Thursday 26 June 2014

Dear Apple Maps: It's Not Me, It's You

An open letter to Apple Inc...

Dear Apple,

Has it really been less than two years since you changed your Maps iOS app to feature your own data, rather than that of Google?

I'm surprised, because it feels much longer.

I've tried to be patient with your shortcomings, I really have. Your mobile devices are otherwise excellent. My iPhone 4S is invaluable, particularly when travelling, and my iPad 2 has turned out to be more versatile and useful than expected.

But let's face it, your default mapping app is crap. It was crap when released, and it's still crap now.

Possibly in some cities (San Francisco?), your mapping data is up to scratch. But in Melbourne, Australia, where I live and work, it's still almost as bad as it was when the new Maps app debuted in 2012.

You want some examples? Fine. Here come three (and note that I'm using copies of small sections of your maps under fair use provisions here, in order to be able to review them in this blog post).

Here's a small area near where I live in the central city, a very busy part of Melbourne full of shops, restaurants, offices and other businesses:

The red lightning strikes indicate businesses and, believe it or not, streets which are no longer there or are in the wrong place. I've also zapped subsections of department stores, which I think are confusing at this level.

There are also numerous businesses in this area which are not marked at all, and should be.

There's no indication of major landmark buildings or malls in this area, including the Melbourne GPO, the Myer building on Bourke Street, The Strand and the new Emporium Melbourne.

On top of that, markers for businesses that actually exist are often poorly placed, so it's unclear how you'd approach them on the ground.

But at least you no longer have the former Myer building marked as Myer Albury (a city over 300km away), as you did in 2012. That's something, I suppose.

Another example. South of the city centre a light rail line runs to the beachside suburb of St Kilda, along a former railway line. Until a few days ago, you were very confused about the stops:

To clarify: these light rail stops are located in the suburbs of Albert Park and Middle Park, and their actual names are (from north to south) Albert Park and Wright Street. The real Richmond and Victoria Park railway stations are located kilometres away northeast across the Yarra River.

I notice this error has been fixed since I took this screenshot this week, but it was wrong for almost two years before that. Not really good enough.

Oh, and that big empty space to the right of the stations? That's the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre, a major landmark. But don't bother labelling it.

Finally, I'd like to draw your attention to a thing we have in Melbourne: the tram. In fact we have the most extensive network of trams in the world. They look something like this (at least the older ones):

Now, these "trams" run on rails, and I think it's handy to include these lines on maps both as landmarks, and as an indicator of routing.

You clearly disagree. The major intersection in this map section is known as Camberwell Junction:

You'd never know it from your map, but three tram routes intersect and cross in the centre of that star-like intersection: the 75 coming from the west then heading southeast; the 70 crossing west to east; and the 72 heading due north.

There are also stops for each route at the actual intersection, not that you could tell that from the map. And by the way, there are many many businesses along those roads, not just the two.

These are just three random examples, but they're indicative of your failure to promptly identify and fix problems with your mapping data and provide software equal in quality to your excellent hardware.

And yet your Maps app is set as the default on my Apple devices, and can't be overridden.

Every time I click on an address in any app, my heart sinks as your awful app opens. Then I have to waste time closing it and pasting the address I'm after into the Google Maps app, or switching to the highly accurate layouts of the Melway app.

Do something for me, will you? Allow us to set any other mapping app as the default. It's the least you could do.

Then go away and sort out this heaping pile of crap known as the Apple Maps app.

I'm sorry but it really isn't me, Apple. It's you.

Tim Richards

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