Thank Apple Maps disaster for public betas of iOS and macOS

Thank Apple Maps disaster for public betas of iOS and macOS

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TomTom will continue to power Apple Maps.
Apple Maps was a turning point for Apple.
Photo: Apple

Apple’s decision to open up macOS and iOS for public betas was inspired by the company’s horrible experience with the iOS Maps debacle in 2012, according to a new interview with Tim Cook, Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi.

One of the most notorious botches in Apple history, Maps’ problems ranged from depicting horribly warped landscapes to directing folks visiting the airport in Fairbanks, Alaska, to drive across one of the taxiways. And it changed Apple’s culture in the process.

“Look, the first thing is that you’re embarrassed,” Eddy Cue is quoted as saying in the Fast Company article, regarding his response to Maps. “Let’s just deal with that one fact of emotion. These things mean a lot to us, we work really hard, and so you’re embarrassed. We had completely underestimated the product, the complexity of it.”

“Maps presents huge issues relating to data integration and data quality, things we would need to do on an ongoing basis,” Federighi added.

Interestingly, Apple’s decision to do public betas of its products arose in the aftermath of the Maps disaster, because Apple realized that its focus on simply testing products internally and within a tight-knit group of developers risked creating an echo chamber environment.

“We made significant changes to all of our development processes because of it,” says Cue, who now oversees Maps. “To all of us living in Cupertino, the maps for here were pretty darn good. Right? So [the problem] wasn’t obvious to us. We were never able to take it out to a large number of users to get that feedback. Now we do.”

Apple now does public beta testing of its most significant software projects, something that Jobs never liked to do. In 2014, the company asked users to test run its Yosemite upgrade to OS X. Last year, it introduced beta testing of iOS, which is the company’s most important operating system. “The reason you as a customer are going to be able to test iOS,” Cue says, “is because of Maps.”

I’ve written fairly often about Apple’s friendlier face under Tim Cook, which focuses heavily on sustainability, being a “force for good” in the world, more openness to developers, and (marginally) less secrecy than existed under Steve Jobs’ rule. While a lot of the changes are down to the position Apple is in today, it’s still interesting to read that the company was willing to pivot a massive part of its internal strategy based on the failure of one product.

Even if it was a product which received unrelenting mockery in the time that followed.

You can check out the rest of the Fast Company article, which makes very interesting reading, here.