Apple Maps and an Issue of Trust

Posted in Apps, Mobile, Places

Okay, it’s been about two months since iOS6 was released with the infamous downgrade from Google Apps to Apple’s own mapping app. Formal apologies and internet-wide bashing aside, I never understood the vitriol coming from iOS phone users, when is still available in Mobile Safari and ugly elevation mapping makes for little more than blog fodder.

That is, until I took a trip to Hawaii.

With a rental car, we were relying on Apple Maps’ turn-by-turn navigation[1] to get us around the island. For what it was worth, the Yelp integration was actually quite pleasant, and having navigation built into the operating system allowed for a few tricks to save battery life. (e.g., relying on the lock screen to prompt for turns)

The big problem with inaccurate data isn’t so much that there may not be a result. With the internet available, it’s simple enough to Google for a location, find a street address or a geolocation and map to that; I’m used to going through the address dance from my car’s totally outdated (and ridiculously expensive to update) in-dash navigation system with map data from 2003. No, the issue is when Apple maps thinks it can take you there.

Many times, the directions took us within the general vicinity of the searched location; a few times, it got completely confused and charted (mostly) impossible routes. After getting burned a few times – especially when walking around town, where a few blocks difference was painful – we ended up double-checking every destination on my wife’s Galaxy S3[2]. Every time Apple maps got the location right became a pleasant surprise.

More than being comically inaccurate, a map that’s is only sometimes wrong is almost as bad as being always wrong. In both cases, the directions are no longer trusted, and the user is compelled to seek a second opinion, knowing that the chance for a mistake is just big enough that it’ll happen at an inconvenient time. It’s a bit like uptime: the reliability and more importantly the perception of reliability is not linear to the actual data, but follows more of an asymptotic slope which only wins the user’s trust somewhere between very, very accurate and eerily accurate.

Yep, the Maps team has a long road ahead. (hah)

Footnotes    (↑ returns to text)

  1. To be fair, Google Maps on iOS never even had turn-by-turn, so in a way this was still an upgrade from iOS5’s mapping options.
  2. As to why we didn’t just use Google Maps on Android from the start, she has a pretty limited data plan, while I still have an unlimited plan grandfathered from the iPhone OG days.