Today in Apple history: Maps manager is navigated out of Apple


Yep ... we're pretty sure that's not right.
Photo: Apple

November 27: Today in Apple history: Apple fires Maps manager Richard Williamson November 27, 2012: Apple fires the manager responsible for iOS 6’s disastrous Apple Maps software.

Richard Williamson, who oversaw Apple’s mapping team, gets the ax from Eddy Cue, who takes over the team.

Apple Maps launch: A historic misstep

Apple Maps will go down as one of the biggest missteps in Apple history. The debacle came in the wake of Steve Jobs’ death, when people were looking for any excuse to accuse the company of suffering a decline in quality.

Unfortunately, the flawed Apple Maps gave those folks plenty of ammunition. In addition to warping landscapes and distorting landmarks, the Maps app even suggested that people steer the wrong way across a taxiway at Alaska’s Fairbanks International Airport.

Williamson wasn’t the only high-profile exec to go down as a result of the Apple Maps screwup. Apple also ousted Scott Forstall, senior vice president of iOS software, after he refused to make a public apology. (Cupertino announced Williamson’s firing weeks after Forstall’s.)

To fix the Apple Maps problem, Apple CEO Tim Cook recommended that customers temporarily use other mapping services. Meanwhile, Cue requested that digital maps provider TomTom NV help fix the landmark and navigation data for Apple.

“Look, the first thing is that you’re embarrassed,” Cue told Fast Company a few years later, 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.”

Apple Maps since then …

After Apple Maps’ disastrous launch, Cupertino made big steps to improve the service. The company started updating Apple Maps every day, introduced features like Flyover, and published a number of fascinating patents. (One example: An effort to make navigation software more humanlike by referencing landmarks and street signs instead of just road names.)

Apple also snapped up mapping-related companies like Coherent Navigation, which helped develop a form of ultra-detailed GPS accurate within centimeters as opposed to the usual meters. Apple even applied for permission to use drones to improve its mapping.

The company reportedly spent “billions” updating its Maps app. Cupertino started rolling out an enhanced version of Apple Maps last year. The updated Apple Maps now covers almost the entirety of the United States.

While Apple Maps is still occasionally invoked as an example of tech gone wrong, it’s hard to fault Apple for correcting the problem as it did. Even if we never like to see anyone lose a job.