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September 28th 2012 10:27 am

Tim Cook Apologizes for Maps

This morning a letter was posted to the Apple website (www.apple.com­/letter­-from­-tim­-cook­-on­-maps/) from Tim Cook apologizing for how Apple “fell short on their commitment” with Maps. Here is the full letter if you can not access it at work:

To our customers,

At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers. With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.

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.

There are already more than 100 million iOS devices using the new Apple Maps, with more and more joining us every day. In just over a week, 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.

While we’re improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their web app.

Everything we do at Apple is aimed at making our products the best in the world. We know that you expect that from us, and we will keep working non-stop until Maps lives up to the same incredibly high standard.

Tim Cook
Apple’s CEO


If you recall this isn’t the first time Apple has gone foward with their own implementation of a service that didn’t succeed too well. When the iPhone originally launched Apple relied on MobileMe to serve mail to iPhone users but that had a very rocky start itself which also resulted in an apology from Apple (www.wired.com­/gadgetlab­/2008­/07­/apple­-apologize/).

For a company that prides itself so much on precision and experience, the launch of their homegrown Maps app has left a lot of users disappointed, upset and wanting something far better. Tim Cook acknolwedges this by advising users to “try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their web app.”

There are a fair amount of iOS6 users here on gdgt so for those of you currently using Apple’s brand of Maps has your experience been as bad as some have said? Do you have confidence that Apple can get this fixed or would you rather them just shelve the project and go back to Google Maps?

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31 replies
ryan

Here's my thing about the apology: I think it's earnest, and I think Cook did the right thing owning up to these issues, but without at least a little information about how Apple is going to make things right it just rings a little hollow.

Here's what I'd like to know from Tim and Apple:
  1. Besides the very vague "more customers using Maps means it will get better" argument, what, specifically, is being done to improve maps?
  2. Will these changes and upgrades be made gradually to the data set, or will users have to wait for an upgrade to the Maps app to start to see improvements? (Or both?)
  3. How long does Apple expect it will take to make its mapping product more competitive with the market leader (Google Maps)?
20 like dislike
connorg

I'm really curious about your second point in particular. When the betas first came out I assumed that the map data and tiles would improve as it got closer to release, and they did, but only when I downloaded a new beta. Since it's all being loaded from a server you'd think they could push out updates without requiring a software update on the client side, although it might require that the client flush out some cached data periodically.
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daleam

Good questions. I hardly ever used the maps app but it really disappoints me that Apple has apparently did the pooch on this one. As an avid Apple customer I expect more. But I agree that Cook did do the right thing by addressing the issue instead of giving an excuse or ignoring it.
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cchana

I can't remember exactly, but surely Google similar issues early on, but because Google Maps, in it's early stages, was already better than anything else out there, I think users were forgiving and the crowd sourcing worked well. Now that Apple are replacing a product that is superior in it's key functions (search, directions) with something that's seen as inferior, they are going to suffer... but hopefully only in the short term. Apple's Maps are actually very nice to look at, on a par with Google, if not better thanks to the vector graphics. Let's hope more people stick with them and the reporting problems makes a real difference like it did for Google all those years ago.
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ryan

Google made some major changes to how Maps worked in order to improve it from the early days, it wasn't just a usage thing. If what I've read is correct (and you can caveat everything in this post from here on out with that), Google started with a human-free approach that was largely automated and produced highly inaccurate data; they quickly learned that geo is not like the web -- you can't simply crawl it automatically and get great precision.

So they hired humans. Lots and lots of humans, who manually tweak and adjust every facet and aspect of Google Maps. This is part of the reason why Google has such a huge competitive advantage in mapping: they've collected -- but more importantly created -- an enormous amount of data that they (and only they) own.

Automating maps is apparently also how Apple started their product as well, as I understand it. It appears they didn't learn from Google's early mistake that geo is a highly manual process of enormous scale. And that's why this release could be fatal for quite a while. Not only does Apple have to do all the things Google had to do over many years in order to whip their data into shape, they likely don't even have the organization in place right now to do that.

It's gonna be a long haul.
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JonathanBrown

I agree…it was hollow, and if Apple thinks customers deserved an apology, then I believe the customers also deserve to know why Apple struggled with this release. It was a soft letter. From what the tech blogs have been publishing, it sounds like Google was holding iPhone customers hostage by withholding turn-by-turn directions and vector maps. Apple had a chance to clear the air and better position their argument for creating the new maps app. They didn't do that.
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Met

Hostage? Turn-by-turn is still in beta and is still rolling out across the world. They just added navigation to MENA a week or 2 ago. As for vector maps, even that doesn't exist on the website nor the Android app. So I really don't see that as holding them hostage. You can think of it as polishing your app before releasing it to other platforms.
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mhalpin

I agree. I hope we start to hear hiring info and release plans in the near future. What we won't see is self driving cars with cameras. Google has a HUGE lead and it will remain that way for some time.

Waze is nice I have been using it around the Cincinnati area and on long car trips to the East coast. It can struggle sometimes with back roads since its crowd sourced. I recommend it though for anyone that wants an alternative to Apple Maps.

What I hope we stop seeing soon is all of the people writing about WWSJD?
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JayCarroll

Locally, I've had no issues. I've been using the new maps and nav for months as a beta. I have noticed the satellite view in a few areas around the world is improperly terrain mapped and/or tiles improperly placed in relation to the viewer.

I really enjoy the new navigation, I've used it several times over the last few months and have not been disappointed. It's great to pull up Siri and say 'Take me home'.
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rjantz

Frankly, my exerience has been pretty good. I don't know what people are so upset about. In my opinion it is better than the "very aging" google maps that were on the iPhone. I have no doubt that there are some discrepancies and that they are not perfect but they are better than what was there before....and they are free, and they will get better. I say get over it people and stop your whinning.
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moriel

Im sure Apple will fix their Maps given some time. I've never had a problem with Maps personally though I live in a big city, Chicago. I can see in a less populated area that it would cause a lot of problems. I also will add using Maps I hardly ever used the 3D function when trying to find a place. On the other end I have had a problem getting directions to their own store.
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dilpreet28

My experience has been fine so far and I'm in Melbourne, Australia. I've used the turn by turn, although Australia doesn't get voice guidance until October, the sort of half turn by turn is definitely better than none. I've not really gone exploring with POI so i'm not sure about the issues related to that. But so far, for me, it's been an upgrade from the previous maps app.
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DaveBinM

Oh, cool, I didn't see anything about when we were getting the voice guidance here in Australia. But like you, I've not really seen too many issues here in Melbourne.
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robertcampos

My experience of Apple's brand of Maps (on my iPad) has been lukewarm. While all of the features and the clean, vector-based graphics are nice, in today's fast-paced, mobile society, looking at a map is not exactly useful if you don't know the best and fasted way to get from A to B.

Google and other web companies have been offering this service for years, but it was Google who pioneered an easy-to-use, stable and reliable version of directions that included transit options into their maps application. A majority of Americans (and possibly people in general) live in or around urban areas, places where using a navigation app with transit options is most useful versus their smaller, easier-to-navigate, transit-less counterparts. Consider this on top of the lack of Street view and map accuracy/correctness issues, and it's no wonder why the failings of Apple Maps is a big deal.

I believe Apple has the ability to mend their Maps application and make it a better product, but given the amount of time and money Google has invested in their product, it's hard to imagine Apple delivering a better maps application, even with the amount of money at their disposal.

This wouldn't be an issue if iOS was a more open operating system. What I am waiting (and hoping) for is an anti-trust lawsuit a-la Microsoft with Windows and Internet Explorer, where the courts rule that forcing iPhone users to only use Apple Maps or Safari by default is anti-competitive, enabling a better user experience onward for consumers - owners of 400 million activated iOS devices.
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marc

It certainly would be interesting to see what would happen if the FTC -- or the EU -- got involved. Just this week, the EU threatened to fine Microsoft up to $7.4 billion because they say the company isn't doing enough to give consumers a choice of browsers as part of Windows. Since settling antitrust charges with the EU, Microsoft's been fined more than $1.2 billion, and IE's market share has dropped to 29%.
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AndruM

i do agree that Apple goes above and beyond to be the best at what they do and this map ordeal may have been a tad overlooked, but honestly they aren't able to have a million people test it out before they implicate it. iOs6 just came out and the more the users use it, the better it will be. Google Maps on the previous interfaces weren't the best so it's obvious they are going in the right direction. Feedback from users is what creates and improves a business like this.
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darrynbish

I've come over to IOS for the first time, and this pitiful maps offering has really soured the experience for me. I relied heavily on the excellent native Google Maps/Navigation options on my Nexus S and I really miss it now. None of the offerings on IOS, paid or free, stand up to the polished, user-friendly experience Google put together.
I frankly don't care if Apple improve the current Maps app (quickly!) or shelve it and bring back Google Maps, as long as I can get a similar or (dare I hope!) better experience on the iPhone 5.
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rjantz

First of all, if Android was so good, you wouldn't have even considered jumping ship to iOS so I really don't care to hear about how good your precious Google maps were. My wife had a very early DROID and in those early days, Google maps were not all that hot either. I guarantee that it won't take Apple 4 years to get to the same place that Google maps is today. Second, there are lots of good alternatives, TomTom is the best of the bunch. It is far better than Google maps. Last but not least, Apple maps are a huge improvement over the old google maps that were on iOS! If you are going to be so whiny, just go back to Android where you seem to think it is better.
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daleam

"Apple maps are a huge improvement over the old google maps that were on iOS"

I believe you're wrong, and I'm a huge Apple fan. I bought Navagon some years ago and I find it to be very good. But I really don't have a perspective to judge it over TomTom.
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mrbusche

he didn't say android was 'so good' he said the maps application was excellent. Before you defend Apple finish reading his comment. The apple maps are useable, but that's about it at this point. If you think they're great, you're in the definite minority.
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TgD

(Replying from my phone on a train so ill keep this short)

They will fix it. Reasonably quickly too. this is no Apple Ping which can be swept under the rug. maps is too important
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mrbusche

it's not like google just whipped up maps in a few days and threw it out there. an application like this takes a lot of development. I'd bet the over on 6 months until it's fixed.
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TgD

I did say reasonably quickly. There is a large amount of work ahead of them, and I dont think anyone expects it to be fixed next week, or even next month. 6 months is a reasonable time frame for the task ahead.
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danhallock

My experience with Apple Maps has been fine — as good as Google, which is to say, acceptable but not perfect in my area. I like the app / experience better, and the data quality appears to be about the same: excellent in town and spotty around the rest of the county. (This is in the Bellingham, WA area.) There's no 3D data for flyover, but a lot of Google's fancier features don't work here either. Turn-by-turn is nice to have.
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TgD

I feel like a lot of users already have a proper maps experience, and the power of the internet is blowing things out of proportion to an extent. You are included among the ones that are happy. :) In fact, I can say that I have only heard one friend of mine getting wrongly routed in Edmonton Alberta here. The rest either don't tell me or are having an acceptable experience.

However I do worry about smaller communities (and other countries even) that do have some issues. I think Apple will target their "fixes" on the larger metropolitans first, which makes sense due to the higher concentration of users. So it may be a while for the kinks to be worked out in the less populated areas.

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danhallock

Yep. I can only speak directly to my own experience. I know some international users are seeing significant downgrades, but it's really hard to get a sense for percentages when you're working from anecdotal Internet complaints :-)
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Jeflyn

Prior to the new map release, I was paying Verizon $4.95 per month for their navigation app for turn-by-turn directions. I now have that functionality at no cost. The maps have worked fine here in my part of NC. I'm a happy camper.
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mrbusche

why were you paying Verizon? the free maps applications didn't work?
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Jeflyn

I installed the app from Verizon right after I bought my first iPhone (4), it worked extremely well and I was happy with it so I never explored other options. The monthly fee wasn't a bit deal, but the elimination is nice little bonus now. :-)
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Bel

I think the apology was a good decision since there are numerous problems with Apple Maps at this point. But for me personally it is working perfectly, I love it. The addition of turn by turn spoken directions makes that app useable whereas before I never used Google Maps, I used a GPS.
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imariopereira

Neither way, I'm going to use Apple Maps... because we know Apple, and because we know the quality and the experience they put in their products, it is known that maybe in a year, this new maps service probably will turn into one of the best in the market! :)
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