Friday, September 28, 2012

Apple's rare mistake: Maps

Its rather difficult to find obvious flaws in the marketing and Apple product placement in the last decade. But in their new operating system, IOS6, Apple made a huge one. One that could have been avoided: including and replacing an existing software with one that wasn't ready yet: Apple Maps.

The Public Transportation directions are not in Apple
Maps. Instead we are redirected to a screen suggesting other apps. 

You've certainly heard or noticed that with IOS6, Apple decided to include their own map software: Apple Maps. Apple's strategy is to compete with Google in the very important and pertinent location-based publicity industry.

You many also have heard that Apple Maps were very seriously criticized in the past few weeks. As a matter of fact many, including me, find that Apple Maps is not a worthy replacement to Google Maps (that is not available anymore). What kind of problems? Missing city details, monuments misplaced, metro locations missing, directions that don't make sense, etc. All these are annoying but one of the most criticized problem (by yours truly especially) is the fact that the public transportation directions are not available on the new Apple Maps. Even though the option seems available, when you try to get directions, Apple will suggest other applications (some that you need to pay for) to get your directions. For all those who used this functionnality, this is a huge step backwards.

Why is it such a big mistake and how could it have been avoided? Simply by following the number 1 rule of software rewriting: only deliver the product once it AT LEAST meets the predecessors functionnalities.

I have personnally rewritten many software solutions for clients and it is far from being an easy task. Its important not to mistake "rewrite" with "create". When rewriting software, clients have expectations. They have a working software that they use. They may not love it but they've grown accustomed to it and they use it effectively. For a new software, clients don't have so many expectations. They don't have any tools to compare the software with. Whatever is made available will certainly be better than what they had before: nothing. Therefore, clients will often be able to live with small mistakes when creating a new software but if a software is rewritten, they won't accept that what used to work, doesn't anymore. Software editors often believe that because the rewritten software has so many new features that clients won't mind a few bugs in the old functionnalities, but they're dead wrong.

Is this what is happening to Apple Maps? Yes. Since Apple Maps doesn't match the existing functionnalities of Google Maps, people are getting quite annoyed. Even if it has some cool new features such as step-by-step live directions and 3D mapping, people won't appreciate what it should have but doesn't.

What's the consequence to all this? Future will tell but here's what I think:
  • People will start bookmarking Google Maps web app on IOS. This will allow them to use Google Maps but through a browser. Its less sexy and not always as practical but if it has the basic functionnalites, its one step ahead of Apple. That people start using a web app when a native app is available is quite significant.
  • When Google makes its native app available on IOS, it'll be downloaded very quickly and very often.
  • Many people will switch to an alternative solution and Apple Maps will not be as widely used as hoped. Apple may have to renounce to this market since it'll be very hard, long and expensive to get to Google's level.
Apple has an edge though: they can force people to use their application since it is installed by default. This means that when clicking on an address in an application or when directed to a map, Apple's software will open. This will be quite annoying for most users that don't want to use the Apple Maps software. They'll need to copy the address, open their alternative Map software, paste it and then go on. Not as easy as simply clicking on it. Also the not-so-tech-savvy users won't even think of using another software and use the default product.

Just to make an interesting parallel, this is what differentiates this situation from the latest big rewrite: Google+ vs Facebook. In this situation, Google+ put forth a great product that pretty much matched Facebook in every way (functionnality wise). It even had many added functionnalities that made the product, for some of us, far superior to Facebook. The problem was Google did not have any way to "push" or "force" users to switch to Google+. By imposing their Mapping software, Apple has an edge that might allow them to grab a good portion of the market.

This edge has some important obstacles to overcome. For one, Apple Maps must reach the level of quality Google has set. Google has been working on this for many years. I'm not sure Apple can get there quick enough.  Secondly, Apple is competing against Google. This is the biggest player. It is the player that made us forget all about MapQuest a few years back. Google was reluctant to put the greatest map application on IOS to try and move certain people to Android. The Google Android Map App is known to be better. Google will react to this shortly and offer a superior Map application for IOS. So who'll get there first? I bet Google... by far.

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