9.21.2012 | iOS6 Maps reveal an Apple off-course

Questions swirled around Steve Jobs' departure from Apple—would his successor be able to keep coming with hits that wowed, and would the company maintain its reputation for quality? After the hubbub surrounding the Maps feature in iOS 6 following its release this week, the answer is a definite maybe.

To me this is a sign of a rudderless Apple. I'm not used to this company releasing anything other than products that simply wow with their jaw-dropping quality. Steve Jobs was a very disciplined leader, knowing when to "get rid of the crap"—sitting on features and waiting to release them until public outcry reached fever pitch, and moving only into markets that Apple knew it could dominate.

This does not seem to be anywhere close to the rationale for Apple switching to an in-house version of Maps so soon. The two possible feature benefits—Siri integration and turn-by-turn directions—were already handled fine by third-party apps. Apple was facing no imminent threat to its market share for lacking these features; the iPhone 5 probably would have sold in spades without them. Apple seems to have jumped the gun on this one.

Me? I'm sticking with iOS 5 until either Apple gets its act together (unlikely) or Google Maps releases a standalone app for iOS (likely before Christmas, according to 9-to-5 Mac).

Apple claims that "as a cloud product" its own Maps feature will get better over time with user feedback, but there's already a maps application that has benefited from that refinement: Google's. Not only has it had more time to benefit from user feedback, but unlike Apple's offering, it has a far more vast desktop user base to draw from.

Time will tell if this is a serious enough error on Apple's part, but as an Apple fanboy since 2005 I am not used to this company having to apologize for its releases and promising to do better next time. I knew a company once that released features before they were ready and waited for future releases to allow problems to fix themselves. That company was Microsoft.

Update (9/23/12): Bianca Bosker at the Huffington Post has a well-researched article making some of these points, and one I missed: Google's fleet of Street View cars to ensure accurate street-level data in urban areas. Anil Dash is also quoted as saying this is the first time in recent history that Apple has put corporate strategy ahead of user experience.

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Blogger Omar said...

Beyond questions about what Steve Jobs would have done, "not made here" is a corporate disease and needs to be avoided at any company, let alone one of Apple's caliber.

Some have told me that Apple's maps are a natural outrgrowth of Jobs' desire to declare "thermonuclear war" on Android—those are stolen ideas and infringed patents he was referring to, not Google's products in general. I think Jobs would have known well enough when to use a competitor's product as long as it provided a superior experience. (But since he's no longer around, we can only guess.)

6:22 PM  
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