Last week I wrote an article criticizing Apple's new Maps capability explaining why it was a deal-breaker for me and why I was leaving the iPhone. That article generated hundreds of comments (in agreement and disagreement), tweets, and emails to me and TUAW, some going so far as calling for me to be fired. Since that article was published, the criticisms of Maps have exploded, so much so that Tim Cook released a rare public apology from Apple and pointed users to mapping apps from competitors. While that may help stem the bleeding until Apple can figure out how to fix its Maps mess, there are two things about Tim Cook's statement I want to address.
The first is that Cook's apology shows that Apple truly cares about its users. You know those times you mess up and realize how hard it is to apologize for your mistake? It's usually pride or embarrassment that gets in the way of apologizing. Either way, it's still incredibly hard to admit you were wrong. Now multiply that feeling by a million, knowing that your apology -- the admission that you were wrong -- will be reported by every major newspaper and tech blog in the world.
On top of that, when your company is almost always right in its business choices, admitting a mistake is a huge mark against it. Add to that the suggestion that some third-party companies' products -- some of them from your major competitors -- might do the job of your mobile OS's new feature better than your product does. Put those all together and you might have an idea of how monumental and significant Tim Cook's apology was.
That shows just how mature Apple is and exactly how much the company cares about the user experience its customers enjoy. I've written in depth about Tim Cook before and this just solidifies my opinion about him. He is the best CEO on the planet and the person to lead Apple into the future.
But here's the second thing: As much as I believe in Tim Cook and appreciate his acknowledgment of the Maps fiasco, his suggestions that users check out other mapping or web apps aren't a real solution to the problem. Most of the mapping apps highlighted by Apple are really navigation apps. They get you from point A to point B. They can get you from St. Louis to Chicago. That's not the problem with Maps. The real issue is the lack of extensive localized and accurate POIs and the ability to search thoroughly for them. A POI is a point-of-interest, which can be something major like a monument or a park, or something smaller like the corner drug store.
None of the apps suggested by Cook have the POI database that Google does and obviously, neither does Apple Maps. Also, none of the apps have the search capability for POIs that Google does. And if you're one of the iPhone's tens of millions of users living in a major city like New York or London or Singapore and don't own a car, you don't care about driving between cities -- you care about being able to find any of the four dozen businesses that could be located on the single city block you're on. [There is already an app for this specific purpose from Google, the free Google+ Local app, which links to Google's web maps. The paid Where To? app also features local business search. -Ed.]
Another suggestion from Cook was to add the Google Maps web app to your home screen. The reason this isn't a real fix is because a web app doesn't have the fluidity, interactivity, or ease of use that a dedicated maps app does. If you think I'm wrong, I challenge you to use nothing but the Google Maps web app on your iPhone for a week. You'll soon agree with me as to how much it hampers your iPhone experience.
Apple's only solution -- and I think they know this -- is to return to Google. They need Google's extensive POI database and its search capabilities. Whether that Google solution is getting a standalone app in the App Store or integrating Google Maps back into iOS while offering Apple Maps as a secondary option is something Apple needs to decide. But Apple needs to decide quickly, because it is not going to be able to build a POI database and map search capabilities that can compete with Google in just a few months, or even a few years.
I'll close by saying that it's a shame that the Maps mess overshadowed the iPhone 5 launch. From an engineering and design perspective, the iPhone 5 is the best smartphone ever made. It's a work of art. It just needs for all of its core, built-in services to work, accurately and completely.