Apple’s Maps Problem Could Be Much Bigger Than You Think

Apple’s Maps Problem Could Be Much Bigger Than You Think

It could be some time before you can rely on Apple’s new Maps app.

Now that Apple has apologized for its decision to release a half-baked Maps app in iOS 6, the vast majority of us will carry on with our lives and use a third-party solution until Apple’s is fixed. Right now, it seems Apple is a company that can achieve anything. So it won’t be too long before Maps is as good as — if not better then — Google Maps. Right?

Maybe not. You see, Apple’s Maps problem could be much bigger than we think, and it could be a long time before we can say goodbye to third-party alternatives.

Tim Cook promised in his open letter to iOS 6 users that “the more our customers use our Maps the better it will get and we greatly appreciate all of the feedback we have received.” However, David Talbot of Technology Review suggests that the “true scale” of Apple’s Maps problem may be significantly greater than the Cupertino company realizes. It cannot just rely on customer feedback alone.

The scale of the problem—particularly, the millions of errant labels on points of interest like businesses—requires new data sources and easier ways to contribute fixes, as well as enough willing map-fixers in geographically dispersed regions. Little of this is evident now, experts say.

Right now, iOS 6 users can report Maps problems from within the Maps app. But who actually does that? When you search for a road that doesn’t exist in Maps, do you tell Apple about it, or do you just close Maps and open up a third-party app? I’ll bet the vast majority of you do the latter.

With that said, Apple can’t rely on users alone to report problems. It needs other solutions.

According to Michael Dobson, president of TeleMapics, one of those could be analyzing users’ search results. For example, when a user searches for a place that isn’t found, Apple can flag this as a possible error in its database, then establish why there was no result.

Another solution would be to provide a better interface for users to report problem. Google utilizes a Map Maker service, a browser-based tool that allows anyone to report problems and edit maps that are incorrect, to help perfect its maps.

The other advantage Google has is that it utilizes 5,000 to 7,000 employees to iron out mapping problems. In comparison, Dobson doesn’t believe that Apple has more than a couple of hundred people working on its own service at this point. That’s a massive difference, and it explains why Google’s maps are so much more accurate than Apple’s are right now.

Google also has a flock of cars that have so far been used to log five million miles worldwide, recording things like GPS traces of streets, images of buildings, names and addresses of businesses, and more.

Dobson also notes that some of Apple’s problems are easier to fix than others. For example, buildings and highways that appear to be melting, and clouds obstructing the view of your house are “the least of it.”

The most serious problem—and no doubt an ongoing one—has to do with the points of interest. Beyond businesses, these include labels on places including schools, hospitals, parks, and police and fire stations.

Reports of missing or misplaced labels on Apple Maps have cropped up around the world. And this is particularly problematic, because people often want to search for a point of interest by name, not address. If the point is on the wrong spot, then the directions—and the maps themselves—become useless.

Dobson suggests Apple needs its own Map Maker tool. He notes the company’s strength is in making things simple, and so it should create a “super-simple” editing interface that would allow users to modify and correct local maps.

While Apple does allow us to report some problems already, then, its feedback options at this point are incredibly basic, allowing you to give vague answers like “Information is incorrect,” “Pin is at incorrect location,” “Place does not exist,” and “My problem isn’t listed.”

Talbot’s report is a bit of an eye-opener, especially if you weren’t already aware of the work that Google puts into making sure its own maps are spot-on. In fact, it makes me even more surprised that Apple has already made its own Maps service public.

Google Maps was terrific on iOS. Sure, it didn’t have turn-by-turn navigation, but at least it worked, and it was almost always accurate. Apple still had time left on its contract, so why did it pull Google Maps so quickly when it was aware there’s so much work still to be done on its own service?

I still can’t think of a sensible answer to that question. Can you?

  • ScotHibb

    I rarely used the G-maps with my 4S. Every car I buy comes stock with GPS and I have two Garmin GPS units that sit useless. It’s fine for me, but it does give SamBUNG something to whine about constantly…asshats.

  • jamesrandersen

    I don’t like the in car gps anymore because they have to be updated manually. The smartphone maps from google in my opinion is far superior both in UI and functionality. Unless the majority of car manufacturers change the way their gps systems update their data the smartphone is a better solution. Now the only problem with smartphones is when you get into an error with no cell reception. Then a standalone system is better. You could also download offline maps from google too to your phone and use that for that situation knowing ahead of time that that was going to happen.

  • David Nielsen

    I would be really excited if Apple started a formal collaboration with the OpenStreetMap project. Their data is really topnotch and Apple’s Maps already use some of it, but weirdly it is years out of date and handled wrong (according to my OSM contributor friend).

    Regardless it would be nice if Apple crowdsourced this more, Mapping is an ideal case for this and they could easily top Google’s measly few thousand people quickly. I’d be happy to run around the neighborhood to ensure that my local data was correct. Hell I would even organize a mapping event, they just need to supply me with easy to use apps that collect stuff and let us mark things like places to eat, etc. Imagine if just one in a thousand iPhone users contributed, they’d have literally hundreds of thousands of people collecting the data for them. Distribute that in an open format via OSM and voila, best map data ever for them to build their services on and they would score brownie points for open data access which is good pr.

  • FriarNurgle

    Just got my iPhone 5 delivered on Friday. No issues with Maps app… so far. Friend of mine received his the previous Friday and he noticed an error in a store location last week. He submitted a report, I’ll likely do the same when I come across issues.

  • joewaylo

    Because they don’t have someone smarter than Tim Cook behind the wheel.

  • rlowe
    This will take Apple 5 years to fix, no doubt

    Or maybe even more. I doubt number of users that will contiue using Apple Maps would increase.

  • beachcoaster

    I love all my Apple products, but Apple did drop the ball on this big time. They had to of known all the problems they were going to incur when they launched this half baked app.

    Had they said it was beta from the get go, it would be much more forgiving. It just seems like there was vision on the Maps app. They really need to set up some kind of major operation, the iOS environment and the amount of users is now too big to take their sweet time and will lose out. Maybe Apple should help google out and expedite the Google Maps App.

    As much as I wanted turn by turn navigation built into iOS, this was not the trade off I was expecting.

    For anyone who says they don’t use Maps, just a reminder this app is built into iOS so when Yelp, Safari, and a lot of other apps need to use maps to get directions and locations, guess what app they are led to.

  • andrewallen

    “Apple still had time left on its contract, so why did it pull Google Maps so quickly when it was aware there’s so much work still to be done on its own service?”

    One word. Arrogance.

  • Tommygun1000

    Honestly.. I know Apple likes to build versus buy.. but in this case I think they should have used some of their massive cash reserves to buy their way into the map market – considering they were on a tight timeline it would have made sense.. They could have bought Nokia, Garmin etc.. just for a leg up on maps.. now they’re in the ridiculous position of recommending that people use Nokia or Bing maps.

  • Michael Jardeen

    I find it funny to read this with all the articles that came out in the past few days on why Apple timed this the way they did. No doubt this is a screw up and Scott Forrester should pay for the size of the error but Apple was left with little choice. Google was not willing to provide voice turn-by-turn, and Google was getting tons of sensitive marketing data on Apple iPhone customers that it could then use for Android. People seem to forget that when Maps was 1st contracted for there was little or no competition between the two companies. At this point the line between then has become the biggest flash point in the tech industry. One thing Apple does have to solve this is money, and I am sure they will spend a ton to fix it.

  • Atienne

    Note from the after world:

    Dear TIm,

    Buy Google.

    Steve

  • snarfblat

    I think if Steve Jobs was still around, this wouldn’t have made it out yet. And if it HAD, he would already have an iOS update in the pipeline to restore Google Maps, while retaining crAppleMaps for those who wanted to help. My issues with Maps are the inaccuracies (more likely detail that’s just plain missing) as opposed to satellite view stuff. Bridges and buildings not rendering right is amusing but not a show-stopper. But missing detail is. And I want TERRAIN mode back too. But yeah for now I have a shortcut on my home screen to Google Maps in the browser. It works just fine.

  • robert_walter

    “…and it explains why Google’s maps are so much more accurate than Apple’s are right now.”

    Um I would have guessed it was because Google has been at this longer.

  • robert_walter

    Note from the after world:
    Dear TIm,
    Buy Google.
    Steve

    Or mapquest or tomtom or… And remember, in this case, organic growth may not be as desirable as a little GM of the apple DNA by injecting some foreign entity’s map DNA.

  • robert_walter

    I don’t like the in car gps anymore because they have to be updated manually. The smartphone maps from google in my opinion is far superior both in UI and functionality. Unless the majority of car manufacturers change the way their gps systems update their data the smartphone is a better solution. Now the only problem with smartphones is when you get into an error with no cell reception. Then a standalone system is better. You could also download offline maps from google too to your phone and use that for that situation knowing ahead of time that that was going to happen.

    Within the next 5 years, the in car system will pull its info from your smartphone… (This may or my not be the case for autonomous cars. )…

  • LTMP

    Apple Maps is a poor product right now.

    However, Apple had little choice but to launch it now. Do you really think that six months without user input would make a difference? Do you think that switching the maps app in a .x upgrade would work out for developers?

    Buying another company is one solution, but MAY not be the best. Apple needs data, not an entire infrastructure complete with things that they don’t need or want, and that might bring anti trust suits upon them.

    Besides poor data, Apples search algorithms appear to need some work. Many of the “missing” locations turn out to be there, it just requires more exact input to find them. This isn’t to say that it isn’t Apple’s fault.

    Google’s maps are far from perfect, and have been degrading the iOS experience for some time. I, for one, find the new app to be a marked improvement. I’m located near Toronto Ontario, and I find that the data in my area is actually much better than Google’s was.

    If Apple had waited another six months to make the switch, it would have been a disaster. If they had extended the contract with Google it would have been an even bigger disaster.

    Apple did the right thing for the long term. Both for themselves and for their customers.

  • Atienne
    Note from the after world:
    Dear TIm,
    Buy Google.
    Steve

    Or mapquest or tomtom or… And remember, in this case, organic growth may not be as desirable as a little GM of the apple DNA by injecting some foreign entity’s map DNA.

    LOL – I said google to be funny, but you are right.. Why re-invent the wheel.

  • Len Williams

    And the bitching continues. Yes, Apple Maps has problems and yes, they should have kept Google Maps for another year to give them time to fix many of the Maps issues. This is perfect fodder for all the tech writers and pundits to declare that Apple is losing its grip and is not the same since Steve died. Of course they were also critical of Apple while Steve was alive, so the tune is still the same. As Apple has shown in the past, it will overcome this problem and make Maps a gem, and it will be completely out from under the thumb of Google. Apple has billions in its U.S. accounts and billions in its accounts outside of the country. You can bet that they’re putting a tremendous amount of resources behind this so that they can deliver the same kind of high-quality Apple experience they’re known for. It’s mysterious that the app was released so prematurely, but as history has shown, I’m convinced Apple will get on top of this quickly–and no, it won’t be because of user corrections as a major source of data. The logistics alone in verifying each user correction would be a nightmare.

  • Matthew Gonzales Landry

    Maps is the staple feature of iOS6. That’s why they wanted to release it.

  • kavok

    All of this is sheer speculation. Let Apple deal with it. Desk jockey rumor mongers just stir the pot to incite hate and discontent. Also I wish that Watergate never happened because I’m sick and tired of everyone using the word “gate” as a suffix whenever something bad is perceived.

    I have been using Maps since beta and I have had ZERO issues with it. It has worked flawlessly. Even the voice recognition for Siri has been impeccable. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

  • nvettese

    I find it funny to read this with all the articles that came out in the past few days on why Apple timed this the way they did. No doubt this is a screw up and Scott Forrester should pay for the size of the error but Apple was left with little choice. Google was not willing to provide voice turn-by-turn, and Google was getting tons of sensitive marketing data on Apple iPhone customers that it could then use for Android. People seem to forget that when Maps was 1st contracted for there was little or no competition between the two companies. At this point the line between then has become the biggest flash point in the tech industry. One thing Apple does have to solve this is money, and I am sure they will spend a ton to fix it.

    Apple had the option of Turn by Turn, but wanted to do it on their own. This isn’t the only screw up with iPhone5/iOS6, there are tons…

    Letterboxing – Really? If iPhone5 were done right, there wouldn’t be any.

    Yellow tint on the screen? I have been hearing a lot of reports about this.

    Blue/Purple Haze in images?

    Scratches and Nicks on the black iPhone5, and Phil Schiller tells the users to get over it. I was sitting with some Apple employees and even they think that Phil Schiller is a tool and should be gone from Apple.

    Maps… Other companies have used Google’s maps in the past, and they had Turn by Turn, why not Apple? It is all Apple’s decision, and not Google’s. Google will license anything, and if they did not license Turn by Turn to Apple, don’t you think there would have been a lawsuit?

    So stop trying to blame Google. This is an Apple mess, and nothing else. Suck it up… You were taken, yet again.

  • BCE

    Because they don’t have someone smarter than Tim Cook behind the wheel.

    Then go do a better job.

  • Gavin Blur

    the maps work! No need for 3rd party bull… Really

  • Atienne
    I don’t like the in car gps anymore because they have to be updated manually. The smartphone maps from google in my opinion is far superior both in UI and functionality. Unless the majority of car manufacturers change the way their gps systems update their data the smartphone is a better solution. Now the only problem with smartphones is when you get into an error with no cell reception. Then a standalone system is better. You could also download offline maps from google too to your phone and use that for that situation knowing ahead of time that that was going to happen.

    Within the next 5 years, the in car system will pull its info from your smartphone… (This may or my not be the case for autonomous cars. )…

    It had better be the case. Autonomous cars will need up to date, instant maps or there are going to be some UGLY accidents.

  • Michael Breed

    I use the Maps app every day and have yet to find a single error here in New York State. Hyped up? Oh yeah!

  • DdeviTo_3

    This will take Apple 5 years to fix, no doubt

    As a galaxy s user, my friend and I tried the maps app on his 4s. As a fandroid, I couldn’t see what the fuss us all about. No street view, hmmm, don’t really use it myself. I had issues with turn by turn with gmaps early on. It wasn’t keeping up with my movements, so I had to buy a third party app. Works fine. Haven’t used gmaps since.

  • David Renner

    Just have to shake my head at these types of articles…. There is not one Mapping service available does not have significant errors (Google included). Are they getting better, sure with the help of so many of us. Send six fixes this year to several services including Google. There will never be a fully accurate service (just too much data and change is continual). Hope you guys wise up and grow up.

  • djkikrome

    I live in New Mexico and I have not had ONE problem with Apple’s Map App. The navigation and searches work flawless for me. With other map apps, I’ve found they have a lot of incorrect addresses and they pull from bing. I’ve reported these problems over several months and not ONE has been fixed yet. But with Apple’s Maps, every address I’ve tried so far has been spot on. I think the problems are from a small percent with extremely loud voices.

About the author

Killian BellKillian Bell is a staff writer based in the U.K. He has an interest in all things tech and also covers Android over at CultofAndroid.com. You can follow him on Twitter via @killianbell.

(sorry, you need Javascript to see this e-mail address)| Read more posts by .

Posted in News | Tagged: , , , , , , , |