iOS Maps will be great for Apple (and Android users too)

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
iOS Maps will be great for Apple (and Android users too)
We’ve all had a good laugh over the past week after seeing the troubles that users have had with Apple’s new Maps app in iOS. We’ve seen the wonky visuals, the complete mistakes, the bad directions, the missing data points, and all of the other strange problems that have been found in Apple’s new offering. The app is a mess, and it isn’t up to the standards that we tend to have for an Apple product. And, Apple still had a year on its deal with Google, so it wasn’t exactly forced to release the app as is. But, we just want to say one more thing on the topic, because Apple's decision will be great for the company, and may be great for you too (even if you're an Android or Windows Phone user.)

To be perfectly clear: we are not saying that iOS Maps is a great product. It is clearly a very underdeveloped product, that needs a lot of work. But even so, over time, it will prove to be a very valuable product for Apple. The software is obviously not ready for prime time, and it wasn't even the best way Apple could have gone about the software release. But, at the end of the day, Apple had to make this change, because of the future benefits of controlling its own maps data, and the fact that in the end it may be easier to fix in the wild than in house.

First off, Apple had one major choice: put its effort towards building its own Maps, or use resources to update the Google Maps app in iOS. Keep in mind, Apple still had a deal with Google, and more importantly, Apple built both the Google Maps app in iOS and the YouTube app. So, if either of those apps were to be updated, Apple would have had to assign developers to take time away from an Apple product in order to update an app that directly supports a competitor’s product. Not many companies will choose to do that, and Apple was no different. Additionally, according to an Apple employee, Google was not going to allow Apple to use turn-by-turn navigation or the 3D vector maps in an iOS app, because Google wanted to keep an advantage for Android.

As a result, the Maps app in iOS fell behind on features. It didn’t have turn-by-turn navigation, offline maps, 3D maps, or indoor mapping like the Google offering on Android, and even if Apple put developers towards updating the app, the most important of those features wouldn't have been available anyway. We certainly didn’t expect Apple to be able to match those and all of the other services built into Google Maps, but even so we seem to have expected too much from Apple. Google Maps has been consistently evolving thanks to huge amounts of investment by Google for the past 7 years. Apple couldn’t match that with an in-house development team, it needed to get a mapping service with turn-by-turn navigation to users. 

Apple’s big mistake

Apple’s mistake in releasing Maps wasn’t in quality control and testing. The world is an enormous place, and Apple has a pretty small team of developers comparatively, and it is always possible that Apple simply didn't put enough people on the project. Even so, Apple’s biggest mistake was one on which Google has always erred on the opposite side: using the Beta tag. Apple is not a company that is known to release beta software. More often, it is known to be a company that holds software a bit too long. But, if Apple could have learned anything from last year’s Siri launch, it’s that sometimes the Beta tag is your best friend, because not all products can be launched fully mature.

There is no way that Siri was going to launch as a perfect product, even with the help of Dragon Dictate, Wikipedia, and Wolfram Alpha. The amount of data needed to build a voice-powered virtual assistant is staggering, and one that requires crowd-sourcing to complete, because there are only so many voices at Apple to test, while there are millions and millions of iOS users speaking multiple languages in various dialects and accents. Imagine if Apple had just tweaked the launch language for Siri a bit, and instead of saying "it works, right out of the box", Apple had said, "It works, right out of the box, but it will also continuously learn from everything you put into it." Public reaction could have been very different (aside from the annoyance of the server outages), and the same holds true for Maps.

There was no way Maps was going to launch fully formed, even with the number of acquisitions Apple made, and the data from OpenStreetMaps. Sure, Apple could have done better about the 3D rendering and satellite mismatching, but a lot of other issues are ones that can only be found and fixed with user involvement, because something like the task of testing every possible combination of point-to-point directions is something no company could test on its own. But, imagine this: What if Apple had come out at WWDC, and instead of only giving the positives of Maps, Tim Cook had said something similar what Apple said last week, “This is a major initiative and we are just getting started with it. We are continuously improving it, and as Maps is a cloud-based solution, the more people use it, the better it will get.”

How much better would that have been? All Apple had to do was be honest (and still sound like Apple), and say, “This is a huge project, and we can’t do this alone. We need your help in building it, and making it better. Here is the future: iOS Maps Beta.” Of course, Apple still doesn’t understand the value in being open with its users, and while Tim Cook may be getting better at managing expectations within the rumor mill, he has a lot to learn about launching huge new ventures. Apple could have even released Maps as an opt-in service for the first year, and allowed only the most engaged Apple users to get in on it and help fix it. That would have finished out the Google contract, and given Apple Maps time to grow and mature a bit before it went out to the world. That may have been another mistake in Apple’s plan, but ultimately, Apple had to have its own maps, because that’s the world we live in.

The coming end of the Google Maps monopoly

We are living in a mobile world. Apple saw that a long time ago, and that’s why the company made the iPhone in the first place. Computing has gone mobile, because we aren’t a sedentary species, we move around a lot (of course some more than others). So, the dynamic of information services has changed dramatically.People can no longer be counted on to be accessing the web, or web services from one specific spot, like you could in the days of desktops. Now, we carry our connections in our pockets, and a great way to offer a better mobile experience, and provide better services is to draw on a user's location, and the places that are nearby. We’ve seen it in almost every new product over the past few years, and the more data companies have on you, the more they can offer

Just think of all of the apps you use consistently on your smartphone, and how each one benefits from either giving you constant access from anywhere, or knowing where you are at any given time. Social networking would never have gotten as huge as it has without the ability to contribute from anywhere instantly. Check-in services that have become place recommendation engines thrive on local data. Even basic apps like to-do lists have gotten a huge boost from being able to tag where you are and where you’re likely to go. Google Now is a service that relies on that data to a huge degree. And, of course there are the advancements within Google Maps like traffic awareness and avoidance, and Google can build those services because of the information it gets from Google Maps, Latitude, etc, information to which Apple didn’t really get full access.

Enter the need for Apple’s Maps app. The amount of data that a company gets from having local awareness in your pocket at all times is huge, and no company as large as Apple can afford to simply give all of that information on the location and travel patterns of its users just because Google Maps is the best product right now. Every company needs to have its own solution, which is a huge reason behind Microsoft’s eagerness to partner with Nokia, and combine Bing Maps with Nokia Maps. And, it’s why Amazon has begun working on building its own maps product. Any mobile company that is selling you a platform needs to be able to mine your location data, and control that data, because Google’s ideas for what can be done with that data may be very different from what Apple can offer.

Apple needed its own maps app, because while it may be limited right now, even it will get better over time. And, during that improvement process, the effort that the most engaged Apple users will expend to help fix the software, and the data Apple will get from casual users will be enormously valuable for the company. More importantly, it will be data that Google doesn’t get. That alone is a huge benefit for Apple, and will continue to generate valuable data into the years ahead where Apple’s Maps app will continue to improve, and the millions and millions of iOS users will continue to give back to the effort.


Apple bungled the launch. There’s no questioning that. Even a small thing, like adding the Beta tag to Maps would have helped a lot to mitigate the bad press, and high expectations from users. Apple didn’t do that, and now it has to live with the consequences of putting out an app that maybe wasn't ready for a full release, but needed more help than Apple could provide in-house. The Maps will improve, both through crowd-sourced data, and the new hires that Apple has been pulling in. Eventually, Apple Maps could be a solid product, and there’s a possibility that somewhere (relatively far) down the line, it could even catch up to Google Maps.

Still, one thing is for certain: Google has competition, and that’s a very good thing. Combine the expected improvement in Apple’s Maps, the expected rise in market share for Windows Phone (and therefore the Bing/Nokia Maps), and whatever Amazon comes up with, Google is facing a possibility where it isn’t the defacto choice in mapping on a mobile device. That will push Google to add more to Maps, and all the other players will add more and more in the cycle of competition. Beyond that, each different company pushing harder to make better Maps just adds to the data pool by which other cool apps can be made, like Google's new Field Trip app, Google Now, and other products that benefit from all of the local data. The competition pushes more innovative ways of using the location data to give us cool services, and, that’s something we’re definitely looking forward to.



1. sprockkets

Posts: 1612; Member since: Jan 16, 2012

i'm sure Google needed apple to build a map app to force them to make theirs better...

2. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

Sorry. Clarified that, there are tons of products outside of Maps that benefit, or exist because of the data collected from Maps. The competition pushes more innovative ways of using the location data to give us cool services, not just making Maps better.

19. MeoCao unregistered

since when a "great move" can have so many errors? I guess what you want to say is this was "inevitable move"? It looks like you try to turn this ill-will move by Apple into something great. This is not poor QA, Apple knew very well that their maps was very bad (how they not when such landmark buildings like Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower are missing?) and still released it as a complete and GREAT product, This was bad faith at the very least.

22. MartyK

Posts: 1043; Member since: Apr 11, 2012

MeoCao, I agree with you 100%. One thing Michael and Apple need to tally this: Assign a few employees to tweak Google map to fit iOS. (let Google do the heavy lifting) or, Assign several employee to maintain and update the mapping system 24/7 (Apple do the heavy lifting) It just make good business sense to allow Google to do the heavy lifting. Think about, Auto-maker can make their own tires if they want, but why should they spend the resource to do so?.

23. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

First thing first: I said it *will be* a great move for Apple. I didn't say it is a great move *right now*. Over time the errors will be fixed. Apple had to decide if it thought it could fix the errors in-house, or if it would be faster and more efficient to fix the issues with the help of user input. Apple chose the second, even though it comes with bad press. As I said, there were better choices to make in presenting that choice, but I'm not going to judge the future success of a product like Maps by version 1, it's too big.

43. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

One thing Apple needs to do on a wide scale is stop being so insane on the profit margins and take a chunk of that and put it into development. They have one of the smallest R&D budgets in the industry between the major players and they have by far the highest margins. Had they not been so damn money hungry (and this is coming from a capitalist) they could have hired on extra people a year ago that had map experience and made a much more compelling/complete/less buggy/more accurate project. It's Apple's love of low cost that hurt them. They were expecting the masses to just glaze over all the defects because its "Apple" and they are used to a certain level of infatuation from their customers. Had this been like iOS4 or maybe even iOS5, I think that would have held true. The mobile tech world is a much different beast then it was even 1 or 2 years ago. I think a lot of the negative press is what some of us have been waiting for.. for a good while. The generalized "pro apple" press block waking up from their fruity slumber and realizing Apple isnt some all purpose, perfect, shiny tech god. Once you start seeing the chinks in the armor, you cant stop.

44. flipjzn

Posts: 257; Member since: Jun 22, 2012

Google maps is awesome but then again, I like the idea of having many options. You know when you travel, some might not be listed on the other map but is on the other map. Right now Apple maps is awful but I'm sure it will improve either way people will always find fault to justify why they like the other. iphone haters will always hate the fact that apple users get both maps, apps etc. Good luck to catching up, it will take a while. Google has now underwater view :)

71. maxican16

Posts: 364; Member since: Sep 29, 2011

Right? Hah. IMO, this is another case of apple's arrogance and "do no wrong" feeling towards itself that led to a poorer user experience. In other words, apple isn't concerned about you, only your money. Even the 4s has a hard time running the app. If you have an ip4 or less, or live outside the US, well, you're SOL on the key feature this new maps app provides... turn-by-turn nav.

72. maxican16

Posts: 364; Member since: Sep 29, 2011

I have to give credit where credit is due. Tim Cook just apologized for the maps app and showed a character trait I thought was absent from apple as a company: humility. +1 to you sir.

3. brkshr

Posts: 9; Member since: May 22, 2012

I'm sure Apple wanted control over Maps & YouTube, & that's why they chose to build them, themselves. So as a result, Apple screwed everyone out of updated apps. There is no doubt in my mind that Google would have been more than willing to develop those apps themselves & thus provide updates for them as often as is needed. When you choose to be close-sourced, then you take responsibility for keeping your closed source apps updated. So the end of the Google maps monopoly ends? But the start of the Apple maps monopoly begins for iphone users. Gee, good trade-off huh?

5. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

Hard to say if it's a good trade-off right now. Let's see what happens when iOS Maps matures, and the off-shoot apps start coming that capitalize on the data Apple gets from its Maps. Right now, no one would really choose Apple's Maps over Google, but over time, that may change. It's like if someone called Gmail a failure at launch because it was behind Hotmail as far as features. Or if you were to assume Android was going to stay at the level of Cupcake and never get better. Things change and get better over time. It took Google Maps 7 years of improvements to get where it is now.

11. brkshr

Posts: 9; Member since: May 22, 2012

My problem with Apple Maps IS NOT because there are some bugs. My problem with Apple Maps IS because they are eliminating choices for Apple users. If Apple allows Google to submit Google Maps to the Apple Store & give it's users a choice, I would be happy & wish Apple the best of luck. As I see it, Apple is limiting everyone to Apple services only more & more. Which, by all means, is their right, with their closed-source software. I just don't agree with that way of business though. Edit: Google Maps in Apples Store & Apple Maps in Googles Store, is where true innovation would come into play.

13. biophone

Posts: 1994; Member since: Jun 15, 2011

You can still use google maps on ios just go to and click maps. Plus apple will almost defintley allow google maps on ios app store. However apple doesn't make money on ads like google does so they won't realase there app on the google store. It wouldn't make sense. Google wouldn't want apple maps on their store anyway. They want everyones location data.

15. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

There are already a number of maps/navigation apps in the App Store. How is putting its own Maps app on the device any more limiting to choice than only having Google Maps on there? Either way there's only one Maps app preinstalled on the device.

18. brkshr

Posts: 9; Member since: May 22, 2012

I just don't see them letting Google put their Maps app in the store. I guess time will tell.

25. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

Apple won't have a choice. It will be forced to allow it, either by public outcry, or government intervention (like with Google Voice).

4. RubiksGuy

Posts: 11; Member since: Jun 26, 2012

I think after reading this article I ended up more confused than the iphone users trying to find their way on their maps application.

6. PhenomFaz

Posts: 1236; Member since: Sep 26, 2012

Google Maps and its add-on services are way evolved for Apple Maps. Nonetheless it is always a good move, not a great one, but just good for any company to make its own stuff considering they have the expertise which Apple clearly didn't. Now the move went from being good to foolish when Apple actually didn't take advantage of the one full year they had left with Google Maps to take cues for developing its own. This shows the attitude of Apple isn't right because by jumping into Maps they just exhibit how proud they are by giving their Maps to their loyal Sheep...but what they didn't expect was negative feedback which is a long overdue nice hard kick in their grapefruits :)

12. biophone

Posts: 1994; Member since: Jun 15, 2011

Apple had to get this product out on the market asap. They couldn't keep letting their competitor's product linquish on their os. Waiting an extra year wouldn't have been all that beneficial. its way better for them to get the product out there and work with it as they go. As michael pointed out it took 7 years for google to get where they are at. An extra year underwraps isn't going to help out. Getting the product out there finding the mistakes and correcting as they go is the right path to take. It will continue to get stroger and eventual rival google's maps. During the time it takes for maps to get better apple can give there users features they didn't have before on a useable app. Thats a plus also.

7. Pyoung0560

Posts: 26; Member since: Oct 23, 2011

Michael H., You should be hired by apple as one of their spokesman, because you have all the excuses why apple put out a bad product. Apple should have told everyone at the announcement on what to expect from their maps app, No but they chose to demo their Flyover and annonce it like all is well in Apple land. All they could say was " the more people use it , it will get better" like if you use it it will magically fit itself.You reveiwer are really something else, if Samsung or anyone else had a product like this Iphone5 with all it defects, 7 and counting, you guy would be talking so bad about their phone and recommending no one buys thems until if was fixed. but not all mighty Apple who could do no wrong. Thats why Android will ruled in the very near future and you will have no choice but to give them their credit.

9. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

Could you please point out where I'm "excusing" Apple's problems? I flat out say it is a mess, it's got a lot of problems, and Apple would have been wise to label it as a Beta product rather than give its normal "magical" intro. That said, maybe you should try to realize that no app this big launches fully formed. It takes time and effort. It took Google 7 years to build the Maps you use today, so why expect Apple to pull it off in a first try?

8. biophone

Posts: 1994; Member since: Jun 15, 2011

Great article michael. I was just having this discussion on the other thread but with a more user centered bias then company. However you hit the nail on the head. Hopefully everyone reads this an understands apple's move.

10. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

Thanks! Always nice to hear comments like that.

14. Slammer

Posts: 1515; Member since: Jun 03, 2010

Marketshare plays a huge role in whether Apple's implementation will succeed. The internet is a very large place. A place that Google has a huge reign on. The sole reason smartphones and other mobile devices exist is because of the internet and its ingredients. The devices are shells to house this service. Since Google has an abundance of partner manufacturers and growing at their dispense, Apple is slowly losing ground in marketshare world wide to Android. As data and the internet are shared collectively through one platform, the compatibility and adaptation of the platform helps consumers interchange from one Android device to another more effectively. Apple trying to remain even more proprietary to their ecosystem, will be even more limited than it is now. Every excuse in the book is understandable but, Apple is once again turning their backs on the very people that helped make them rise to power. I fear history will repeat itself once again. John B.

16. mudguts

Posts: 1; Member since: Sep 27, 2012

"Let’s just get one thing straight: it was a great move by Apple to release Maps." What utter rubbish. Apple cynically and knowingly released a defective mapping product with their latest hardware platform. Coincidence? In addition they simultaneously removed the existing satisfactory mapping service. Since when did making paying customers become beta testers become a "great move"? Since when did feature regression become "a great move"? This is one of the most moronic articles I've read recently, and on the innernut that's quite an achievement.

27. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

Thanks for catching that typo! Should have read, "it *will be* a great move", not is. Bad execution on the release, but one that could pay great dividends in data for Apple in the future.

30. MartyK

Posts: 1043; Member since: Apr 11, 2012

Michael, Apple release this because they knew they can do it and get away with it (the G-complex). Trust me, they knew the news outlet would say, "oh it's okay, it will get better". But you did do a great job of bring up a good debate; but, Apple is doing this because of the Arrogance/G-Complex, nothing more, nothing less.

47. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

It probably only has a little to do with "arrogance" or a "g-complex". Location data is huge and offers a lot of opportunities for companies to offer different services. Also, word has it that Google wouldn't allow Apple to use turn-by-turn voice navigation or vector maps because Google wanted to keep a competative advantage with Android.

75. epdm2be

Posts: 821; Member since: Apr 20, 2012

Dear Mr. Heller You wrote "Location data is huge " May I inform you that the "location data" that Apple Maps uses, is from TomTom (and harvested by former Teleatlas). Apple ONLY build a frontend to utilise this data. In fact some (US) websites wrongly stated that the new maps app was from TomTom which is untrue. This simply adds more to the confusion. They could have licenced the actuall TomTom front-end which has been avialable on iOS for several years now and which works very well. It's the frontend that is the mess not the data itself. In similar vein Nokia created a new frontend for WP7 on their Lumia devices for their NavTeq-location-data (which is also free to obtain by everybody) which looked similar to their Symbian frontend but which unfortunately had less features upon release. Nonetheless WP7 Maps & drive have a correctly working core functionality. And just like Apple's efforts this was also their "first try". Does that mean, that despites Nokia's financial trouble, they STILL can deliver a better software product then Apple? Thus are Apple engineers incompetent? Thus should we en masse ditch our iProducts? Also since Apple still had 1 year license from Google Maps they could have included Google Maps and indeed as you say, offer the Apple Maps as a beta software. Considering Apple's supposedly 'high standards' I simply cannot understand why they made such a mess. I understand that Google prefers Android Google Maps and hence develop more features for that platform while deliberately neglecting other platforms with new features. From a consumer viewpoint, I don't like this either and thus understands Apple desire to counteract this. But perhaps they should have thought of another party to do this if they aren't competent to do it themselves. I understand that the software teams had to a lot more with iOS 6 then simply create a map-frontend. Perhaps they could have asked Nokia to port their Map & Drive to iOS?

17. paulyyd

Posts: 340; Member since: Jan 08, 2011

fanboys are having a heart attack reading this article right now Lol

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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