Friday, September 21, 2012

Maps Fiasco: Is Apple Having A Bad Hair Day?

Apple has faced a firestorm of criticism over its poorly executed introduction of Apple iOS 6 maps as a replacement for Google Maps. Pushing out a friendly competitor is classic Apple behavior reminiscent of their rejection of Adobe Flash. If the maps battle ended today, Google would be the clear winner. But it remains unclear whether Apple or Google will triumph in the map wars in the long run. I anticipate either a long term standoff fueled by Apple’s stubborn unwillingness to see a clearly superior Google technology continue to succeed on their platform or  Apple will find a way to become less proprietary and allow Google maps a role in a future iOS version. For now, there course is fairly well set.

The problems with Apple maps in many consumers’ minds are simply that they are not Google maps. Google’s brand is well respected even among iPhone users. But to compound these problems, the maps are simply being ravaged in the media for a long list of errors, glitches and mis-categorizations.

Meanwhile, Apple has lost a pair of rulings in German court against Samsung and Motorola Mobility in its patent infringement claims. The patent dispute over touch screen technology favoring Motorola Mobility and Samsung could have a ripple effect in several other related cases around the globe.

While all of this is clearly bad news for Apple, one cannot help but wonder if it is nothing more than a bad hair day for Apple. They have survived other fiascos in the past with bad antennas, overheating tablets and the like. One suspects that they will find a way to deal with it.
Google has quite admirably taken the high road, stating that they want to make Google maps available for everyone on all platforms. Although one can’t help but feel that they are gloating over all the negative publicity aimed at Apple.

So what’s all the fuss about? One of the most humorous mistakes is an Irish rural estate named “airfield” that has been represented by apple on the map with an airplane icon to indicate an airport. This prompted the Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter to comment: “I know on occasion mistakes can be made and I am surprised to discover that Airfield, which is in the centre of my constituency in Dundrum, has, in Apple’s new operating system iOS 6 maps application, been designated with the image of an aircraft.”

Aside from the errors, which are just comical, the Apple maps lack some of Google Maps most popular features, such as public transit directions, useful traffic data and street level view images.

What is an app developer to make of all this brouhaha? My takeaway is that the competition between Android and Apple is likely to continue long into the future. As a result, the apps market will remain fragmented between these two giants as well as Windows and BlackBerry. Multi-platform mobile apps development solutions are going to be needed for a long time. Apple doesn’t have any problems that can’t be cured with a good comb. 

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