The Apple Maps Disaster

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.

Apple Maps

Apple Maps

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.

A Brief History of Cartography

Cartography is an ancient practice. Historians cannot agree on exactly how long maps have existed, since the definition of a “map” is itself a subject of debate. Hone possible example of an ancient map is a wall painting of the ancient Anatolian city, Catalhoyuk.

 map 16th century

map 16th century

This map dates back to 7000BCE, but some historians consider it to be a simple painting, not a real map.
The oldest surviving maps of the world are the ones created by the Babylonians in the 9th Century BCE. These maps depict the world as the Babylonians new it, and look very different to the maps of
the world that we know today.
 Ancient Greek Map

Ancient Greek Map

The Age of Exploration

It wasn’t until the 15th Century, during the Age of Exploration, that cartographers acquired the tools to create more accurate maps. Between the 15th and 17th century, tools such as the magnetic compass, the sextant, and the telescope became available. These tools greatly expanded our knowledge of the world. By the 16th century cartographers, working with explorers, were able to create incredibly detailed maps of small areas. Many cartographers would copy other maps and expand on them to make more detailed and accurate maps of the world.

Modern Mapping

Today, we have the benefit of GPS, satellites, and laser rangefinders, which allow us to create incredibly accurate and detailed illustrated maps. These maps are useful for detailed navigation, but for day-to-day use we, as a culture, seem to prefer more abstract illustrated maps.
A quick visit to the tourist office of any popular city will show how we do not require perfect scale and accuracy on city maps. Instead, we rely on a couple of key landmarks, which are massively overstated on the maps to allow for easy recognition. Individual side-streets are often ignored in favor of general directions, or relegated to a boring, rarely used streetmap on the other side of the page.