New Maps app is rare Apple flub (Update)

Sep 20, 2012 by Peter Svensson
Apple Senior VP of iPhone Software Scott Forstall demonstrates the new map application in June 2012. Apple faced growing criticism on Thursday from users around the world who complained that the tech giant's new mapping system is riddled with errors.

With a touch of geek whimsy, Google Maps warns anyone who seeks walking directions to Mordor —the land of evil in "The Lord of the Rings"— to use caution. "One does not simply walk into Mordor," it says. Apple is finding this week that creating an alternative to Google Maps isn't a simple walk, either.

Apple released an update to its iPhone and iPad operating system on Wednesday that replaces Google Maps with Apple's own application. Early upgraders are reporting that the new maps are less detailed, look weird and misplace landmarks. It's shaping up to be a rare setback for Apple.

"It's a complete failure," said Jeffrey Jorgensen. "It's slower, its directions are poorer and its location data doesn't seem to be accurate. All around, it's not quite there yet."

Jorgensen, a user interface designer for a San Francisco-based startup, began using Apple Maps months ago, because Apple made it available early to people in its software development program. He said he finds himself relying on Google Maps running on his wife's Android phone instead.

The most-hyped feature of the new app is a "Flyby" mode that shows three-dimensional renderings of buildings and other features. It presents a convincing depiction of the canyons of Manhattan, but has a hard time rendering bridges and highway overpasses, which tend to look wobbly or partly collapsed.

The Apple app also has a tendency to judge landscape features by their names. For instance, it marks the hulking Madison Square Garden arena in New York as green park space because of the word "Garden" in its name. The TD Garden football stadium in Boston gets the same treatment.

Conversely, Apple Maps marks "Airfield Gardens," a farm and plant nursery in Dublin, Ireland, as an airfield. This prompted the country's Justice Minister, Alan Shatter, to warn pilots on Thursday not to land there.

"Clearly the designation is not only wrong but is dangerously misleading in that it could result in a pilot, unfamiliar with the area, in an emergency situation and without other available information, attempting a landing," he said.

Marcus Thielking, the co-founder of mapping-app developer Skobbler, said the lapses of the Apple app are surprising, particularly since Apple purchases map data from an established provider, Tele Atlas.

"The combination of Apple and TomTom screwing up something like this is very odd. Apple is not the first and only company using Tele Atlas maps," Thielking said.

Tele Atlas is a subsidiary of TomTom, a Dutch maker of navigation devices.

"We launched this new map service knowing it is a major initiative and we are just getting started," said Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller. The app will work better the more people use it, she said, alluding to fact that users can report errors and omissions from within the app.

Google has been in the mapping game for much longer, giving it the benefit of years of error reports to help shape its maps.

There's been a Google Maps app on the iPhone since it was launched in 2007, but it's always come with the operating system. Now that it's gone from the list of "core" apps, users are finding that it's not available for download either. Google says its goal is to make Maps available, but hasn't said when that will be.

In the meantime, iPhone and iPad owners can access maps.google.com through their browser, said Google spokesman Nate Tyler. The browser version has fewer features but uses a comprehensive mapping database, he said.

Last year, Apple released another software product that many regard as half-baked: the voice-controlled virtual assistant Siri. But Siri's ability to —at least sometimes— understand spoken queries was something most users hadn't met before, so they forgave its lapses. With Maps, Apple is replacing an app nearly every smartphone user is already familiar with.

User reaction on social media has been fierce. One Twitter user quipped that the lines of people queuing up to buy the iPhone 5 on Friday will be shorter, because the buyers will be misled by the new Maps.

Explore further: Tecnalia designs an app to help elderly people get around on public transport

1.7 /5 (10 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

YouTube dropped from iPhone-iPad operating system

Aug 07, 2012

Applications to let users watch YouTube videos will not be pre-installed on the next generation of iPhones, iPads and iPod devices, in another sign of mounting rivalry between Apple and Google.

Recommended for you

Google worker shows early-draft glimpse of Chrome OS

Jul 20, 2014

The Chrome OS is in for a future look. Athena, a Chromium OS project, will bring forth the new Chrome OS user experience. Google's François Beaufort on Friday, referring to the screenshot he posted, said," ...

Google eyes Chrome on Windows laptop battery drain

Jul 19, 2014

Google Chrome on Microsoft Windows has been said to have a problem for some time but this week comes news that Google will give it the attention others think the problem quite deserves. Namely, Google is to ...

Mental-health monitoring goes mobile

Jul 16, 2014

Behavioral health analytics startup Ginger.io sees smartphones as "automated diaries" containing valuable insight into the mental well-being of people with mental illnesses.

User comments : 9

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Aloken
5 / 5 (2) Sep 20, 2012
Thats what happens when a company rushes a product leaving proper software development processes aside.
krundoloss
5 / 5 (2) Sep 20, 2012
Not so easy to replace something that Google has spent years developing, is it Apple? It will be fine as long as they pay attention to the complaints and dedicate a workforce to their resolution. But if they ignore it, it will be bad for apple. If a mapping software is only slightly glitchy, people will use something else.
dogbert
4.2 / 5 (5) Sep 20, 2012
The biggest error may not be in providing a buggy mapping agent, the biggest error may be in preventing users from obtaining and using google's mature mapping agent.

I have an android phone, but if I were an apple user, I would be extremely irritated when I found I could not use google maps.

This may actually drive people away from the iPhone.
evropej
1 / 5 (4) Sep 20, 2012
There is nothing worse than a GPS application constantly downloading the same map over and over and over again. Nothing! You are in the middle of nowhere and you want to use the GPS but hey, google maps wants to download fresh maps again so you are out of luck. This was a failure and I am glad to see that apple kicked them out of the iPhone. Google is such a huge corporation that the only reason I can see them doing what they did with the app is to get tracking information on their users. For a first revision, its great and I am sure it will get better. Adios constant downloads of death.
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (5) Sep 20, 2012
@evropej,

On Android, Google Maps has long since supported caching of map data on the phone. You can even download map data for entire regions (and for more than one separate region) in advance, before you even began your trip.

That such features were lacking on the iPhone, well... sucks for the iPeople.
evropej
1 / 5 (4) Sep 20, 2012
Yes, there are a lot of apps out there that will cache, I just could not believe google did that for so long. Obviously they did not give a crap. As soon as apple dropped them, they went ahead and changed things. I am glad to see them go, big time.
VendicarD
5 / 5 (2) Sep 21, 2012
Apple has failed so many times it is impossible to count them all.

I know of people and businesses who have vowed to never again purchase apple products because of the way apple destroyed the functionality of Final Cut Pro.
Bowler_4007
1 / 5 (1) Sep 21, 2012
i wonder if google were smart enough to patent the sh*t out of their mapping software? Then as soon as Apple slip up smear them all over the courts, oh i would love that day for the simple fact that Apple are trying to destroy Android, a damn decent OS which i would say borrowed ideas from iOS in a flattering manner, so far as i can tell Android is none profit, i can sort of see Apples angle for being upset but really they're just being assh*les, there is always gonna be competition and someday they'll get caught in a whirlpool when they violate someone elses patent(s)
GSwift7
5 / 5 (1) Sep 21, 2012
I can see why apple wants their own map application. There's a huge potential for monetizing it through targeted advertising. Also, if I were apple, I wouldn't want google in control of information about where all my customers are and what they do.

Now, making all your customers unwillingly use a beta product for something that's important to people isn't a good way to go about things. When I use a map program, it's usually because I need accurate information about how to get somewhere and how long it's gonna take. If one map gets me there on time and another one might get me lost and make me late, guess which one I'm not going to bother with any more.

Not to mention that google street view is absolutely awesome when you are headed to a place you aren't familiar with and you want to look for landmarks near important turns along your trip. They even have the BFE dirt road I live on in there. That's hard to compete with.