You try mapping the world.
Since Apple released its updated iOS 6 software earlier this week, the web has been buzzing with complaints from users around the world who are pointing out inconsistencies and errors with Apple Maps, which has mislabeled major cities, erased entire towns, shows airports where there are none, and doesn't provide transit directions. Apple PR's answer to those complaints: Hold tight, we're making it better. Oh, and you'd be doing us a big favor if you could just keep using it a bit more, even if that means getting lost now and then, or having to revert to those foldable paper map things (they're making a comeback!).
"We launched this new map service knowing it is a major initiative and that we are just getting started with it," an Apple spokeswoman said, according to Mashable. "Maps is a cloud-based solution and the more people use it, the better it will get. We appreciate all of the customer feedback and are working hard to make the customer experience even better."
The problem is while Apple may be "just getting started" with maps, users were "just getting started" with maps years ago. We've been going steady with them for a while now, and by now we expect them to work and we miss them dearly when they don't.
The danger for Apple is even if Maps does improve, it remains to be seen whether people will trust it enough to use it for something as important as figuring out where to go. As I wrote here yesterday, the very first address I searched on Apple Maps -- "770 Broadway, New York, NY" -- turned up the wrong result. Apple directed me to a building in Bayonne, New Jersey, even though I was in Manhattan and had specifically asked for a New York City address. I still can't get Apple Maps to place the office building in Manhattan.
If we can't trust Apple Maps to take us to places we do know, how will we ever trust it to take us places we don't know? A negative experience early on, whether it's receiving poor directions or being unable to find a location you know exists (like, say, Berlin), won't endear anyone to the service.
As BuzzFeed points out, Apple looks like it's urgently trying to staff up: there are some dozen positions open for Maps software engineers.
Google, which held a press conference earlier this year to demonstrate the resources and time that had gone to building Google Maps over a seven year period, must be thrilled, but has so far stayed mum.
Struggling Nokia, on the other hand, is taking advantage of Apple's misery to tout its own offerings.
“Unlike our competitors, which are financing their location assets with advertising or licensing mapping content from third parties, we completely own, build and distribute mapping content, platform and apps,” Nokia wrote in a blog post. “In other words, we truly understand that maps and location-based apps must be accurate, provide the best quality and be accessible basically anywhere. That’s been standard practice at Nokia for the past six years, and we also understand that ‘pretty isn’t enough.”