Oops! Apple Needs a Remapping [Updated]

When I looked at the area around my house in the new iOS 6 Apple Maps app, I noticed something seemed to be missing. There was a big pink patch for the Bethesda naval hospital, but where was the very unmissable campus of the National Institutes of Health, located just across the street. Nowhere to be found. A closer examination of the neighborhood showed a county office building mislabeled as a school, while the actual school, a couple of miles away, was missing. A local high school is shown in two different places. A major road was misnamed and  the name of an Army facility was misspelled. This just in one small part of one Washington suburb.

There has been a fair amount of early grumbling about the features,  such as street view and mass transit routing,  lost when Apple switched from Google maps to their own in iOS 6. But I was unprepared for just how bad the maps themselves are.

The thing I associate most strongly with Apple is the extremely high standard for the fit and finish of its products. While the iPhone 6 may look and feel like a fine Swiss watch, Maps looks like a hurriedly thrown together term paper.

Relations between Apple and Google have been deteriorating for some time and the tensions have heightened lately. So it’s not surprising that Apple felt compelled to rid itself of its dependence on Google for such a critical service. Nokia is the second0-best source of mapping data, but Nokia is very tight with Microsoft these days and Apple apparently couldn’t, or didn’t want, to go there. Apple turned to Tom Tom, with additional data from crowdsourced maps and navigation service Waze and others. The result is a big step down in quality.

Fortunately for Apple, maps are maintained on servers, not devices, so improvements can be made quickly and out into effect instantly. It’s somewhat un-Apple-like, but the company ought to quickly establish a system for user reports of map errors, a system that worked very well for Google when it began offering bicycle routing a couple of years ago.

I haven’t yet had a chance to test Apple’s new turn-by-turn navigation. But the fact the database doesn’t know where a lot of things are makes me wary (It relies heavily on Yelp for search; that’s great for restaurants, but not so helpful for government offices.) For now, I’d stick to searching for destinations by address, not by name.

UPDATE: TechCrunch has a post on errors in Apple’s European maps. Sounds like things are a mess on that side of the Atlantic too.

SECOND UPDATE: Jonathan Cartagena (@torah7000) reports via Twitter that there is a link to report problems, though being in dark text on a medium gray linen background, it’s not easy to spot. I tried reporting problems with mixed results. I couldn’t report the fact that NIH was missing because reporting a missing feature requires tapping the feature on the map, which you can’t do if it isn’t there. Just tapping the correct location doesn’t work. Other corrections can be entered by typing in a text box, but the text does not wrap properly at the end of a line but just scrolls off to the left. Still others show a satellite image of the problem area and ask you to drag the pin to the correct location. However when you try to do this, the whole map scrolls with the pin in place. The whole procedure feels a lot less than half baked.