December 10, 2012: Apple fixes an Apple Maps error that caused several motorists in Victoria, Australia, to become stranded in the remote Murray-Sunset National Park.
The glitch showed the town of Mildura about 45 miles from its actual location. In the aftermath, Victoria police describe the app as “potentially life-threatening.” That’s pretty much the opposite of “it just works.”
Apple Maps: Flawed from the start
The Murray-Sunset National Park error was just the latest in a series of problems that followed the release of Apple Maps. A highly anticipated launch in 2012, Apple first showed off Apple Maps at that year’s Worldwide Developers Conference. The company shipped the software with iOS 6.
For the first time, Apple ditched Google Maps as its default mapping service. Apple Maps also offered some intriguing additions — including the impressive Flyover feature and the presence of AI assistant Siri.
From the very beginning, however, Apple Maps ran into problems. In addition to warping landscapes and distorting landmarks, it also exhibited more serious errors. For instance, Apple Maps told drivers to steer the wrong way across Fairbanks Airport Taxiway in Alaska.
Airport marketing director Angie Spear called that particular error proof positive that drivers put too much faith in navigation systems. “No matter what the signs say, the map on their iPhone told them to proceed this way,” she said.
In the aftermath of the Maps debacle, Apple ousted Scott Forstall, senior vice president of iOS software. The reason? He refused to make a public apology for the Maps problems. And he wasn’t the only casualty in Cupertino. Not long afterward, Richard Williamson — the manager responsible for Maps — also found himself navigated out of Apple.
New CEO Tim Cook admitted that Apple had “screwed up,” promising to put “the entire weight of the company behind correcting” the Maps problems. In the years since, Apple steadily improved its mapping service and added advanced features like 3D views of select cities.
A ‘life-threatening’ glitch
In a statement about the Mildura mapping mishap, police in Victoria wrote:
“Local Police have been called to assist distressed motorists who have become stranded within the Murray-Sunset National Park after following directions on their Apple iPhone. Tests on the mapping system by police confirm the mapping systems lists Mildura in the middle of the Murray Sunset National Park, approximately 70km away from the actual location of Mildura. Police are extremely concerned as there is no water supply within the Park and temperatures can reach as high as 46 degrees, making this a potentially life threatening issue. Some of the motorists located by police have been stranded for up to 24 hours without food or water and have walked long distances through dangerous terrain to get phone reception.”
Interestingly, on this occasion, it’s possible Apple wasn’t entirely responsible for the fault. The Gazetteer of Australia, a master list of more than 300,000 place names and their coordinates, included two references to Mildura — with one being in the middle of the Murray-Sunset National Park, close to a spot called Rocket Lake.
In other words, Apple Maps was actually taking folks to the right coordinates, but the wrong spot! Nonetheless, Cupertino fixed the glitch.
Do you remember the disastrous Apple Maps launch? Let us know in the comments below.