11 July 2018

TechCrunch: “Apple is rebuilding Maps from the ground up”

Maps needs fixing.

Apple, it turns out, is aware of this, so it’s re-building the maps part of Maps.

It’s doing this by using first-party data gathered by iPhones with a privacy-first methodology and its own fleet of cars packed with sensors and cameras. The new product will launch in San Francisco and the Bay Area with the next iOS 12 beta and will cover Northern California by fall.

This is nothing less than a full re-set of Maps and it’s been four years in the making, which is when Apple began to develop its new data-gathering systems. Eventually, Apple will no longer rely on third-party data to provide the basis for its maps, which has been one of its major pitfalls from the beginning.

Matthew Panzarino

Must be some sort of redemption year at Apple: first acknowledging their hardware faults, and now this! Of course, everybody outside Apple’s bubble already knew this from the start, six years ago. Contrary to the promises from Apple and propaganda from fans, Maps has improved slowly – if at all – over the years, constantly lagging behind Google Maps.

Apple maps 2018 old vs. new

Here’s the thing though: despite renewed efforts, the success chances for this ‘full reset’ are slim. As it pivots towards services and content, Apple’s strength – vertical integration, focusing on premium devices at the expense of market share – is becoming its Achille’s heel. iPhone market share worldwide is in decline, so any data collected from users’ devices to improve maps will come from an increasingly smaller percentage of population. On top of that, as premium devices, iPhones are predominately sold in developed countries, in urban areas, and in the richer neighborhoods inside cities, meaning the data collected will cover a very small area of the world. In time, some cities will get detailed, up-to-date maps, while the rest, and the countryside, will still have the same poor, barely usable, Maps from Apple. This will inevitably lead to more frustration for users, as they would have to switch to better apps while traveling, even to a nearby town.

I personally think their original strategy, of compiling map data from third-parties, was better suited for Apple’s business model (as a recent example, Microsoft is contributing large amounts of data to OpenStreetMap, which Apple could have used), but their poor software engineering prevented them from executing properly. Starting from scratch now, after years of denying the problem and losing ground to Google, it’s not going to end well.

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