Mobile mapping is not a cartographic problem, it is a search problem.
8 months ago
Much has been said about the absolute failure of iOS 6 in the mapping department. Apple took one of its killer features in iOS and destroyed it. Completely.
Tim Cook is very clear about the reason the “old” mapping app was abandoned.
We launched Maps initially with the first version of iOS. As time progressed, we wanted to provide our customers with even better Maps including features such as turn-by-turn directions, voice integration, Flyover and vector-based maps. In order to do this, we had to create a new version of Maps from the ground up.
Speculation is running rampant, did they have a year left before they were required to strip out the Google branded maps? Is this a result of the souring of relationship between Apple and Google. Anyone can speculate.
What really bothers me is the naive sentiment expressed by Tim Cook.
iOS users with the new Maps have already searched for nearly half a billion locations. The more our customers use our Maps the better it will get and we greatly appreciate all of the feedback we have received from you..
No Results Found
I was using the maps app today and tried a few searches:
“Closest train station” – No results found
“bondi trat” – No results found
“20 craown st” – Totally crazy suburb somewhere far away
“nearest gym” – No results found
Same results in google maps:
“Closest train station” – highlight all the train stations near me
“bondi trat” – takes me to bondi trattoria which happens to have this nickname
“20 craown st” – a few options including the “20 crown street” closest to me
“nearest gym” – the gym across the road from my house
It is true, Google Maps has some pretty spectacular cartography, this is a company that is giving us underwater street view. However, Google’s amazing power, when it comes to maps, is search. They realised very early on that an uncompromising and spectacular search feature is what people need. They refine it all the time and have a corpus of data Apple is unlikely to have for a very long time, regardless of the petabytes Apple claim to have. Google use this data to refine the location search. Google is able to “learn” about new restaurants by crawling the Internet. It is able to make some incredibly accurate guesses based on incredibly sophisticated and refined algorithms.
Google was able to create the best local search out there without partnering with Yelp. Instead they took the harder and ultimately better approach of simply crawling the Internet and crunching the data.
The big issue with the Apple branded maps is not that a street or a town is missing here or there. That is easily fixed. The issue is much more fundamental. When I am using my maps app on my phone I am searching. This search needs to be spectacular. If it is not, I will use another product that does have a spectacular search. Sure, turn-by-turn navigation can be handy to have. It is, however, totally useless if I can not find the place I would like to navigate to.
Fixing street names is relatively easy, implementing a fantastic local search is incredibly hard. It also happens to be a business Apple has never been in.
Google knew this farce was going to take place back in June when iO6 was in its first beta. I wonder, why did they not release a native maps app for the iPhone, just like they did for YouTube? Are they trying to convince me to switch to android?