Tech of 2012: Apple Maps

By Mike on 1:07 pm

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You're driving through the Australian outback to a town you've never been to before. You come to a cross roads. The sign says go straight, your iPhone says turn left. So you turn left. You've become so accustomed to blindly trusting technology. Your phone could never make an error, could it? A day later police find you near dead out in the scorching desert. Apple Maps had thought the town was miles away from where it actually was. 

This is a true story about Mildura in Victoria, Australia. It's a typical small town about half way between Melbourne and Adelaide. Mildura is a quaint little place of 30,000, known for its vineyards and wineries.The town is connected to the two cities by a pair of modern, four lane highways.It isn't located off a dirt road in the middle of the outback. Though according to the iPhone, it is. Apple Maps had placed the town inside the Murray Sunset National Park. After six separate incidents of people getting lost in the bush, state police issued a warning to motorists. Apple's mapping software was not to be trusted. 

This topped the laundry list of problems with Apple Maps. Some roads were missing, some roads that didn't exist were there, many things were located miles from where they actually were, 3D rendering looked like a warped Dali painting. As soon as the app launched, the complaints started rolling in. Making matters worse, it was made the default mapping application. The Google Maps app was no longer an option.
Mildura is not in the middle of the outback. Source: Wikipedia
In the end, it forced Apple to do something  unprecedented. They made a sincere apology for their mistake and even pointed people to alternative apps they could use in the interim. Apple has apologized for issues before. However, they usually twist it to somehow blame the user. This time, they knew they had screwed up bad. They released an incomplete product based built using bad data. Not because they thought they could do better than Google, but because they didn't want to deal with Google. The search giant ultimately had the last laugh. The new Google Maps app for iOS broke download records. Steve Jobs must be rolling in his grave.

More important than Apple's apology is what the fiasco says about ourselves. As smartphones have become commonplace, we've gotten comfortable with letting them think for us. So much so that common sense takes a ride in the trunk.

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