Maps app blunder ranks with ‘Antennagate’, say experts

Gregg Keizer
24 September, 2012
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Apple’s stumble with its new mapping app (Mapsgate) is a debacle right up there with 2010′s “Antennagate,” analysts said today.

“This ranks with ‘Antennagate,’” said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, of the 2010 public relations disaster when iPhone 4 owners reported that signal strength plummeted and calls were interrupted if they touched the newly-redesigned smartphone in certain ways. “Maybe it’s even worse, since mapping is such a core feature of the smartphone, something that users use many times on a daily basis.”

The term “Antennagate” was coined by former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who led a hastily-called press conference in mid-July 2010 to deal with the backlash.

Apple has not gone that route yet, but it should, argued Dany Gaspar, Director of Digital Strategy at Levick, a Washington, D.C. firm that helps companies deal with public relations emergencies.

“They need to regroup and get out a more aggressive statement and more detailed plan on how they will rectify this,” said Gaspar. “They haven’t provided the user with the necessary next steps that they will take. And this needs to happen now, within the next 48 to 72 hours. A week or two is centuries in social media.”

Almost immediately after the launch of iOS 6, users who had updated their existing iPhones started complaining that Apple’s new Maps app was substandard. They cited the lack of public transit maps, inaccurate maps, off-kilter points-of-interest, missing streets and addresses, and more.

Even long-time pundits who typically applaud Apple’s moves noted the problems.

“The maps experience in iOS 6 is a downgrade,” acknowledged John Gruber, who writes the Daring Fireball blog.

“The biggest drawback I found is the new Maps app,” said Walt Mossberg, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, in his review of the iPhone 5 on Thursday.

“Even the biggest of Apple’s supporters have said that Maps aren’t up to par. That says everything,” said Moorhead.

Both Moorhead and Gaspar linked the subpar app baked into iOS 6 — the mobile operating system that powers the iPhone 5, which started selling Friday — with the feud between Apple and Google.

Apple has kicked out of iOS 6 both Google Maps and YouTube, another Google property that has been integrated with the iPhone’s software since the smartphone’s 2007 debut. Most analysts have said the bouncing of Google Maps and YouTube was the strongest signal yet of the companies’ ratcheting rivalry.

Apple and Google were once close collaborators. Eric Schmidt, at the time Google’s CEO, joined Apple’s then-CEO Steve Jobs on stage at the iPhone’s 2007 introduction, and served on Apple’s board until 2009. Now, they are fierce competitors who have faced off in court, including a patent infringement case where Apple won a major verdict over Samsung, the biggest seller of Android-based smartphones.

“This all goes back to Steve Jobs declaring war on Android,” said Moorhead, “and Apple thinking that Eric Schmidt, who was on the board at one point, stabbed them in the back.”

“Of course, this speaks to the competition with Google,” agreed Gaspar.

It’s understandable that Apple wanted Google Maps gone, said Moorhead. “One of the key areas of monetization [on mobile] will be local … local promotions, local advertising, local couponing … and maps are a crucial part of that. Google knows that, Apple knows that. Apple had to disconnect itself strategically from a part of the experience that they did not control themselves.”

“At WWDC, Apple dropped the hammer [on Google Maps], and drew a line in the sand,” echoed Gaspar.

Whether it was a business-driven decision or not — or even if it was not entirely Apple’s doing, since Google may have been the one to withdraw its own mapping technology from iOS, perhaps by refusing to re-licence it to Apple — this was a major mistake.

“Apple has to have seen these [problems] with its Maps months ago,” said Gaspar. “But they seemed to have believed that they were in a position where consumers would give them a pass.”

Gaspar called that arrogance.

“It was very arrogant of them to assume that no one would have anything negative to say, especially with another iPhone coming out, that in the long term it would just go away,” said Gaspar.

“There’s no excuse for what Apple ultimately delivered,” said Moorhead. “It’s amazing what Apple thinks they can push on consumers.”

Both experts said the fix was obvious.

“If nothing else, they need to be able to give users some sort of choice,” said Gaspar. “They need to make Google Maps available through the App Store, even though the two are arch enemies.”

“The first thing they need to do is fix it immediately, there’s no talking point here,” said Moorhead, noting that Apple’s options are limited since it cannot magically make its own mapping solution better overnight. “They need to do something radical with Google, and help put Google Maps on iOS 6. Period.”

Users won’t be satisfied with anything less, Moorhead added.

“Overall, Apple made a PR blunder,” said Gaspar, referring to an Apple statement which said, among other thing, that its own technology would improve the more customers used it. Not enough, not nearly enough, Gaspar said.

“They can ride this out if they make the necessary adjustments,” said Gaspar. “They realize they made a mistake, but now they have to be upfront and explain what they’re going to do, do it honestly, and do it sooner rather than later.”

If Apple asked his advice, Gaspar said he would urge them to address the problem publicly in the next two to three days, max.

“They can weather this,” said Gaspar. “But they need to move now, or people will start reconsidering whether to buy an iPhone 5 or not.”


4 people were compelled to have their say. We encourage you to do the same..

  1. Paul says:

    Who is supplying Apple with the maps? Are they using the same maps that provide maps to companies like Tomtom?

  2. GAG says:

    I hope Apple rides out the ridiculously frenzied map bashing. The last thing they need to do is listen to analysts and nickers in a knot bloggers screaming to bring back Google maps. Google maps was, is not the be all of mapping. It really is time to move on and create a better, more user friendly maps app and move away from the hubris that is Google maps. I am patient and can envisage that Apple can in a reasonable time frame ( perhaps a decade less time than Google needed) produce not as good as (heaven forbid), but a vastly superior and more open (3ed party plugins) application.

  3. Gkinchina says:

    I upgraded my iPhone4 to IOS6 and after using the maps, have decided to postpone the purchase of my iPhone5 until there is one that has a decent maps application that works outside of the USA. A Google Maps app maybe. How can a company be so arrogant, expecting us customers to crowd source map data for them for the next few years while they play catchup to Google? In the meanwhile, we lose time and money because there are no map options that work well outside the USA except Google Maps, and Apple will not even give us the option of reverting to the old map app that worked! The new app can’t find any place, can’t route anything and has no public transport either. It is completely useless outside the USA as its map data is either absent or wrong. I advice my friends now that until there is a working, usable Map application on IOS6, either from Apple (with Google Maps Data) or from Google, don’t upgrade to IOS6. It’s a one way street. And don’t buy the iPhone 5 either until then.

  4. Paul says:

    Just found an interesting thing while playing with Apple’s new Map app. The mapping is supplied by Tomtom. Now this explains why the map is updated and has errors all through it. Sensis supply the mapping for Australia it’s no wonder why Apple’s new Map app is so poor. It has the same errors my Tomtom GPS has and even thou I keep it up to date with new maps I find it’s at least between 2 to 5 years and more out of date. They either have roads where there hasn’t been a road for over 20 years or where there is a road that’s been there for 20 years they don’t have it on there maps. Even major highways and roads they can’t seem to get it right. So if Apple is using their mapping for Australia I have no hope of ever seeing Apple’s Map app working correctly

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