How Apple’s iOS 6 Maps Apology Could Pave The Way To iOS 7 [Opinion]

How Apple’s iOS 6 Maps Apology Could Pave The Way To iOS 7 [Opinion]

Apple did something unprecedented today.

I’m not talking about Tim Cook’s apology for iOS 6 Maps. While it’s rare, Apple has apologized before, especially recently: see John Browett’s admission that the company had “messed up” when cutting shifts among Retail Employees, and Apple’s public about-face when pulling out of the EPEAT rating system. One of the things that makes Apple great is they’re not afraid to be as harsh on themselves as they are on the competition when they’ve fucked up.

No, what Apple did today is far more uncharacteristic than an apology. They suggested that you use a third-party app instead of their own.

In his public note to customers, Tim Cook wrote this:

While we’re improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their web app.

Leaving aside the issue of how bad iOS 6 Maps is, it’s incredible to see Apple CEO not only start recommending third-party apps over their own, but launch a dedicated section of the App Store specifically to promote apps that can do the job better than their own can.

Consider this: it wasn’t that long ago that Apple was turning down apps left and right for offering the same functionality as iOS’s core apps. Apple has since loosened up restrictions on what kind of apps can be sold on the App Store, leading to an in-flux of alternative browsers, e-mail clients and more, but always, Apple has put forward its own apps as the best option, and given them favored privileges (for example, access to the Nitro engine that allows Mobile Safari to outpace other third-party browsers).

What if Tim Cook’s mention of other third-party mapping apps wasn’t just a necessary part of their iOS 6 Maps mea culpa, but is instead indicative of a changing attitude within Apple towards third-party apps as not necessarily being a threat to Apple’s core offerings?

Apple has a responsibility to provide the best core experience they can on their own platform, but what if they now recognize that there is little to fear from users exploring alternatives from the App Store? Not only does Apple get thirty cents out of every dollar spent on the App Store, but the excellent offerings there only help to lock people into Apple’s ecosystem.

So what? Well, let’s imagine for a second that iOS 6 launched not just with crappy Maps, but a new feature: the ability to declare any app, including third-party ones, as the default app for Mail, Browsing, Navigation and more.

As bad as iOS 6 Maps might have proven, I doubt that the public outcry over Maps would have been nearly as bad. If you didn’t like Maps and didn’t want to deal with it while Apple fixed it, you could just download another Maps program and make it your default. The rest of iOS would respect the change, and pass data to that maps app as if it were Apple’s own. Problem solved, with a lot less egg on Apple’s face.

The debacle of iOS 6 Maps has spent a lot of Apple’s good will currency with users, who have suddenly found a company that they trust throwing their lives into anarchy by replacing a tool they depended upon with a tool that is much, much worse. Maybe Apple’s learning a lesson from this: it’s time to stop trying to do everything themselves, which means no longer making third-party apps second class citizens on iOS.

If so, maybe one good thing will result from the Mapocalypse after all: the ability to choose your own default apps in iOS 7. Wouldn’t that be worth it?

  • Drew Lukac

    from a software engineering practice, this is nearly impossible.

  • tayloradubose

    There is no way Apple is going to back off of default apps. Maps maybe but the others, I seriously doubt it.

  • Richard Updike

    Even before the we learnt that the maps were inaccurate it was clear they made a HUGE mistake. Everyone who uses public transport got shafted by apple’s maps. Google maps gives you total integration with buses and trains, their routes, times etc. Thats what I use because I dont own a car. Apple didnt give ppl like me a second thought when making their app. Why replace google maps when you know your app doesn’t have all the functionality?

  • mr_bee

    I’d be happy if they just let us turn off their own core apps like the crappy Notes app and the crappy Clock app and the crappy voice recorder app …

    That and more control in the settings over the features they keep adding like “VIP” (useless for most people), and things like keyboard and dictionary access.

  • mr_bee

    … Everyone who uses public transport got shafted by apple’s maps. Google maps gives you total integration with buses and trains, their routes, times etc. Thats what I use because I dont own a car. Apple didnt give ppl like me a second thought when making their app. Why replace google maps when you know your app doesn’t have all the functionality?

    I feel exactly the same.

    The idea of letting third parties handle transit directions sounds okay in principle, but in practice it just doesn’t work. The app store is full of expensive apps that offer some kind of functionality this way but at least half of them are total scams and there is no way to tell if you buy one whether it will actually even work. In the Canadian app store, most of these apps actually provide transit directions for the USA only. What are they even doing in the store? People are wasting thousands on these things as we speak simply because Apple didn’t think this thing through at all.

    They should instead provide a standard interface so that the actual transit authorities can provide directions right in the app. Third party apps for this basic functionality is a big mistake and an insult to everyone who doesn’t drive.

  • technochick

    Everyone who uses public transport got shafted by apple’s maps. Google maps gives you total integration with buses and trains, their routes, times etc.

    Apple was upfront that they wouldn’t have that info right off

    And Google was far from perfect. I couldn’t use them due to being way behind on route changes, missing routes even as much as 3 years after they were added and in general giving piss poor directions. I recall in particular having it tell me to walk a quarter mile from my he’s to a bus stop to then take 4 buses, one of which didn’t run as often as Google claimed to get somewhere. When I checked the transit website there was a bus two blocks from my house that would take me directly there.

    Apples method is for you to go to the source, so the information should always be up to date. Far better in my mind

  • fraydog

    “throwing their lives into anarchy” “Mapocalypse” “The debacle of iOS 6 Maps has spent a lot of Apple’s good will currency with users”

    What a stupid flame piece. You are the J. Jonah Jameson of the blog world. Now I know why readers regard you as a fucking idiot.

    None other than John Gruber said back in May that the mapping data had to be great. The problem is that it’s clearly not great. How is that being a fucking idiot? Wanting Maps data to work? How the fuck is that being a fucking idiot? It was the most predictable thing in the world to know that the data had to be good. I want Apple to get this right.

    Furthermore, Brownlee went out of his way to praise Apple for issuing mea culpas AND going out of their way to fix them. Do you think Google is making half the effort to fix things wrong in Android, like fragmentation, carrier control, and UI inconsistencies? Google is doing the other tact, the wrong one, that is to convince Fandroids that nothing is wrong and it’s all part of being “open”.

    With Apple fans like you, who needs Fandroids? Bottom line is, for all that is insanely great with iOS, Maps…ain’t. Apple has to get extremely smart people to fix it. WIth a lot of the core Google Maps team already having left, good people are out there and Apple is hiring them.

  • patstar5

    Android had that years ago. iPhone 5 screen isn’t big enough. Apple will keep same screen and design for years. Will be getting android or wp next year. Might get an iPod though. Funny how almost everyone I know who has android has an iPod and mainly the iPod touch. One has a galaxy s3 and talks about how much better it is than Iphone but wants the new iPod touch 5 while the iPhone is too small and looks the same. But the iPod touch has same screen size…. Guess they don’t notice extra height. One said just buy a case for the old iPod and put it on the back to make it look like the new one. General consumers are so easy to manipulate. Explains why apple and Samsung has majority of all smartphone cells.

  • dsb194

    Where is Street View in any of this? I used it for work on my iPad and it was brilliant. The real estate business is mighty hacked off!

  • Boyd Petersen

    It’s really not a big deal and the blogs have blown it out of proportion. Maps is good and kudos to Apple for creating something. Maps is just a small part of iOS and not a very widely used feature amongst 90% of users. Tim Cook should have nothing to apologize for with Maps.

  • gkinchina

    I tried to post the following on the Apple Support Communities thread where hundreds of Apple customers were complaining about their Maps problems. The company (thread host) did not allow it to be published and deleted it. posting it here for the benefit of suffering iLost users (like me) –

    Here is a complete list of solutions to the CrapMaps problem. Each person can take their pick – whatever works for them. You will not get this complete list from Apple or any of the level six and level seven guys on this forum who have dedicated their lives and all their time to earn even more levels from Apple, while we are busy trying to do something useful out in the real world (and trying to get rid of this Maps problem so that we can go back to doing our stuff out there). There are 4 points in the list below, and 3 subpoints to the third – I fully expect the iEmployee hosts of this forum to delete some of those and ensure that suggestions that really help, but are not in the Apple roadmap or otherwise do not conform to Apple’s current business interests, do not reach you –

    1. Do what Tim Cook says in his Mapology letter. Check out the other apps and also the shortcuts to the Google and Nokia browser services. If any of that works for you, hallelujah!

    2. For any serious use and especially when on the move, the Google and Nokia browser services suggestion will be too cumbersome and will not work. You can make the Google service easier to use by downloading the Google App called “local” and search for your location within it and ask for directions within it. The browser will open up with a solution map plus route and you will not have to torture yourself with the slow and inefficient browser search methods. For people who also need Streetview, Google is expected to launch it in the browser app in the next 2-3 weeks.

    3. In case none of the apps that are suggested in the Mapology work for you (and they won’t for 40-60 percent of Apple IOS6 users worldwide), you have the following options –

    A. Wait for the jailbreak with the old IOS 5 Map available – This is expected in 2 weeks or less. Be warned that the jailbreak will void the Apple warranty (not that I care – I will jailbreak)
    B. Wait for a Google Map App for IOS – Many accomplished journalists and others expect this to happen before December, based on their information sources. Google and Eric Schmidt are noncommittal about this – they refuse to accept or deny this in straightforward language. (They took lessons in obfuscation of information from the masters at the fruity company here, or maybe there are behind the scenes talks and negotiations still hoped or going on, and nobody wants to take a clear stand just yet).
    C. Buy an additional cheap Android phone for Google Maps or replace your iLost device with a top of the line Android device. I have gone for the first alternative , hoping that one of the above will work out. The iLost, when WeFind, is actually a better experience in my opinion.

    4. As consumers who have been wronged, please take all the action that you can, in all redressal forums available to you. I assume you know what that means. Hopefully, just as Apple was forced to apologise due to the initial backlash, the continuing pressure will make them open up a simple way for you to revert to the old IOS5 Maps app.

    Have fun. I have wasted 3 days on this forum – hoping for a solution that I can use. In this time, I have read about the troubles that so many of you are facing because of this – I hope and pray that you do not get hurt and are able to find a solution. I have also got a lot of replies and posts from iIdiots and iFanbois with lots of points and levels, trying to be sorry apologists for a company that has failed it’s consumers and still does not do the right thing – good luck to them as well.

    Bye Bye.

  • Pragmataman

    That’d be awesome. I cd finally delete safari

  • fraydog

    I’m not a fan, I’m a user, and this inflammatory writing does not reflect my experience, far from it. Truth in writing is all I’d like to see. Anarchy? Where? Referring to an apocalypse? Really? You agree? Based on your experiences or just a gut based bias? Show me how, in your use of maps, it is a debacle. When writers need to flame their articles with such over the top language, I have a right to call them out. Information, not inflammation. I’m just over all the flame articles that have savaged something that is not that bad. Have you used it?

    Considering the mapping is done by third parties, I hardly think Apple have the expertise to step in and tell them more than they already know and having second hand google employees on hand doesn’t quite come as ringing endorsement. Nobody has gotten 3D mapping right, yet, but to pillory Apple over it isn’t what anyone could call fair. Some thing aren’t there, yes, but others are. They’ve been forgotten over the cacophony of screeching bloggers, looking for higher traffic numbers. It’s been a week, and they’re still writing about it. Puerile.

    The street I live on is in the wrong location. How’s that for a start. I’m sure you won’t say that’s a debacle, however. I’ll point you to all the other streets here in Chester Illinois that are in the wrong location. You wanted real life examples. I give them.

    Yes there’s plenty of dumb linkbaiting but I do not believe this article was out of line. I don’t agree with all conclusions lying within this article. I’d hardly call Brownlee a linkbaiter.

    If you don’t like this site you can always go somewhere else. What a concept.

  • kevinkee

    I don’t think it’s a good idea to replace the core apps with 3rd parties.

    In terms of software engineering, everything that ties in within the core functional depends on the integration features of the core apps. Replacing the core apps will mess up the integration and giving the incomplete function which it can’t find an endless string of errors.

    A major no no, especially with Apple products that not only ties within the software but also between software and their hardware.

    Saying that, the alternative maps solution is fine for a direct use of the map (at least if you really can’t stand of it). When the function goes to link within another apps (such as contact) you still have to use the core (main) maps. The only satisfying solution is to get used to the new map while Apple working out the kinks.

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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