Maps debacle prompted Apple to release OS X and iOS public betas

“One of the most underappreciated realities about Apple is that it has always been a company that learns on the fly,” Rick Tetzeli reports for Fast Company. “This continual learning process is central to the way [Apple CEO Tim] Cook manages Apple. He accepts the inevitability of flaws, but relentlessly insists that employees pursue perfection. ‘I twitch less,’ says [APple executive Eddy] Cue cheerfully when I ask about the difference between Jobs and Cook. ‘No, no, no, just kidding! Steve was in your face, screaming, and Tim is more quiet, more cerebral in his approach. When you disappoint Tim, even though he isn’t screaming at you, you get the same feeling. I never wanted to disappoint Steve, and I never want to disappoint Tim. [Other than them,] I have that feeling with, like, my dad.'”

“Perhaps the best example of this continuous improvement at work under Cook is the company’s rehabilitation of its Maps app, which was universally scorned after its introduction in September 2012,” Tetzeli reports. “Apple Maps’ miscues were legion: Bridges seemed to plunge into rivers; hospitals were located at addresses actually belonging to shopping centers; directions were so bad they confused airport runways with roads. Apple didn’t have a billion customers at the time, but it had more than enough to turn the app into a national joke. ‘Look, the first thing is that you’re embarrassed,’ says Cue. ‘Let’s just deal with that one fact of emotion. These things mean a lot to us, we work really hard, and so you’re embarrassed. We had completely underestimated the product, the complexity of it.'”

“The changes didn’t come easy. Shortly after the app’s debut, Scott Forstall, a 15-year Apple veteran who was in charge of its development, was eased out. That was just the beginning. Forstall had overseen dozens of people working in relative isolation: Several thousand people now work on Maps,” Tetzeli reports. “But the company did more than just throw numbers at the problem. Cook also forced his execs to re-examine, and change, the way they worked with development teams. Famous for being secretive, Apple opened up a bit. ‘We made significant changes to all of our development processes because of it,’ says Cue, who now oversees Maps. ‘To all of us living in Cupertino, the maps for here were pretty darn good. Right? So [the problem] wasn’t obvious to us. We were never able to take it out to a large number of users to get that feedback. Now we do.’ Apple now does public beta testing of its most significant software projects, something that Jobs never liked to do. In 2014, the company asked users to test run its Yosemite upgrade to OS X. Last year, it introduced beta testing of iOS, which is the company’s most important operating system. ‘The reason you as a customer are going to be able to test iOS,’ Cue says, ‘is because of Maps.'”

Tons more in the full article – recommendedhere.

MacDailyNews Take:

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16 Comments

  1. When it works, Maps is brilliant. I have been using the inbuilt public transport functions to get around London. It’s great as it makes buses simple. But in most places I visited in Europe there just aren’t any public transport options.

    Street numbers are hopeless. Businesses are worse. In Sydney apple maps offers businesses in street locations that have been built over by a 5yr old mall.

    Perfection is some time away…

    1. “Perfection is some time away” …..

      Yes, like 10 years or more. Maps in UK is worse than useless. It can’t even get my home location right, despite several fault reports to Apple.

      Routes it selects for destinations are absolutely ridiculous, Maps is an absolute joke, Apple should be ashamed of such rubbish. I still try it out from time to time, but always end up exasperated.

      1. As another Apple Maps user in the UK, I couldn’t disagree more. It has recently earned it’s place as my navigation system of choice. I also have several up to date stand-alone SatNav units by TomTom and Garmin, but Apple Maps works far better than any of them. I also used Waze for quite a while, but encountered too many drawbacks.

        The maps are displayed without any lag, and appear to be updated very rapidly. I recently drove along a minor road which has been re-routed within the last couple of weeks and Apple Maps displayed it as it is now, while a month ago it showed it as it was then.

        Where available in big cities, the 3D images of building are a huge advantage in identifying where you need to go. However the biggest single advantage is the clarity of the maps. Obviously the route itself is clearly highlighted, but there are some other crucial advantages. It usually provides written directions for the next turn and the one after that ( which is something that many SatNavs don’t reliably do ), which means that in congestion, you can be more certain of getting into the correct line in a timely manner.

        There are some more subtle things like the way that the names of side roads are displayed as dynamic tags with points to the road itself. They’re very clever implemented so that they are a secondary feature, never obscuring the main route, but always visible and using text that is larger than would have been possible if the name were written within the displayed width of the road, as is conventionally done on maps.

        I try to avoid using the database to identify destinations. If I am able to provide a postcode for the required destination, it works as well as any other postcode entry system, which means that it’s excellent in cities and towns, but not so good in the countryside, where a specific postcode can cover an area of a couple of miles, but that’s a limitation of the postcode system, rather than Apple Maps. A specific UK postcode covers around 40 houses, so a street in a city might have several postcodes over a short distance, while in the countryside, a single postcode can cover many square miles, including several different roads.

        It’s made worse by the fact that in countryside areas, houses are rarely numbered, but instead are given names. With numbered houses, if you’re looking for no 71 and you’re passing no 43, with the numbers getting bigger, you know that you’re going the right way. With house names, if you’re looking for “The Old Schoolhouse” and are passing “Damson Cottage” you’re none the wiser. Unfortunately there are no online resources that I know of in the UK to show the position of house names on a map.

        I’ve been critical of the database behind Apple Maps for many years and while it has improved, it still needs to be made more reliable. I can never understand why when I’m in the UK and ask for driving instructions to a named business, Apple Maps has a tendency to offer businesses with similar names in the US ahead of the ones that I can actually drive to on this island.

        With tricky to specify destinations, locating the destination by some other means ( satellite photo, latitude/longitude, map grid reference, or simply looking at an on-line map provided by the business ) and then placing a pin as the destination is much easier than doing equivalent processes on dedicated SatNavs.

          1. My dear chap. I always drive on the correct side of the road for the country that I’m driving in. I’m sufficiently versatile that it’s no problem to me which side of the road that happens to be, or whether it’s a stick shift or an automatic.

            Which reminds me of a taxi ride I had in rural Turkey on a baking hot day. Sometimes the driver drove on the left and sometimes on the right. I asked him which side of the road they drive on and he said “In this part of Turkey, we drive on the shady side of the road.”

    2. I have been a faithful Apple Maps user since it launched. But I’m fed up. I feel it’s worse today than it was a while back. It gets me lost so much I just can barely use it.

      I jump to Google Maps when I have to. I may no longer use Apple Maps unless it’s just in a major city.

  2. 1) Calling the Maps issue a debacle is hyperbole. There were other mapping alternatives and it’s not like people’s phones stopped working. 2) As the article suggests, simply making the initial Maps release a downloadable beta and keeping Google Maps the default for one release cycle, would have avoided the entire “controversy” (and probably saved Scott Forstall’s job).

  3. Cue: “To all of us living in Cupertino, the maps for here were pretty darn good. Right?”

    Except it’s icon directed users to drive off a Cupertino bridge.

    “Apple now does public beta testing of its most significant software projects, something that Jobs never liked to do.

    I’m STILL not convinced Apple like to do public beta testing. From experience, providing detailed beta feedback results in being ignored, even across several full version increments of OS X, not to mention beta increments. I entirely gave up bothering to submit Yosemite feedback. Apple didn’t give a rat’s, and it showed in the end product. Reported bugs in El Capitan have still not been addressed. I don’t beta test for my edification.

    The idea is to help you Apple. If you don’t want help, then stop treating testers as suckers.

  4. I have a question for the readers. My use of Maps is limited to duplicating the functions of a Garmin GPS. I only (mainly) use it for trips from my home town to Elsewhere.

    I put it on my dash right in front of my eyes. On the iPhone (6) I can’t read any of the information except the miles. Turns and road information can’t be read. Garmin Has big letters for multiple items, makeing it easy to use.

    The iPhone has an pale, low contrast “Jony Ives” screen which is hard to read. Gramin has a very nice high contrast, bright color screen which easy to see.

    The iPhone begins the trip with voice prompts which stop are several turns. Then nothing. Voice prompts would sure help the poor visability problems mentioned above. Garmin give voice prompts all the way through, including potty breaks, etc., where the unit is switched on and off.

    I don’t see any one commenting about the lousy Maps GPS preformance for trips. All I hear is about whether a donut shop is mentioned.

    Does not one care what a lousy trip GPS Maps is?

    1. Is there a reason why you have not taken advantage of the built-in features within IOS to improve legibility?

      Setting > General > Accessibility > ( Larger Text / Bold Text )

      Larger text will offer a slider allowing you to increase the size of text within Apple that support Dynamic Text. As it’s name suggests, Bold substitutes a bold version of the font for the thinner one.

      For people with less than perfect eyesight, it can offer a significant improvement. I only use reading glasses from time to time, but Dynamic Text makes quite a difference for me and for my visually impaired friend, it makes the difference between being able to use her iPhone and not being able to.

      1. alanuadio,

        I think you missed my point. I have good eyesight. I only use reading glasses.

        If I were to increase the font size, then all my screens would change. I neither need nor want that. The problem with Maps is that the distance (miles) is say 36 point (?) and everything else is 6-8 pt (?). THAT is the problem. Making everything bigger will not solve the problem – it may make it worse if the Miles run everything else off the screen.

        My only conclusion is that Maps is meant to be hand held close to the reading position of the face, where the small type is legible.

        I tried Google maps, which is better, but the best is simply the old Garmin GPS.

  5. 3 days ago I was using Waze and Maps simultaneously because Waze indicated all 3 routes from Santa Clara to Monterey had accidents, police, and major delays. Surprisingly, about 3 minutes after Maps initially suggested the usual route, it flashed a notice that a reroute would save 12 minutes. It then coincided perfectly with the preferred route Waze was recommending. I was surprised because while Waze almost always flashes the fastest route based on traffic flows, Apple Maps had never done it before. All it needs now is to show my speed and the speed limit and I’ll use it exclusively.

    1. I agree with your observations. Apple Maps re-routing now seems pretty good. I’m not sure where Apple gets it’s congestion information from, but it seems to be very up to date and reliable, so I assume that it might be crowd-sourced data, automatically gathered from iPhones along that road.

      The lack of speed limit display ( and overspeed warnings ) is a significant omission from Apple Maps. That and the warning about speed cameras and driving over the limit are the only reason why I still use my SatNavs on unfamiliar roads, but I still prefer Apple Maps for the actual navigation.

      When driving my British car in continental Europe, I always use a SatNav instead of Apple Maps almost entirely because Apple Maps does not display speeds. The speedo on my car is in mph and has an indistinct scale for km/h. The best way to be sure of knowing my speed is to set my SatNav to display speed in km/h. That’s especially important in Germany where radar speed traps are camoflaged or are sometimes built into things that look like ordinary street furniture ( automatic alerts for nearby speed traps are illegal in Germany ).

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