Thursday, September 20, 2012

iOS 6 Maps: Good enough is not good enough sometimes

In case you haven't noticed, Apple and Google have become archrival.  Apple has iOS, Google has Android.  Apple has iPhone, Google has Samsung Galaxy series, Motorola, LG and HTC making phones and tablets running Android.  Apple has created ecosystem of applications on closed iOS platform, Google has created open mobile OS platform for multiple hardware vendors to create mobile phones.

Yet Apple has been running a few key Google applications right out of iOS.  One of them was Google Maps.  Now Apple wants to have an answer for Google Maps.  Meet the new guide, iOS 6 Maps.

3D image of Winninger Brücke in Germany.
I've heard of wonders of German engineering, but
road looks too stretched to be believable.

We all know the mobile phone's killer application is location-aware app.  Because we carry our phones everywhere, we can ask our phones the question: Where am I and how do I get there from here?

But the killer Google Maps that has been working so well on iOS 6 has been replaced with the newbie, iOS 6 Maps (I think the official name is Apple Maps).  It's the one of the gutsiest decisions -- or depending on where you stand, one of the dumbest decision -- that Apple made.

Why?  It's gutsy for Apple because they are saying...

iPhone is so cool that people will suck it up and use iPhone and Apple Maps while we make it usable.

It's pretty dumb from user's perspective because it's a step backward.

Heck, this new map thing is not ready for prime time, and I know Google Maps work.  How do I get rid of this Apple Maps?

I am all for releasing quickly and releasing often.  Good enough is often good enough to get your foot in the door and start iterating fast.  But that works only when either one of two things are true:

1. Market is early and users don't have an idea of how the product can change their life, or
2. The product works better than competitor's for some people

Neither of them are true with Apple Maps.  Mobile map is not an early market.  Google, Waze, Nakamap and other traffic and map sites are available on the market.  People know how a good map should work, and it has become a critical use case for mobile device.

Apple Maps may work at the par with or better than Google Maps for some people.  But it's nowhere ready to be released to everyone on the globe at the same time.  Especially not ready to be highlighted as one of innovation of iOS 6.  It would have been a far better launch to switch from Google Maps to Apple Maps starting with major metropolitan areas where the map can work really well for subset of users.

But probably (I'm guessing) because of business reasons Apple decided to launch a product that is not in early market and that doesn't work for many.  This is a counter to Apple's strategy of underselling and overdelivering.  They created hype with big launch, yet ended up falling flat.

There is a lesson there.  If you are going against an industry leader, make sure you have a good launch plan.  Taking something away that works so well and replacing it with beta-level product is one way to lose your fan base.

Let's see whether it's a gutsy decision or a dumb planning.  Only time will tell.

Note that iOS 6 launch is a global event;
folks in London are already sharing their thumbs down publicly.


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