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Apple Maps was Steve Jobs' idea, but that misses the point

Posted: , posted by Michael H.

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Apple Maps was Steve Jobs' idea, but that misses the point
There is a new report from Bloomberg that shouldn't surprise you in the least: the decision to build an Apple Maps app for iOS came from none other than Steve Jobs. Of course, what is interesting is that Bloomberg is still trying to push the narrative that the entire plan was put in place because of Jobs' hatred of Android. That was surely the reason to look for an alternative to simply offering Google Maps on iOS, but it doesn't explain why Apple would spend the resources to build its own Maps app, rather than partner with another company like Nokia. 

According to the report, Jobs started the project to build an in-house Maps app. He put mobile software chief Forstall in charge of the project, and "installed a secret team on the third floor of Building 2 on Appleā€™s campus to replace Google Maps on the iPhone." In a way, it feels almost like that story about Nikita Khrushchev, and his "write two letters" suggestion to his successor. The first letter, to be opened in a time of crisis, says "Blame me for everything," and that sort of feels like the move here. Like we're supposed to forgive a bad product because it was simply the company following through on the wishes of its fallen leader, which isn't really the right way to look at it. Steve Jobs may have started the project, but it was Tim Cook's choice to release it when he did. Of course, the report also claims that Jobs' hatred of Google was the only reason for the move, which is an idea that makes for good headlines, but it's an idea that is also somewhat absurd, and it's an idea that we've tried to flesh out a bit recently. 

Sure, Jobs' had a vendetta against Android, and wanted to remove Google from iOS, that's not under debate. But, that wasn't the only factor in the decision. Remember, even if Apple had updated the Google Maps app for iOS, it still wouldn't have had turn-by-turn navigation or vector graphics, because Google wanted to keep those as competitive advantages for Android. So, Apple had to look for another option. 

Apple began pulling in acquisitions to build its own Maps app back in July of 2009. At the time, the fate of Nokia was still up in the air. It's hard to argue that Apple didn't have the money to buy Nokia, or at least license Nokia Maps. Apple could have licensed maps from a number of sources. But, that idea misses the point, just like the idea that the entire reasoning for the change was the hatred of Google. 

As we said recently, the future of mobile is in the data a company can collect on its users, and the services that can be provided with that data. Maps is a way to collect huge amounts of data from travel tendencies to a users likes and dislikes as learned through place reviews. Apple wanted to have full control of that data, and didn't want to share it with a competitor (especially one that it had a vendetta against.) This is not a new idea. It's a major reason why Google got into the mobile business, and it's why companies like Amazon also joined the mobile world. It's also why Amazon has started building its own maps service for its Kindle Fire line. 

The real question that the report misses is whether or not Steve Jobs would have allowed a product as clearly flawed as Apple's Maps to be released. Steve always tended to err on the side of holding back until a product was fully ready, and iOS Maps is clearly not ready for prime time. A certain amount of the problems can be attributed to the fact that it is a first generation product, but it is still not good enough, and certainly not up to Jobs' usual standards. It's hard to say just how much better Apple Maps could have been with just more in-house development, and without the help of the crowd. Still, it's hard to imagine Steve Jobs with his obsession to accuracy would have allowed the mess of iOS Maps to be released, especially given that there was still a year on the Google deal. That could have been a year to put in a lot of work on Apple's Maps. 

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