Apple Finally Acquires the Mapping Knowledge It Urgently Needs

NEWS ANALYSIS: Apple looks for the help it really needed a couple of years ago when it was developing its own mapping software and finds it in Canada.

Very few events illustrate Apple’s outlook on the world more clearly than the failure of its Apple Maps, which enraged iPhone and iPad users around the world with the release of iOS 6.

Under Steve Jobs, Apple’s view of the world was that the company defined cool and excellence. As Jobs indicated time after time, if a product wasn’t from Apple, then it didn’t have either.

It was this extreme level of hubris that helped convince managers at Apple that the company could summarily dispose of Google, which had been providing mapping services for Apple, and simply strike out on its own. Apple did this, of course, because the company was outraged that Google had developed Android and, worse, Android was selling well. Jobs, in his rage, declared that he could wage “thermonuclear war” on Google.

Apparently Apple was using its own mapping software when it went looking for Google, because all it accomplished was to find its own foot before it promptly shot off a couple of toes. As I pointed out about a year ago, Apple Maps was good for a few laughs, but not for actual navigation. Since then, Apple has updated the mapping app with some fixes, such as replacing the Washington Monument to its rightful location, but most of the problems remain unfixed.

Fortunately for Apple’s customers, Steve Jobs was no longer with us, and the new CEO, Tim Cook, not only realized there was a problem, but he admitted it to Apple’s customers, and took steps to rectify it as quickly as possible by, among other actions, recommending that Apple users go back to Google, or even to Microsoft Bing.

Had Apple realized its limitations at the beginning of the process, it might have decided to stay with Google, which at least had a clue, or taken more time to deliver its own mapping app that actually worked properly. But in those days Apple’s arrogance was at its height, and Jobs would have never allowed such a show of weakness.

Fortunately, Apple has finally figured out that mapping is really hard, and it has bought the Canadian mapping firm Locationary for its necessary expertise. In an interview, Locationary CEO Grant Ritchie pointed out specifically what Apple needed to do to fix its mapping product. Clearly, Apple has decided to take Ritchie at his word.

Maybe in another year or so, Apple will finally fix its own mapping app so that it’s useful enough that people can count on it to get them to the airport. Or to the Washington Monument.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...