps application, if they're so minded - if not, it's the regular website) until Apple seriously improves its data.

Perhaps this is how Apple is protecting its limited Maps serving capacity: make Apple Maps poor enough that not too many people use it...

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