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Apple’s home-grown Maps leaves users lost

September 21, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO: An entire city is in the ocean, a farm has been labeled as an airport, highways end in the middle of nowhere and a hospital now covers the entire centre of British city Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s home.

Welcome to the new world of Apple Maps that greeted iPhone and iPad users when they downloaded the highly anticipated update to the consumer giant’s mobile software platform, iOS 6.

Apple Inc’s home-grown Maps feature was introduced with much fanfare in June by Apple’s software chief Scott Forstall and is a direct challenge to the same service offered by friend-turned-rival Google Inc.

But the app is already facing criticism from users globally for a number of geographical errors, missing information and because it lacks features that made Google Maps so popular, including public transit directions, comprehensive traffic data or street view pictures.

Apple Maps has replaced Google Maps, which is no longer available on iOS 6.

Many users who downloaded Apple’s iOS 6 software, released on Wednesday, took to Twitter and online forums to express their frustration at the glitches.

“The people who thought the world was flat were more accurate cartographers than Apple Maps,” @RayneBradley said on Twitter.

“Apple Maps also have errors in business listings. I went to call a local taxi driver and it was a taxidermist (seriously),” said @TomDavenport on Twitter.

Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller said the company launched the new service knowing it was a major initiative.
“Maps is a cloud-based solution and the more people use it, the better it will get,” she said. “We appreciate all of the customer feedback and are working hard to make the customer experience even better.”

The criticism comes on the eve of the launch of Apple’s iPhone 5, which hits stores around the globe today. The iPhone 5 comes pre-loaded with the new iOS 6 software and Maps.

Users have created a Tumblr blog sarcastically dubbed “The Amazing iOS 6 Maps” where many have posted screen shots of the errors (ht tp://theamazingios6maps.tumblr.com/). Pictures showed the Norwegian town of Leknes in the Norwegian sea, the entire city centre of Stratford-upon-Avon is labelled as a hospital.

Some of the errors have even irked politicians. Irish Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said he was surprised to discover that Airfield – a 35-acre estate with working farm in his constituency in Dundrum, Ireland – has been labelled with the image of an aircraft.

He said this could be dangerous for pilots and suggested in a statement that Apple use the image of “a cow, a goat, a sheep, a flower” instead, and that an “aircraft is an entirely inappropriate flight of imagination”.

Users in Asia were surprised to see two sets of the disputed islands known by Japan as the Senkaku and by China as the Diaoyu. Some joked that this was Apple’s effort at providing a diplomatic solution to Japan and China, both of which claim the islands. Later searches using iOS 6 appeared to show the disputed islands had been removed altogether.

Not an easy fix

Closer to home, New York city residents are unhappy that Apple maps doesn’t offer public transit directions, one of the most-used features on Google Maps in cities.

“My phone should be able to tell me which bus and train to take,” said Kenan Ali, a Brooklyn, New York, resident who exclusively uses public transport in the city and has been an iPhone user since 2008. “I am hoping in the next update they will somehow add transit directions.”

Apple’s map service comes with three-dimensional images of cities called “Flyover” along with real-time traffic updates and also turn-by-turn navigation, the last a feature that Google has
in Android devices but had not made available in Apple devices.

Apple licenses mapping data from vehicle navigation systems maker TomTom. TomTom said it stands behind the quality of its maps but didn’t develop the app.

“During the process of turning mapping data into an app, every manufacturer does its own way,” said TomTom spokesperson Cem Cohen. “We are not part of that process. Apple uses exactly the same maps as our other customers.”

Cohen said TomTom hasn’t talked to Apple about the issues.

While in theory it will be possible for Apple to update Maps with a software fix, the problems appear to be “pretty profound and pretty fundamental”, said Marcus Thielking, co-founder of Skobbler, maker of the popular GPS Navigation 2 app, built using the crowd sourced OpenStreetMap platform.

“The question is really how much expertise do they have in-house and what they sourced from third parties,” Thielking said, adding that Apple requires people with a very specific skill set to fix it.

“It’s not their core competence,” he added.

Google, for its part, did not say whether it would do a Google Maps apps for iOS 6. Users now have to access Google Maps through the browser.

“Our goal is to make Google Maps available to everyone who wants to use it, regardless of device, browser, or operating system,” the company said in a statement.

Apple shares closed down about 0.5% at US$698.70 on Nasdaq, a day after reaching an all-time high of $703.99. The shares have gained over 20% in the past 3½ months in the build-up to the launch of the iPhone 5.

- Reuters


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