I watched a video of the “map” presentation at Apple’s WWDC and was struck by the fact that the presenter used the term “beautiful” to describe the map display on at least five separate occasions. Since my roots are in cartography, I appreciate a well-designed display, but only when the data represented on the display are a fair representation of the real-world. In other words, the most significant problem in creating a navigation/mapping application is data quality.
Yesterday, I read an article on CNN titled Apple’s Secret Weapon”, by John Brownlee. I thought it was an interesting an insightful view of what makes Apple great. Brownlee reasoned that it almost seems as if Steve Jobs and Apple created a time machine that allowed them to create products that are years ahead of their competitors. Brownlee hits the nail on the head when he indicates there is no “flux capacitor” at Apple, only the ability to actualize the, “…revolutionary, magical machines it dreams up.” Yes, iPod, iPhone, iPad, retina displays, etc. do show the ability of Apple to actualize dreams and make them realities that appeal to millions of potential purchasers.
Well, I guess this is true, if one is willing to make an exception for the mapping app that Apple intends to launch as a feature of IOS 6. Apple’s demonstration of the application at the WWDC showed little innovation and a lot of copying. However, since this is a software service, rather than a physical product, maybe Apple’s vaunted reputation for product development does not apply. After all, this is the company the brought you “Mobile Me”, a product that the even the late Steve Jobs described as, “Not our finest moment.”
Unfortunately, Apple has limited expertise in mapping, and may not understand the problems it faces. Further, it is unlikely to be able to “actualize” a new standard for navigation or local search that will reshape the industry in a manner that reflects Apple’s leading edge capabilities in function and design of products intended for the consumer electronics space. For those of you who are doubters, did you see anything in the WWDC demo of their mapping application that you have not seen before or of which you were completely unaware?
It is important to remember that what we saw at the WDDC was an early stage development representing San Francisco as a base. I wonder how many people were asked to QC that the map space before the demo? If I had a dollar for every time San Francisco was used for a map demo that I have personally witnessed, I would be a very rich man today. However, it is not San Francisco that will give Apple heartburn. Providing quality map coverage over the rest of the world is another matter completely.
Over the past three years, Apple has acquired several small companies that were focused on parts of the mapping equation (Placebase – GIS and database driven mapping, C3 – 3D imagery and mapping, Poly 9 – projection, web mapping). Note that these companies are not data companies. Currently Apple lacks the resources to provide the majority of geospatial and POI data required for its application. Traffic, however, will be based on the GPS paths recorded from iPhone users to build both historical and real-time models of traffic flows.