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Panic Stations at Cupertino: Why Apple’s iOS 6.0 Maps is a multi-billion dollar problem happening right now

So, that’s a long title. But it’s entirely accurate.

You will no doubt have noticed a wide array of publications talking about the utter horror that is Apple’s new iOS 6.0 proprietary mapping application.

Like me, many of you will have installed the upgrade of iOS 6.0 overnight and you’ll probably have noted the new Maps icon and you might have even had a quick poke about with it. Not many of us will necessarily have used the function in anger though — given it’s been less than 24 hours since install.

I read the scathing Maps 6.0 reviews with mild interest this afternoon.

When I came to actually depend on the Maps service this evening, I was shocked.

I need to be very, very clear: Completely shocked.

I actually stopped to pause for a few moments in Cabot Square to actually consider the implications of what I was witnessing. Instead of being able to take a small self-satisfied grin to myself at the “it just works” beauty of Apple’s entire end-to-end infrastructure that delivers these little moments of joy, I was experiencing the opposite. The polar opposite.

I clicked through from my calendar’s location field into Maps. It located the address within a few seconds. Only, it didn’t look right.

I am, dear reader, totally unaccustomed to having to second guess Apple.

This is why I pay flipping flocking stupid amounts of money to Apple. It’s why we all do, right? I want the stuff to work 100%. Or I want a guy or girl in a blue t-shirt with a Genius badge to give me one that does, quickly.

The little pin indicating my destination was wrong. Totally wrong. It got the same general ‘zipcode’ area correct. But it actually got the WRONG flipping Canary Wharf island.

I tried searching for the name of the venue rather than the address.

No dice.

Maps couldn’t find it.

Piece of flipping rubbish.

I could have thrown the iPhone against the wall. I felt like doing so.

What WERE you thinking Apple?

You see, the Maps application on iPhone was NOT a mapping app. It was a SEARCH app, with a map user interface. I think this is the key issue that Apple has completely missed.

I don’t give a flying penguin if the map is in 3D or if it lights up with fireworks every third Tuesday: I expect to be able to locate myself and my destination within triliseconds. That invariably means SEARCHing first.

And woe. WOE is Apple. Woe is me!

You can’t reality distort your way out of this one Apple.

You’ve replaced a perfectly brilliant and hugely, hugely LIFE CRITICAL application with a dud.

If I was Google, I’d be sitting with a massive grin right now.

Can you IMAGINE the conversation that’s going to have to take place shortly?

You can’t just knock out an upgrade to get this fixed. You can’t buy a directory of zipcodes and stick’em in. You can’t just build Google overnight and plug it into your maps API. No, this is proper work.

And as of this evening, you are failing me Apple. I am totally 100% unsatisfied.

Indeed, the more I think about it, the more I recognise that I actually cannot be without a functioning Google/Nokia Maps style service on my iPhone. Nokia’s mapping capability is excellent. It did me proud in Beijing the other week.

I know that’s it’s possible to augment my iPhone experience with some third party offerings but this is not the point. The point is the gross failure — the gross miscalculation — the ‘antennagate’ problem. This is YET another example of a service being thrown out the door by Apple that simply isn’t good enough. They obviously haven’t done any real world testing — just like no one bothered to notice that the iPhone 4’s antenna didn’t work very well if you actually held the phone with your hand.

You can’t tell me I’m using Maps “wrong” or “holding it wrong” (as the phrase goes). You’ve had billions of datapoints of research, Apple, to recognise and understand how everyone uses the old Maps function. What WERE you thinking?

The issue of mapping is incredibly important when it comes to smartphones. It’s a base requirement. On the hierarchy of needs, mapping (or, the ability to locate yourself then accurately find stuff) is right next to basic connectivity and battery power.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have used the iPhone maps function as a basic sat-nav many times, both in the car as co-pilot or walking. You can still do this with iOS 6.0’s Maps function. It just doesn’t work very well.

Some of the examples I’ve been reading about are way, way past embarrassing. Christopher Williams in the Telegraph reckons that it appears some of the data included in the maps is years, years old. (URL: http://soc.li/qDFt3GQ). Paddington Railway Station doesn’t exist. Although you can navigate your way to the nearest Our Price or C&A (landmarks from decades ago).

And now I recognise why Siri was spouting so much total fracking nonsense this morning when I tested to see if it could do location lookups. I asked it for the nearest Petrol Station and it sent me local results, all seemed relevant, but none I’d never heard of. It couldn’t find the local Esso nearest my house. Simply shocking.

Before you’re tempted to think I’m overplaying this, let’s be very clear: You only get one shot, Apple. It’s seven hundred pounds you’re after, for the new iPhone 5 64GB.

SEVEN HUNDRED POUNDS.

That only works, Apple, when the veneer — the perspective, the distortion field — is unwavering. When I feel — FEEL being the operative word — that it’s worth it. When there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, to make me think twice.

Make no mistake, this is a shocker.

My wife relies heavily on the Maps function of her iPhone. I rely on the fact that SHE relies on it. It’s part of a basic safety kit for her. If she’s lost with the children, she can find herself right-away.

I upgraded her phone last night. Big mistake. That function has obviously been obliterated. Oh dear. Oh dear me Apple.

What’s interesting is automatically, I’m thinking “Samsung Galaxy SIII”. Or Lumia 920. All of a sudden the way is clear. Yes there are a few other niggling annoyances but actually, you want maps to work, right?

That’s the line I’ll use with my wife.

I’ll give Apple a few days to sticky-tape together some kind of decent response (you can’t issue free bumpers on this one — it’s cap in hand to Google time, Tim) or I’ll be using the following line:

“Look, how do you feel about a Galaxy SIII? It’s got proper Google Maps”.

My wife will have a few hygiene questions — does it have a nice camera (yes, amazing), does it have Facebook (yup, obviously), does it have Evernote and a few other apps like Tesco, NatWest, FirstDirect (yeah, yeah, yeah). Job done. Deal done.

Apple simply cannot afford to have their faithful disappointed.

This issue won’t have an immediate effect on the sales of iPhone 5. Not a direct effect. There are too many of us committed into the Apple ‘joy’ for that.

It will give a lot of people pause for thought though.

The media is already restless with Apple.

I’m surprised with the amount of negative and ‘meh’ style coverage I’ve been seeing in some of the usual ‘fanboi’ areas. Even mainstream outlets have been rather bored and, in some cases, almost critical.

The stage is set for “MapGate”. And what’s fascinating is there’s no immediate resolution that I can see. You can’t fix it with a free bumper. You could, I suppose, roll-back to the old Maps application but that would be hugely, hugely humiliating. You could encourage Google to release their own standalone app. I’m sure Google must have been considering this or have one in the works — I did look earlier today, I was so annoyed, but couldn’t find anything. That would also be rather annoying.

You can’t ‘reality distort’ being unable to find Paddington Station. Oh you can make a few changes to the database quickly and fix that. But what about the millions of other locations that just aren’t there?

Before you know it, we’ll be seeing jokes on Letterman about Apple ‘not being able to find [whatever]’. It won’t be long before the issue crosses into mainstream and before the message that “Maps don’t work on the new iPhone” will be received and processed by the population at large. It won’t be long before I’ll get friends of mine telling me they’re frightened to upgrade their existing iPhones because “it breaks the maps doesn’t it?”

Oh it’s a delicious problem to witness.

It’s perhaps possible for Apple to just ignore the issue. Although I think that might just fan the flames. How long before a few million folk sign an electronic petition on Facebook demanding the return of the old maps app?

And how, dear reader, how will the competition react?

Samsung’s been pretty direct with it’s “standing in line” mockery of the fanbois queuing for the new iPhone. I wonder if they might rush out some “Maps on Galaxy SIII: It just works” with a huge screenshot of Google’s glorious mapping app on the phone? Nokia, justifiably, could take this opportunity to remind everyone of the fact that their maps offering is second-to-none.

I hope the issue doesn’t just melt away — or get melted away by the avalanche of new iPhones being sold. I want to see how the 100-billion-dollar-cash-pile Apple deals with it. In a rather unintended manner, Apple has actually delivered the industry excitement a lot of us were craving.

I was getting a bit hot under the collar today because I haven’t pre-ordered a new iPhone. There’s a chance that if anyone from O2 gets in front of me and offers to lease me one, I might still bite. But right now, I’m feeling pretty good about not having pre-ordered. 700 pounds with, what, 40% margin? And they’ve screwed up one of the key functions? Yeah. I’m fine. I’ll probably buy one — but the must-have-it-right-now sheen has been removed for me.

You can’t roll out Steve to fix this with some emotive finger-pointing to demonstrate that, hey, actually, everyone’s mapping applications have the same problem. They patently DO NOT. There’s no easy explanation for Paddington Railway Station missing from the system — or any number of comical examples of missing or incorrectly displayed locations — there’s no explanation beyond the glaring reality: You’ve delivered a sub-standard turkey.

Oooof!

Have you got the popcorn ready? Let the festivities commence…

Ewan

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