October 2, 2012 - Comments Off on Directions to Crazytown: How Crowdsourcing Should Have Saved Apple Maps
Unless you've been living under a clump of moss, you are undoubtedly aware that Apple supremely failed with their iOS Maps application. Judging from the all-out thermonuclear war that followed from the press, Droid devotees and occasional smartphone Luddites who clench their Blackberry like grim death – this was a long time coming. Like slobbering hyenas waiting for a magnificent antelope to stop one too many times to defecate in the jungle, everyone seems to be relishing this opportunity to eviscerate the tech giant for releasing and (some say) arrogantly replacing a vital part of any smartphone’s delicate ecosystem – the almighty mapping system. In fact, the reason this is so troubling, is that Apple, in releasing poorly rationalized software, has betrayed their brand's essence.
It makes “antenna gate” look like a rampant case of hiccups at a leper colony.
Apple brought this vitriol on themselves, by almost single-handedly ushering in the pathetic age of the “legal patent screw-fest” – where every entreprenneur who thinks they might have a brilliant idea will immediately discard it (opting rather to take a nap in their parents basement), in order to avoid the unholy wrath of lawsuit-hungry corporations.
The snark was particularly squalid in both the press and the endless comment trails from the merry tribe of Internet baboons who deem it necessary to flip every opinion piece into their own bully pulpit for personal political or technical vomit. On the corporate side, Motorola instantly added fuel to the fire by commandeering the #iLost hashtag quicker than a beard grows in Williamsburg. Samsung has commercials poking fun at people waiting in endless iPhone lines as a response to Apple reportedly penning an internal ad poking fun at an apology requested in a UK court over a Samsung verdict. Screw all of these corporate knuckleheads – it reeks like a public tiff over Bieber tickets between the rich high school cheerleaders that everyone hates yet desperately wants to date. The intended audience this bile is aimed towards will soon move past all of the silliness. To teach the corporate executives approving this creative pap a lesson, shareholders should be cashing in their stock. In the end, innovation is the new loser, not a person buying a gadget.
While I’m not forgiving Apple for their transgressions, if a particular CEO was still alive, one could postulate that the Maps disaster might not have even happened. This major mistake occurred under the watch of a supply watchdog, not a creative visionary. Mr. Cook and many others who didn't program the application would have likely been burned at the stake on YouTube live in Cupertino if this had transpired under the watch of that turtlenecked angel in black, Steve Jobs.
TomTom (one of the companies that Apple uses for the maps portion of the Maps app) had already been publicly humiliated (Google search “blame TomTom” and see what comes up). Everyone from the CEO of Waze to the entire country of China is having a field day with this company right now. TomTom has fired back, understanding that their 20 years of respect in the business will likely be questioned because of the Maps fiasco, noted the fact that Apple is using data from at least 2 dozen other partners.
They should have released this new piece of software alongside Google Maps and challenged their devotees to make it better than Google.
Aside from arrogantly pushing a fully unfinished and untested product to the masses, Apple made a seriously shortsighted and future backwards error. They should have released this new piece of software alongside Google Maps and challenged their devotees to make it better than Google. We've all heard the spin: There was a month left on some corporate contracts between them, and yes, the word on the street is that everything fell apart because of Google's refusal to integrate turn-by-turn directions, but in the end the Maps application should have focused heavily on crowdsourcing out of the gate. The interface of the application should have made it overwhelmingly simple for the audience to correct mistakes in maps. Apple could have spent some of the zillions that Jobs said he would use to destroy Google and really buried them by empowering their users to make the Maps application a truly socially aware product (or at least feel part of the experience by building reputation capital through linking the geo-coding aspect of their photo libraries, commenting or at least connecting with other map users like Waze does). And please don’t tell me that crowdsourcing Maps was always the plan, because the suggestion box is currently buried in dark gray on the interior screen of the Maps application. My guess is, if Apple doesn’t just eventually shelf the entire app (like Ping, a coincidentally excessive and uninformed social media failure from Apple), and it's shareholders don't force Cook himself to crawl on his hands and knees to Google’s office begging them to build an Apple Maps app (spoiler: Google says they refuse), the next release's interface should focus heavily on a crowdsourcing component.
The only trouble is crowdsourcing takes time and interest from the audience to reach an increasing level of perfection - both which were lost on this highly touted app's speed to market. Launching a lousy app was stupid. Replacing Google Maps with this "not-ready-for-prime-time app" is reprehensible.
Unfortunately, it’s likely too late. In fact, people may look back at Apple in a couple years and point to this moment (much like a certain presidential candidate), as the time when due to arrogance or sheer stupidity - shit went south. I don’t doubt that Apple might be able to recover, but I don’t think that they have a big and vicious enough honey badger running the company anymore to savagely beat the entire planet into willing submission. The bad vibes, not the press, are enough to begin pushing a small percentage of Apple’s globally small, but passionate mobile user base toward what is finally becoming an excellent alternative OS by virtue of customization alone. And since Apple has staked it’s entire future on the inevitable mobility of computers, and not the desktop computing machines that drove a stake into Microsoft’s dominance, this is a very, very... very catastrophic event.
The problem with Android phones is that the OS resides on inferior components. Apple’s advantage remains that the device’s quality is married to the OS. Apple used to preach this in their branding - the sexy machine married to the equally sexy interface. Now they supremely screwed that pooch, and I fear that they will not fully recover.
Word to the wise: Never, ever, ever betray your beloved brand essence. Especially when the road back to the top has a stream of venom waiting for you - flowing right down the center.