Tuesday, September 25, 2012, 01:09 pm PT (04:09 pm ET)
Inside iOS 6: What's wrong with Apple's new Maps
iLost: GPS is not flawless outside of Apple
Of course, many of the comical to misleading errors in iOS 6 are also present in Google Maps or other GPS systems. There are also places Apple gets directions right and others recommend the wrong path.
For example, when comparing iOS 6 Map's driving directions against a new BMW iDrive navigation system and Google Maps, both Google and BMW recommended a right turn from San Francisco's Market Street onto the Central Freeway.
Apple's Maps recommend the correct and legal route, as right turns across the bike path at that intersection have always been forbidden ever since the rebuilt freeway was first planned in 2004, before Google Maps even existed.
To anyone unfamiliar with the area, this isn't obvious just from looking at a map. Apple's route even looks like a suspiciously complicated way to get on the freeway in satellite view.
While Google is great at search, its directions are pretty basic. This particular intersection is perhaps the most famous bike vs. car intersection in the city of San Francisco, and has involved 17 enhancements over the past several years, each designed to make it more obviously illegal and increasingly impossible to turn here instead of continuing on to the proper freeway onramp around the corner on Van Ness.
Despite prominent cone barriers and the installation of a concrete curbed island in 2007 designed to physically stop right turns (like the one involved in this accident predating cones), it has continued to be the site of a series of serious bicycle accidents. Google and BMW are currently both still recommending that users turn right here to head south, a route that is both clearly illegal and dangerous.
There are two prominently posted sets of oversized "no right turn" sign paired with signs threatening a $250 fine. These are even visible in Street View, although Google's privacy software has automatically blurred out the $250 warning on the signs.
There are innumerable places on earth where it is less than obvious that some quirk in road design or road closure or turn prohibition might get you in trouble if you rely on a GPS to do all your thinking for you. But this particular example is a rather breathtaking error in Google's own backyard. It's a route direction that a lot of Google employees living in San Francisco would actually take to go to work, and yet the company's maps and directions are dead wrong here.
Google should really rethink its "iLost" efforts to denigrate Apple's Maps for potentially offering bad routes.
All Google needs to do in this particular case is enter the route prohibition in its database (making it truly amazing that this hasn't happened at some point in the last seven years of Google Maps). Similarly, Apple also has Flyover bugs, routing errors and location mistakes it needs to flush out of the data it has.
What's more difficult to understand is how the tech media has pounced upon the errors in iOS 6's Maps as if Apple invented map mistakes. Google has worked for years to enhance its Maps offerings. However, Apple doesn't need the same amount of time or staffing to catch up or surpass Google's existing accuracy.
Faster fix for Flyover and flaws
Unlike the incrementally resource intensive task of photographing the world one road at a time for Street View, Apple's Flyover approach allows it to build models of entire cities in weeks, remotely, without burning gasoline to travel down every alley with a camera car.
It's less clear how the company has managed to mangle so many obvious landmarks (New York's Statue of Liberty is still completely flat, while as pictured earlier, Hoover Dam's highway collapses into the spillway valley). You'd think the company would prioritize the accurate modeling of famous landmark sites that curious users would likely check out first.
But if you compare the initial cities Apple started Flyover work on and how quickly it added support for new cities throughout the development process, it appears it can rapidly finish Flyover in major cities and quickly expand the feature, if it makes doing so a priority.
Apple also needs to make it easier and more obvious for users to flag other problems, and it should communicate its plans for adding and enhancing global coverage at least as well as it articulates its support for iTunes Store and Siri support in other countries.
But make no mistake, iOS 6's Maps sit on a technically superior foundation with forward thinking connections to third party apps that open up the complex task of routing to enterprising experts. Maps is also tied into Apple's very serious Siri strategy, making it a clear priority for the company.
Now that nearly a quarter of the installed base of iOS users have upgraded to iOS 6, Apple will be getting more traffic data, more bug reports, and more technical feedback about how users search, all of which it can use to rapidly improve the Maps experience.
It should also come as no surprise that competitors like Google and Nokia are diligently working to denigrate Apple's efforts. But as much fun as it is to taunt Apple, both companies should keep in mind that nobody got much competitive traction from trying to pin Antennagate on iPhone 4, or in trying to vilify Siri on last year's iPhone 4S. And users don't seem to be all that concerned about the initial growing pains related to iOS 6 Maps, either, according to the backlog of orders for iPhone 5.
Understanding the history behind maps development at Apple and Google provides clear insight into not just why Apple created its own Maps for iOS 6, but also how likely the new app will be able to solve its various outstanding Maps issues. The next article segment looks at how Apple and Google have built their mapping products.
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