If you’re a fan of cartography, then the launch of Apple Maps on the new iPhone must have given you a fair few laughs. Apple removed Google Maps from iOS devices during the second half of 2012, and users waited impatiently for a substitute. When Apple Maps finally arrived, it was not what users expected.
On release, Apple Maps was full of strange bugs and errors. Among the alleged mistakes, Shapespeare’s birthplace was missing, Australian travelers would have their routes direct them to a national park rather than their actual destination, and, in a strange act of diplomacy, the Senkaku islands were duplicated – one set being Chinese, and the other set being Japanese. Since the political situation of those islands is blurry, that’s an interesting solution to the problem, but hardly one that helps people needing directions. Even Transport For London mocked the Apple Maps situation.
Apple maps is back in the app store now. Apple seem resigned to the thought that it will take a long time to fix the issues with its mapping software. They’re probably going to have to crowd-source a lot of data, especially for major city routes, in order to get their software up to the level of Google’s. The question is, will they be able to do this, or will the software never gain enough traction with users to get the crowd-sourcing off the ground?
Map makers or web designers have never had it easy. The early map makers lovingly created their map illustrations, filling in unknown areas with “Here there be dragons”, or descriptions of the known places nearby. That sort of thing isn’t acceptable today, though. We expect our GPS to be accurate to within a few meters. We’re missing out on something now that we don’t have to pour over illustrated maps and hand-crafted globes. Perhaps the art of folding paper maps back to their original shape is going to be lost in favor of tapping and prodding at a screen. If so, that’s a sad thing to think about.