Apple’s Eddy Cue (SVP of internet software and services) and Craig Federighi (SVP of software engineering) have finally talked about the early – troubled – days of Apple Maps, admitting that they "completely underestimated the product."
Cue explained to Fast Company: "If you think of Maps, it seems like it’s not that hard. All the roads are known, come on! All the restaurants are known. There’s Yelp and Open Table; they have all the addresses. Mail gets delivered; UPS has all the addresses. The mail arrives. FedEx arrives. You know, how hard is this? That was underestimating."
That underestimation came from the idea that they were simply replacing analogue maps with digital ones and led Apple to putting a small, isolated team in charge of developing it, when really it was a much bigger job.
But how did Apple Maps get out the door in such an unfinished state? It sounds as though the scale of the problems simply weren’t known, with Cue noting that "We were never able to take it out to a large number of users to get that feedback. So, to all of us living in Cupertino, Maps seemed pretty darn good. Right? The problems weren’t obvious to us."
New approaches and new features
The result of that is that the company now does a lot more betas, which is why customers are able to test new versions of iOS before launch.
That’s one positive that came out of a situation which Cue admits to being "embarrassed" by. And rather than abandoning Maps the company worked to develop new competencies and build it into what it is today.
Not that it’s a finished product by any means. Cue explained that when it comes to quality – to testing and validating information: "We’ve improved it significantly, and Google’s improved theirs significantly, but it’s still a problem that needs to be better. For both of us."
Cue also talked about how the company is improving the service using crowd-sourced data: for instance, if a lot of users are suddenly downloading golf apps at a location, or traffic has all started heading in a new direction to the expected pattern, that would signal that a new golf course has opened or a road was shut.
He said in the former case the company would then check satellite pictures to see if a golf course has suddenly sprung up, or ‘in a worst-case scenario, you would have to drive by.’
With the traffic data, Federighi confirmed that device travel patterns are used, but that the data is kept completely anonymous: "that [data is] something that is personal to you and provides value to you, but we don’t want Apple to know when you go to work. So we keep that intelligence on the device, but we can anonymously track things like traffic patterns."
You can also expect new features to be added to Apple Maps over time. Cue and Federighi wouldn’t be drawn on exactly what, but Cue did note a couple of areas he’d like to see improved, including more detailed traffic information and reminders of the names and locations of restaurants you like in places you don’t often visit.
For now we should probably just be thankful that Maps has reached a state where Apple is no longer suggesting users try its competitor’s apps.