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With iOS 9 around the corner, it's time to reroute Maps

Dan Moren | May 22, 2015
A major overhaul is long overdue.

Apple needs to take a cue from its own playbook: when the company launched the iTunes Store in 2003, it was to provide an alternative to what was out there. The company has always functioned at its best when its made a device or a technology so good that it made people want to switch.

Wrong turns
But in order to convince its customers to give up whatever app they've turned to, or even just get them to trust Apple Maps again, there are a number of areas where Apple needs to spend its time and energy. Off the top of my head, here are just a few:

Public transit After three years, there's no excuse for the lack of public transportation directions in Apple Maps. Yes, building out such a database is time consuming, and it's tricky to make sure that it stays up to date. Hard problems, to be sure, but far from unsolveable ones, especially with the resources Apple has its disposal. Right now the lack of public transit directions in Maps is not just annoying, it's embarrassing. There's been some excellent third-party work in this area, with apps like Transit and Citymapper, and it's great that those options exist. But to have to turn to them--or Google Maps--for the last three years is a significant gap in Apple's user experience. At least a couple of the location-based companies Apple's purchased--Embark and HopStop--are right in the wheelhouse here, and it's hard to imagine what Apple bought them for, if not this.

Indoor mapping It's not a feature that's become commonplace yet, but Apple's competitors, including Google, are increasingly going not just broad for their mapping efforts, but deep as well. Being able to zoom into an office building or a shopping mall and see exactly which stores are where is useful, and right now, it's a place where Apple Maps comes up woefully short. As in public transit, this is another place that Apple's invested wisely: WiFiSlam, which it bought in 2013, was working on technology of precisely this sort.

Street View It's a Google hallmark, but other mapping solutions, like Microsoft, have begun offering street-level imagery as well. Street View on the iPhone and iPad was always kind of a cool demo--even my late grandmother was impressed the first time I pulled up a picture of her house on my phone--but it's useful, too. As someone who likes to know his way around, especially when going to new and unfamiliar locations, it's handy for scouting out just where I'm supposed to be going for that meeting or appointment. One of the theories swirling around the supposed Apple cars spotted a few months back, and my personal favorite explanation, was that the company was collecting street-level data for mapping. But if that were the case, it would need to be either taking advantage of a fleet of such vehicles, or acquiring the data from another source that had already done the heavy lifting.

 

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