What happened to Apple Maps?

Apple Maps is a web mapping service created by Apple. The service was first launched in September 2012 on Apple devices where it replaced the default service Google Maps. The platform drew near-instant criticism from users and pundits alike, with The Guardian reporting in October of the same year that Apple Maps was the company’s $30 billion mistake. This sentiment was echoed by The New York Times reporter David Pogue, who noted that “Maps is an appalling first release. It may be the most embarrassing, least usable piece of software Apple has ever released.

Google Maps partnership

In 2007, Steve Jobs unveiled the first-ever iPhone to a captive audience. But he was also joined on stage by Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who announced that all Apple smartphones would feature Google Maps as the default mapping application.

The partnership was profitable for both companies initially, but it became more complicated when Google’s Android operating system started to gain traction. Android competed with iOS, which presented a quandary since Google Maps was effectively supporting the competition.

Google then asked Apple for access to iPhone user data to improve Google Maps, a request that did not sit well with Apple as a more conservative company that respected user privacy. In response, Google withheld several critical updates to Google Maps for iOS, giving the Android version an instant competitive advantage.

With the relationship between the two companies now acrimonious, Apple ended its partnership with Google despite having a year left to run on the contract.

Destined for failure

A resentful and bitter Steve Jobs then rushed the development of Apple Maps which meant it was always destined to fail. Once the app was released, there were countless usability issues, including the inaccurate placement of famous landmarks, poor or inconsistent navigation, and lackluster search results. 

As if that wasn’t enough, some locations were misspelled, given the wrong name, or omitted from the map entirely. Railway stations were either missing or shown as parks, and parks were sometimes labelled as airports. In Dubin, Northern Ireland, a public farm called “Airfield” was displayed in the app as an airport which authorities believed would be misleading for a pilot needing to make an emergency landing.

Navigational errors were perhaps the most concerning, however. In one instance, the app instructed drivers in Alaska to turn across an active runway at Fairbanks International Airport. In another, tourists in Australia were directed into the middle of a remote desert after requesting directions to Mildura – a city with a population of around 33,000 people.

In the wake of the app’s poor performance and similarly poor public image, Apple fired senior vice president of iOS software Scott Forstall after he refused to make a public apology. Richard Williamson, the overseer of the company’s mapping team, followed suit soon after.

Incoming CEO Tim Cook then suggested users switch to Bing Maps instead.

Rejuvenation

The Apple Maps user experience has been much improved in recent years, with the company spending billions of dollars to make the app more becoming of the Apple brand.

Apple no longer relies on third-party mapping data from providers such as TomTom, which means the maps it provides are more accurate. The company collects data from users and a fleet of vehicles and drones that roam the streets of America and users praise the app for its 3D graphics and virtual flyover functionality.

Apple Maps is now integrated with the privacy-centric search engine DuckDuckGo in a not-so-subtle reference to the company’s ill-fated relationship with Google. While the company now has around 12% of the mobile map app market cornered, it is still a distant second to Google Maps with approximately 80%.

Key takeaways:

  • Apple Maps is a web mapping service created by Apple. The service was first launched in September 2012 on Apple devices where it replaced the default service Google Maps.
  • Apple Maps was borne out of a relationship with Google that turned sour. Enraged and resentful, Steve Jobs rushed the development and release of the app which meant it was plagued by usability issues. Many of these were deleterious to human health.
  • Apple invested billions into the app with the appointment of Tim Cook, removing its dependence on third-party data providers, among other things. However, it is debatable as to whether Apple Maps can claw back any significant market share from Google Maps.

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