Dandy Cat

Apple Maps these days

A CNN article and interview by Jacob Krol has been making the rounds. It’s an interesting read and is packed with detailed imagery that shows off how capable and beautiful the app is now.

On September 19, 2012, Apple released its own map app, supplanting the app that had previously used data provided by Google. To say its reception was frosty would be an understatement. Rarely has an app been greeted with such disappointment, bafflement, and occasionally outright furor. Two momentous things happened in the immediate aftermath:

  1. Tim Cook released a letter of apology following the bungling of the release, in which he suggests using alternative map apps.
  2. Senior Vice President of iOS, Scott Forstall, and mapping team manager, Richard Williamson, left Apple (or were made to leave).

Apple isn’t ever without fault; it’s had its fair share of public embarrassments. I’m thinking of Ping, AirPower, and the still gorgeous Power Mac G4 Cube, to name a few. They may play like they’re unassailable, but oftentimes they show a great lack of insight and transparency with their releases. I guess world-shaking products like the iPhone, Apple Watch, and MacBook help to keep the balance.

Perhaps it’s because I live in Southern California, but at the beginning, I never had the sort of truly awful experience that others did. It was clear that its edges were as rough as could be, but calling it an abject failure? A catastrophe? Something worth getting fired over? It was an embarrassment, sure, but the reactions always felt outsized. Indeed, I think everyone should have taken some deep breaths over the whole thing.1

Anecdotally, the general feeling around my circle of family, friends, and acquaintances was one of disappointment and ridicule. Many expected it to be as capable and reliable as Google Maps was at the time (and continues to be). What a ridiculous notion that was! To write off an entire app—and for many, never use again—because it wasn’t immediately as good as its predecessor/competition felt like the wrong sort of knee-jerk response. Google Maps launched on February 8, 2005, a full seven years before Apple Maps. Of course Apple is going to be playing catch-up for a while. If you told me that Google’s product was rough and problematic at launch, I wouldn’t be surprised one bit.

We’re coming up on a decade of Apple Maps and, baby, it’s come a long way. We’ve got useful mapping data, gorgeous 3d models, and a Look Around function that’s second to none.2 As Krol describes in the article:

When navigating somewhere on an iPhone, you’ll notice that you’ll see clearer details about lanes in a road. Lanes are depicted accurately — with road markings — and intersections show crosswalks. It not only helps with accessibility since you’ll know those elements are there, but also extends to knowing what lane you need and how to get there properly. Even neater, you’ll see proper elevation when navigating complex highways that have ground-level roads with overpasses that intersect.

It’s a treat to use the app now. The service is capable and trustworthy. They’ve turned what would otherwise be an app lacking in personality into an experience that feels friendly, is chock full of helpful information, and is littered with eye candy.

Maps has a special place in the history of Apple. Roundly criticized and rejected at its release, it has since become one of their crown jewels. The app shows Apple at its best—quietly improving a product or service until it gleams with polish and essential utility. There are few apps on my devices that are as simultaneously useful, entertaining, and educational as Maps.

  1. That being said, there were undoubtedly some areas of the world that were failed by the app’s rough edges and shoddy mapping data. It’s a damn shame that people were let down by Apple’s mistakes. ↩︎

  2. Yes, it’s a far better experience than Google’s Street View. The only downside is that it doesn’t have the same coverage that Google’s feature does, but it’s only a matter of time before that changes. ↩︎