Apple is currently facing flak from different corners for shipping their half-baked Maps with iOS 6. The major issue here is that the Apple Maps are absolutely unusable in most places, specially outside US. Many people believe that Apple has let down its customers by forcing upon a crappy app in order to satiate their ego.
Why did Apple get into Maps?
No, it’s not just to beat Google in their own game. As Jean-Louis Gassée notes, for Apple, Maps is a strategic move. They can no longer depend upon their biggest competitor for something as important as Maps. Mind you, Google’s highly restricting API terms & conditions don’t allow any third party licensees (including Apple) to utilize the all important features like real-time navigation or route guidance. Apple is wise enough to know that, unlike in 2007, absence of these features will be a deal-breaker for some users, who might eventually stop using iPhones & iPads.
As ArsTechnica notes, there is one major unanswered question:
what if Apple and Google had worked out their own agreement that isn’t necessarily subject to the TOS that are applied to everyone else?
Sadly, we won’t know for a long time as to what really transpired in the meetings between Google & Apple with regards to Maps. Of course there are theories and guesses like Google didn’t want to license turn-by-turn navigation at any cost. Some believe that Google wanted additional access to the all-important user data and Apple wasn’t willing to let go their biggest asset. There is no real way to prove any of these. The fact remains that Apple couldn’t negotiate a user favorable deal with Google.
What Apple could have done to avoid Mapsgate?
Mapsgate, as it’s now portrayed, has been the biggest PR disaster for Apple, ever since Antennagate, back in 2010. But this is a self-inflicted wound, as Jean-Louis Gassée points out.
The demo was flawless, 2D and 3D maps, turn-by-turn navigation, spectacular flyovers…but not a word from the stage about the app’s limitations, no self-deprecating wink, no admission that iOS Maps is an infant that needs to learn to crawl before walking, running, and ultimately lapping the frontrunner, Google Maps. Instead, we’re told that Apple’s Maps may be “the most beautiful, powerful mapping service ever.”
Firstly, letting users explore the limitations by themselves was the biggest mistake Apple could have done. And they did exactly that. Letting users know that they are “in the process” of building the Maps app, which will eventually translate to the best Maps experience on their iDevices would have greatly mitigated the disaster. Mind you, most users didn’t even know that Google Maps would magically go missing once they upgrade to iOS 6, and there isn’t a clear cut way to downgrade the iOS version.
Secondly, not giving users a viable option, while forcing upon their unusable product has hit Apple hard. Good mapping apps cost big money for users, and Google has spoilt most of us with their freemium services. But Apple is no Google. They charge a premium for their products and people rightfully expect a premium service. Apple Maps will take years to come close to what Google Maps or even Nokia Maps have to offer. But expecting users to wait till then is arrogance and stupid.
Thirdly, what are those billions of dollars in cash reserves doing? When smaller companies like Amazon can work out a deal with Nokia, for their stupendous mapping solution, why can’t Apple? Millions of these users have helped them make billions of dollars. So, why not spend back a considerable part of it to benefit the same users? Money can speak. Did Apple underestimate the efforts needed to have a capable mapping solution?
Apple could have struck some deal with Google or Nokia for a short time till their own mapping solution turn usable. This might have meant sacrificing their ego, or spending more money than they would have liked. Tough? Very. Impossible? Not at all.
I don’t doubt Apple’s intentions. They indeed want to give the best experience (including Maps) to their users, but their execution could have been a lot more better. A lot.