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The iPhone 5 Map App

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Sep 29, 2012    •    955 Views

While Apple’s iPhone 5 map app might not always take us where we want to go, it will probably provide a path to some surprising innovation.

A little history first…

The iPhone 4 was released during June 2010 with a new antenna design that soon became a problem when people accidentally lost their connection by putting a hand over a tiny gap in the phone’s steel rim. Responding, Steve Jobs said, “We’re not perfect. Phones are not perfect. We all know that. But we want to make our users happy.”

Fast forward to 2012…

Apple tells us that although its new iPhone 5 map app that replaced Google Maps has problems, it is more than 99 percent accurate. Responding, the NY Times’s David Pogue says yes, Apple Maps has “dazzling” features but even if one half of one percent of its data is inaccurate, you are talking about a lot of data.

Why did Apple cut its tie with Google? Apple could not have been pleased that Google gave Android the best features and was getting data from Apple’s customers. It would also make sense that Apple wants to do its own map app development.

Whatever the specific reason, I suspect that “Antennagate” and “Mapplegate” take us to Joseph Schumpeter’s (1883-1950) creative destruction. Schumpeter believed that progress was an agonizing process through which old firms get trampled by nimble entrepreneurs and new ideas. Innovation is a chancy process that most other firms avoid because it is much safer to stick with the dependable stuff you know. By contrast, as with antennas and maps, Apple consistently innovates and avoids its own creative destruction.

A final fact: Whereas it would have been uncharacteristic for Steve Jobs to apologize, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook did say he was sorry. In a website letter to customers, he explained, “With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.”

Sources and Resources: In a fascinating 5 pages (pp. 519-523, Steve Jobs), Walter Isaacson describes the iPhone tension between engineering and design and the PR decisions that ultimately defused “Antennagate.” Similarly, David Pogue provides invaluable insight about the iPhone 5 map app in this column and the word, “Mapplegate,” but if you just want a good story about the app and Fenway Park, I suggest this article.

One Response to The iPhone 5 Map App

  1. julianfstr says:

    To David Pogue I say that would be a valid response outside the context of comparing Apple Maps to Google Maps. Within that context however, I can only think of the time only a month ago that Google maps had me driving in a literal circle. Fortunately I discovered the error just prior to my first arrival back at the beginning of the circle (misguide me once shame on you, misguide me twice, shame on me). That’s one of countless times Google has gotten it wrong.

    Personally, I feel for Apple. They’ve innovated and permeated human life so deeply that the slightest missteps are magnified tenfold by the level of expectation for perfection the userbase (or should I just say the human race at this point?) has for their products.

    I am also a bit concerned by Mr. Cook’s apology though. It’s most likely that Steve Jobs would not have apologized in this instance, and that’s part of what made Apple who they are in our collective mind. It’s as if under Steve, Apple PR had is own reality distortion field — that by not fully accepting responsibility and/or apologizing, their missteps never happened, or ultimately weren’t perceived as big a deal as they were at first.

    But Tim Cook’s apology makes Mapplegate real. I think I would prefer Steve’s jedi mind trick over an apology.

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