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Mac Planet: That five-letter word

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According to Apple's new Maps application roads in Las Vegas are melting. Photo / Supplied
According to Apple's new Maps application roads in Las Vegas are melting. Photo / Supplied

It's 'sorry'. Apparently, users worldwide are having a hard time with Apple Maps. I was surprised, having happily used the iOS6 Maps app all over London and Oxford, plus in Rotterdam, Holland - a maze of small streets and ports. Then came CEO Tim Cook's public apology, after I had decided that the so-called Maps debacle was probably just another beat-up.

You know, where a few users find a minor problem Apple did with something and shout, and soon the whole world seems to be braying about Apple's disastrous failure that's going to (deservedly) bring the (evil, arrogant) company crashing down.

And Apple has apologised for mistakes before (thank goodness). IGN found ten.

So anyway, what did Tim Cook say, and what were the issues? Well, it's too long to reproduce in full here, but the apology starts out:

"To our customers,

At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers. With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better."

And continues to mention Apple's successes and continual striving to make things better. You can read the full text at Apple's link.

Interestingly, though, Apple takes the step of recommending other maps applications until Apple brings its own maps application up to the higher standards promised. That's not a strategy many other companies would likely take. I don't quite think, as some commentators do, that it reflects 'a new standard of transparency and honesty'.

After all, all those other map apps only work on Apple's platform, and Apple takes a cut of every sale, but it's still a pretty reasonable thing to do for all concerned. And note that Apple has never shied away from recommending apps made by third parties for the Mac, for instance, endorsing Microsoft Word and Excel way back, then Aldus and Macromedia and then Adobe products, among many others. These applications and apps are, after all, why people buy their Mac devices in the first place.

Anyway, for Maps substitutes, TUAW has a few suggestions.

So what are the issues? OK, I have to admit, there really are some issues. Which, as I've said, I haven't experienced, but please let me know how you have fared in New Zealand, or wherever you are.

It's so bad for some users, the normally reliable Wired has called it Apple's 'Mapocalypse'. ReadWriteWeb editor Dan Frommer documented a number of Maps fails in New York City, namely the Manhattan Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge, which in 3D fly-over mode (only available in some places) appear to have suffered earthquakes. The Washington State Department of Transportation even tweeted, "Although #ios6 may say differently, we can assure you that the Tacoma Narrows Bridges have not melted" with a link to the Maps rendering of the bridge.

Apparently Maps does not recognise a number of towns in England and misplaced several others - just like thousands of human travellers did, but that was before the miracle of individuals personally getting data from Global Positioned Satellites out in space.

Businesses have complained the new app is a serious problem if they have depended on referrals from Google Maps. The Apple Maps search function simply scans though a list of local business names, so a search for 'iPhone repair' only turns up businesses with those words in their name, rather than every company providing that service

If you want to see many (is this Schadenfreude or what?) of the failures, check out 'The Amazing iOS 6 Maps' Tumblr page.

A simple solution is to browse to Google Maps internet browser page (maps.google.com) then click on the 'share' button and select 'Add to Home Screen.'

But you might reasonably wonder: why did Apple abandon the very workable and useful Google Maps app in the first place? Well, ever since Google launched Android, it has been a much more direct competitor to Apple, which used to enjoy a great relationship with the other Californian company.

Navigation isn't a trivial feature. Getting a solid app for your driving directions can cost real money, or requires an ongoing subscription (I myself have been told off for spending over NZ$100 on TomTom Western Europe, but I stand by that as an excellent purchase for the second year in a row). But the point is, Apple needs to supply products that include the features that users want most.

It's believed that if iPhone users can't get turn-by-turn directions for free, at some point they would stop being iPhone users. And Google persisted in keeping the turn-by-turn ability for iOS a generation behind Android. There were other hindrances, too.

And none of this actually means the iPhone 5 is rubbish. Even the sometimes acerbic US Consumer Reports has posted its initial review of the iPhone 5. Testers liked the display, calling it 'crisp and bright,' as well as LTE connectivity, noting that the iPhone 5 downloaded web pages faster than previous models.

But yes, Consumer Reports did also find the Maps app to be unreliable, both in search mode and turn-by-turn. (They also found the camera comparable to that of the iPhone 4S, and not a major leap forward, despite Apple's claims to the contrary, and other sites lauding its lowlight ability compared to the 4S and other smartphones.)

Well, I'm not going to defend Maps except to say, I understand why Apple felt compelled to make it, but maybe it should have been tested a lot more before introduction. Think about it - it has to be tested all over the world by thousands of people to be proven to work reliably. But Apple does have the resources to do this.

I think Apple should have just called it Maps Beta, actually.

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