Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

XKCD on Apple Maps

I spent last week playing tour guide for visiting extended family. We travelled across Southern Alberta, from Banff and Lake Louise to small towns in the southeastern corner of the province. To give credit where credit is due, the directions provided by Apple Maps were generally very good. It still tells me to make a u-turn when it is legally prohibited, but I vastly prefer the format and timing of its spoken directions to Google’s.

But — holy crap — do its place listings remain poor. Many of the restaurants, bars, and attractions I searched were listed with incorrect hours, or had other details that were clearly wrong. A Denny’s was listed as being “$$$$” — very expensive. It became easier to use Google Maps to find places since its place listings were generally more accurate.

However, I use Apple Maps often enough that I want it to be better, so I reported these problems to Apple. Over the past few days, I have received notifications indicating these places have been updated. But when I check, my fixes are not in place and the details I reported are still wrong.

Apple is a multi-trillion-dollar company, and its maps offering is less accurate than Google’s, the details on companies’ Facebook pages, and even third-party sites like TripAdvisor, which Apple apparently relies on for some of its place details.

These are the kinds of things I worry about when rumours start flying about WWDC. Many updates are reportedly planned for the updates Apple will begin releasing to the public this autumn, and there are radical new products that may be announced as soon as this year. I know it is somewhat unfair to be concerned about this stuff given how large Apple is; surely it should be able to run multiple projects at the same time. It is in the middle of rebuilding Maps, too, with mixed success.

This leaves me with questions about what Apple’s long-term strategy is with Maps. After this giant rebuild — now covering 19% of Earth’s land area almost entirely in rich places — is there a strategy for the slow, boring work of keeping all of these places updated? My recent experiences have not been convincing. There is hope — I hear Apple Maps really is better in the United States. How about for the rest of us?