Monday, September 24, 2012

How do you like them Apples?

Other than those iPhone and iPad users who “upgraded” to iOS6, or the millions of fanatics who queued for iPhone 5 (and attempted to navigate their way home with it), or the starry-eyed worshippers who believe that Apple can do no wrong, I’m a-guessing that most tech watchers are somewhat amused by the fairly hilarious, if not quite epic, fail of Apple’s new mapping application, which they just introduced as a replacement for Google Maps.

Not that Google Maps is all that perfect.

I don’t use it a lot, but I have noticed that it often has a “last-mile” problem. It’s pretty reliable getting you from, say, downtown Boston to, say, Syracuse NY. Which is, of course, the macro, easy part. And less good at getting you to the doorstep you actually want to get to, which is the micro, not-so-easy part.

It also does an occasional choke on my home address. There’s more than one Beacon Street in Boston, but you’d think that putting my zip code in would let them find the right one…

Still, there’s something so smug about Apple, that – as long as no one gets hurt driving off the edge of a cliff – it’s kind of fun to watch them squirm a bit.

I consider myself neither an Apple basher nor an Apple aficionado.

I have an old iPod. Somewhere.

Within the next few months – probably around my birthday – I will finally break down and get an iPad. 

When my Blackberry – what was I thinking? – bites the dust, I will absolutely consider an iPhone (although I will look at Android, too, this time around.

And I’d have an Apple computer if, every time I need to replace my laptop, I didn’t cheap out and stick with Intel onboard.

What I absolutely admire about Apple is their design savvy – without even using them, Apple products just appear lighter, cooler, simpler, more elegant than anything else on the market . And, from a marketing perspective, their ability to build a fan base that is rivaled only by that of Harley-Davidson is an absolute source of wonder and envy.

But it’s hard not to gloat just a teensy, weensy bit. (And if I’m gloating, imagine what the folks at Google, Samsung, Nokia et al. are doing just about now.)

Anyway, if you haven’t read about the Apple map problems, you can do so here on Huffington Post.

Among other glitches, the writer of the HuffPo article, from within Manhattan, tried to get directions to a location on Broadway. But instead was directed to Bayonne, New Jersey. As anyone who’s ever been to Bayonne can attest, Manhattan and Bayonne are not one and the same.

HuffPo  is also the source of these wonderful slides. Which will give you a sense of the mapping problem we’re talking about.

Here’s a highly useful view of Colchester, England. Or maybe it’s Colchester, Connecticut. Or Colchester, Vermont. Through this sort of cloud cover, they pretty much all look alike.


I’m not quite sure what this is a map of, but remind me that I really don’t want to drive on roads that are equal parts Salvador Dali, acid trip, and nightmare.


My personal favorite, of course, is local, which is captioned Boston is melting.

Boston melting

It’ll be a while before I can drive over the Zakim Bridge without having this image flash through my brain.

As you can imagine there’s a lot of moaning about how Steve Jobs would never have let this happen. And a lot of speculation that this is black eye that Apple will have a hard time recovering from. But Apple is pretty much doubling down:

We launched this new map service knowing that it is a major initiative and we are just getting started with it. We are continuously improving it, and as Maps is a cloud-based solution, the more people use it, the better it will get. (Source: CNET.)

I don’t quite get that “as Maps is a cloud-based solution, the more people use it, the better it will get” reasoning.

I know there are self-healing networks. But self-healing applications that make Boston look like it’s melting? I must be missing something here. Maybe they just mean that it’s so easy to access cloud-based apps that a lot of people will do so, will take part in the world’s largest unpaid beta test and report problems, etc.

Apple, of course, has its reasons for wanting to get its own map app out there. See if you can locate the operative word:

Apple could have kept Google's more reliable and mature mobile mapping app, but it made a strategic decision about something it needed to own and monetize. Put another way, getting rid of Google Maps was more important than delivering a less-flawed Apple Maps app and dealing with the grumbling.

If you picked “monetize,” you’re correct-a-mundo. Plus:

Apple knows that it can commit resources to fixing the problems and count on the goodwill of its loyalists. The latest evidence: Across the nation people queued up outside Apple stores on Friday as the iPhone 5 went on sale. Why does anybody really need to do that? They don't, but this is like Woodstock.

The mention of Woodstock is pretty apt, given what some of those maps look like. (One pill maps you larger, and one pill maps you small.)

Meanwhile I do appreciate that mapping applications are incredibly complex. And that very few applications – even ones that are far simpler – are released without a few bugs, no matter how well tested they are.

I also appreciate that Apple will be rectifying their mapping problems as fast as they can. And will probably not suffer any permanent fan loss.

Still, it’s kind of fun to watch this unfold, and to ask yourself just what would Steve Jobs do? If there is a great beyond in the clouds, he’s probably doing a bit of teeth-grinding just about now.

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