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The iPhone 5 Map App

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Sep 29, 2012    •    382 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.

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