Thursday, November 29, 2012

Apple Fires Maps Manager In Wake Of Fiasco

Richard Williamson, the Apple Apps manager who was responsible for overseeing Apple’s Maps app, is out of a job, according to a report on

Williamson is at least the second casualty of the firestorm that has ensued after Apple released its Maps app, along with the iPhone 5, back in September. Also out the door is Scott Forstall, an executive whom CEO Tim Cook blamed for letting the Maps app snowball into the debacle it now is.

For those who haven’t been following the story, on the latest generation of iPhones, Apple replaced Google’s much-loved Maps application with it’s own, in-house Maps app. Google Maps had been in service for years, and were refined by thousands of “Map Makers,” devoted users who edited their own maps. Google then used those edits to fine-tune the maps everyone else sees, and to add landmarks the tech giant had overlooked when programming its app.

Apple’s Maps app didn’t have those benefits, and no one expected it to come out of the oven as a finished product with all the slick features of Google Maps, but neither did people anticipate the maps would be quite as bad as they were. iPhone users flocked to Internet forums and blogs to report flaws in Apple’s Maps, many of which were hilarious--unless you were the person relying on the map to get from Point A to Point B.

Among many other errors, Apple’s Map included the wrong address for Washington D.C.’s Dulles Airport. The address it gave directed users to the middle of a runway. As another example, the directions from San Francisco to Sausalito originally included a ferry ride. That’s one way to make the trip, but most folks prefer to simply take the highway. IIn Israel, Jerusalem wasn’t noted as the capital of the country. In fact, the app didn’t give the city any country affiliation whatsoever.

Mistakes of this magnitude were an unpleasant surprise for many Apple customers and market watchers, who were accustomed to the company’s history of releasing exceptionally polished hardware and software. And the controversy has been just one more thorn in the side of CEO Cook, who already has the unenviable job of replacing former CEO and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who Apple aficionados have elevated to near messianic status.

Luckily, there are many out there who are ready to suggest possible fixes to Apple’s map predicament. The most obvious corrective step is to implement a bigger program, like Google’s Map Maker, which empowers users to make their own maps and correct those Google publishes. MIT’s Technology Review suggested that Apple make it easier for users to submit corrections and that Apple look for new and more-reliable vendors of the data it uses to create its maps in the first place. And, as Michael Dobson, president of the mapping consultancy firm,TeleMapics noted, each time Apple Maps screws up and can’t find a legitimate address, that’s an opportunity to improve the program. Programmers simply have to look at the list of unfound addresses, figure out where they ought to go, and then plug them into the app.