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David Talbot

A View from David Talbot

One Bad Apple Spoils the Ride

iOS6 maps are so bad, it warrants re-asking why the software industry has no quality standard.

  • September 21, 2012

After my sons downloaded iOS6 on everybody’s iPhone or iPod Touch two nights ago—giving us Apple Maps—the mayhem began. My boys entered “Reading Memorial High School”–their school in the Boston suburb of the same name–to see what it would give for directions.  They got excellent directions. … to “Wakefield Memorial High School” in the next town.

This morning I texted my wife to check in. She was headed to a meeting in Lawrence, Massachusetts, once a mighty mill city, now one of the state’s most troubled and blighted urban areas. Came the reply: “OK. Just got to Lawrence somehow. New maps on the iPhone f’d up the directions.”

She had entered the proper destination address in Lawrence.  Despite her having written “Lawrence” as the municipal destination, Apple proposed to send her to a similar address… in Methuen, several miles away. But we’re not some place in the developing world.  This is the Boston region.

Taking the train in to work today, I noticed the conductor managed to navigate successfully to the proper station—North Station—in the correct city: Boston. Hasn’t gotten around to his iOS6 download, I presume.

This disaster (see “Smartphone Makers Can’t Afford to Mess Up Mapping”) is still unfolding. It’s worse than just being a bad service. Given the ubiquity of these devices, it’s not hard to imagine people getting sent down Class 4 unmaintained roads in rural areas and getting stuck in ditches.  Others may be getting directed the wrong-way on one-way streets and posing a danger of head-on collisions. It’s only a matter of time before anecdotes like these will start emerging.

Apple is in full spin mode.  Trudy Miller, an Apple spokeswoman, released this statement yesterday: “Customers around the world are upgrading to iOS 6 with over 200 new features including Apple Maps, our first map service. We are excited to offer this service with innovative new features like Flyover, turn by turn navigation, and Siri integration. We launched this new map service knowing it is a major initiative and that we are just getting started with it. Maps is a cloud-based solution and the more people use it, the better it will get. We appreciate all of the customer feedback and are working hard to make the customer experience even better.”

It’s not clear that they get it. I’m not really sure I want my family to keep using it. It’s nuts that a service that used to work well (when it was Google Maps) suddenly become not only ineffective—but actually counterproductive, even dangerous.  So much so that this debacle might warrant re-asking the question of why the software industry has to meet virtually no standard, no bar of accuracy, no guarantee of reliability–on what tens or hundreds of millions of people increasingly rely on.

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