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Abalta's O'Shea Discusses The Apple Maps Debacle E-mail
GIS News - iPhone, iPad and iOS
Written by Abalta Technologies   
01 November 2012


TORRANCE, CA (Nov. 1, 2012)“A man using Apple Maps walks into a bar … or was it a gas station? Or a grocery store? Or a …”
That joke and others like it are evident all over social media and throughout the cyberworld, but it’s no joke to Apple, which released an update to its iPhone and iPad operating system recently, replacing Google Maps with its own map application.
But there were major problems. The new map software offered fewer details, lacked public transit directions and misplaced landmarks. There were so many problems that Apple CEO Tim Cook made a public apology.
The fallout continued when long-time Apple executive Scott Forstall, head of the mobile software division and a protege of co-founder Steve Jobs, announced he was leaving Apple.

There are also many questions as to why this happened, how this happened and what Apple will do about it. The public wants to know. So do industry insiders, like Michael O’Shea, CEO of Abalta Technologies.

Albalta Technologies specializes in designing and developing location-based software for mobile devices, so O’Shea has kept a close eye on the developments.

O’Shea said it all started with Apple’s decision to leave Google as its maps provider.

“When Apple started working with Google for maps, Google was not a direct competitor of Apple within the mobile space,” said O’Shea, whose company is based in Torrance, CA. “And then Google merged with Android, and if you read Steve Jobs’ book, we’re told that Steve was furious and vowed to bury those guys essentially.

“I think there was a desire on Apple’s part to distant themselves from Google.”

According to most reports, the biggest obstacle in discussions between Apple and Google was Apple’s insistence that Google’s Map app included spoken turn-by-turn navigation. Google resisted because its Android has that capability and it was in no hurry to give its competitor the same capability.

Apple decided to move on despite reports that 12 months remained on the contract between to two industry giants. According to O’Shea, this wasn’t the first time something like this has happened.

“If you go way back, Google used to use Navteq Maps and moved away from Navteq because Navteq wasn’t willing to let Google do turn-by-turn,” O’Shea said. “They decided to do their own thing and now, Apple has decided to do the same thing. It’s history repeating itself.”

A big difference, however, is that Google undertook a painstaking and deliberate process to get their maps app right. Apple, it seems, rushed into it.

“It’s hard to say exactly how it played out,” O’Shea said. “Maybe they burned their bridges with Google and they could no longer work with them. But that seems unlikely. I would have imagined that even off this latest launch, if they decided not to go forward, if they didn’t think their own technology was ready, they probably could have continued to have Google.

“Either they backed themselves in to a corner and figured they had no choice but to go out with this, or they didn’t realize how bad their app was. And I suspect it was the latter. I think they didn’t understand that there were as many problems as there actually were.”

Without direct knowledge of the situation, O’Shea has his ideas as to why, for example, the Dublin Airport in O’Shea’s native Ireland is shown in the middle of a farmer’s field on the Apple map.

“What Google provided and what Apple is now providing is more than an app,” he said. “The problem is with the map that underlies those applications. Previously, Apple was using the Google map and now they’re using maps that come from several companies.”

The primary company Apple is using for its map is TomTom, which is a maps company that is well-respected. O’Shea said he believes the problem lies with how the TomTom data was processed or with other map sources that Apple is using, including those that rely on user-generated content. Big mistake.

“What happens when you rely on the general public to code maps, they’re very inconsistent in how they do it and how they might categorize something, and where they might locate it on a map,” he said. “Without any curation, you could end up with a lot of junk, and perhaps that’s what’s happened here. But we can’t be 100 percent sure of anything.”

So where does Apple go from here? O’Shea has some ideas.

“If you’re treating it as a hundred thousand different problems, you’re approaching it the wrong way,” he said. “The first thing I would do is step back and figure out the underlying root cause. To do that well you would have to figure out how you would know if you’ve fixed those things. Try to come up with test cases effectively that would allow you to prepare the map and run it through these test cases and say, ‘Yes, we passed the test, therefore the map is good.’”

Once the map is considered good, O’Shea would turn his focus to the turn-by-turn navigation issues.

“What I’ve noticed is that the actual experience, the turn-by-turn navigation guidance experience, is actually terrible and this is separate from the map being bad,” he said. “If I calculate a route, I get some strange and misleading instructions.

“They’re kind of basic, rookie mistakes when you’re dealing with maps and processing it and how you handle that. I think their application just needs work.”

O’Shea, though, is quick to say he is not trying to pile on Apple. He noted that Apple acquired C3Technologies, which has provided remarkable 3D map images for Apple’s map app.

“That’s the best feature in the Apple map in my opinion, and unfortunately it’s gotten lost in all of this,” O’Shea said. “It’s really impressive. I’m able to fly into Dublin, zoom in and walk around the streets there and you feel like, wow! There’s nothing that approaches it.

"Apple is a great company and I'm sure it won't be long before they figure this out. I look forward to further map app updates. It's just a matter of time before they fix this stuff and start driving innovation in the location space again."

Abalta Technologies designs and delivers location-based solutions from automotive to innovative applications. For more information, call +1 (310) 316-0427 ext. 130, or visit www.abaltatech.com.

 

 
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