Why is Apple Maps Still So Awful?

By
Advertisement
I'm obviously a huge Apple fan.

So when iOS was released last year, I didn't mourn the loss of Google Maps, as much as I welcomed the arrival of Apple Maps.

Yes, I knew it wouldn't have data for public transit at first - but I figured that would be a short-lived problem... surely Apple, with its gargantuan war chest, can acquire a company or service that provides transit data. 

And then the app arrived. It's beautiful. It's minimalist. The vector graphics scaled really smoothly and gorgeously, as opposed to Google Maps' constant "disappear to grid, redraw" whenever you zoomed in or out.

But then we all started using the app. And we laughed at the melting freeways, and we started to notice rather obvious mistakes, like misplaced cities and missing roads. 

The turn-by-turn was awesome, but it often took us to incorrect locations. And you couldn't count on the app to know where a particular business was - the maps were shockingly unpopulated. 

Standard growing pains, I assumed. Apple quickly walked off its original marketing claims that they'd created the "greatest" Maps app, but they also minimized the app's faults, at first. "It will improve as more people use the app", we heard. 

So - months later - why hasn't it improved?
I haven't thought about Apple Maps much since the re-release of Google Maps for the iPhone. Like you (in all likelihood), I banished Maps to a "Utilities" folder, where it languished with Voice Memos and Compass and Contacts. 


I was surprised, frankly, that anyone used Apple Maps at all - even the fanboys at TUAW. 

I was really surprised that someone would pay for the privilege of adding Google Street View to Apple Maps. Google Street View is free! And it's natively contained in a dramatically superior maps app!

Which got me thinking - why is Maps still so lousy?

It's not just that Maps is occasionally wrong. It's *consistently* wrong. 

Most of the time, the errors are errors of omission - i.e., I'll stand outside of my Chase bank branch, and ask Maps where the nearest Chase Bank branch is. I'll get no responses, or responses that are dozens - even hundreds - of miles away. 

Zoom in on a strip mall in your town, and Maps will have 1 or 2 of the storefronts named. If you're lucky.

Those "not enough data" errors I can deal with. It's unrealistic to expect Apple to have every single business in the country correctly labeled on Day 1, or even in Year 1. 

But the "false location" errors are a different matter entirely. For example, we purchased tickets to this year's Ryder Cup on Stubhub. We were supposed to pick up our tickets at a Stubhub kiosk at the Holiday Inn in Itasca, near the Medinah country club. 

This is NOT a new hotel, by any stretch. 

We first searched for the hotel by name in Apple Maps - "Holiday Inn Itasca".  Maps returned a pin drop about a mile EAST of I-355, at the corner of Irving Park and Parkside. 

Turn-by-turn got us to the pin-drop.... but no Holiday Inn. It's a residential intersection. 

We then searched in Apple Maps by the hotel's address (860 W Irving Park), and got the same incorrect pin-drop. 

We were pretty flustered. We searched in Google via Safari, and immediately got the correct location -- about a quarter mile WEST of I-355. 

I could understand how Apple Maps could believe that the Holiday Inn Itasca was located at Irving Park and Parkside. That's a fixable problem. 

The more distressing issue is that Apple Maps believed that 860 W Irving Park was located at Irving Park and Parkside.  That's a failure of the mapping algorithm. 

That scares me about the future of the app. It's not just "getting the names of businesses right" - apparently, things like "find the 800 block of Irving Park" have to be fixed. 

But what is the solution? I'd love nothing more than for Apple to have a first-rate, proprietary Maps application. Obviously, Apple can acquire mapping companies for their data, and I'm sure they have people working around the clock on fixing issues. But it's a big world - and there are a lot of issues to be fixed. 

One solution - at least for those errors of omission - may be a wiki-style method for users to flesh out the existing maps. 

For now, we can submit issues to Apple - but there's no real feedback, and errors may or may not be corrected at some unspecified point in the future. I'd expect a business owner, on the other hand, to "tag" their storefront  in Maps on Day 1.

Then again, opening Maps up to crowdsourced input and expecting the internet to police itself may be a  recipe for disaster. 

Perhaps a way to authenticate Maps submissions - requiring submissions to be made by users with AppleIDs and credit cards, for instance - could limit abuse. 

But whatever Apple chooses to do... if they're serious about turning Maps' reputation around, they're going to have to do it soon. 

--------

FUN UPDATE: When discussing the Maps program in the comments at TUAW today, I re-ran that Holiday Inn search, and got the incorrect Irving Park/Parkside address. Disheartening.

A few hours later, when writing this post, I ran the search again.... and the error has been corrected! So apparently, Cupertino is monitoring major Apple blogs, and I caught their notice! 

(Now if only I can get them to watch AAAD, maybe we'd get our universal iRemote platform!)

0 comments :

Post a Comment