Go Home, Apple Maps, You're Drunk

On the other end of the spectrum from a trusted system, there are those systems that, whilst necessary, introduce an element of stress into daily life.

I’m sad to admit that Apple’s Maps app1 is in that category.

I’ve been a staunch proponent of Maps ever since it came out. Sure, it had its problems, but I — unlike many of their customers — understood that ditching Google maps was a necessary evil. The real mistake they made was in releasing it without any real nod to the fact that it had some major flaws.

I still think that there isn’t much to choose between Apple and Google when it comes to getting from place to place. The initial wrinkles with the mapping data seem to have been worked out. I no longer choose to use Apple Maps just because I want to see the service improve and because it’s easier to use something that’s better integrated with the phone. Now I use it because it gets me where I’m going just as well as Google Maps would.

On the one hand, it’s genuinely mind-blowing to think about the convenience afforded by the supercomputer in your pocket that actually guides you step by step wherever you want to go. On the other hand, you have to draw the level of your entitlement somewhere, and so here’s my problem with Apple Maps:

It’s a little too smart for it’s own good.

That’s the problem with Apple Maps: it has all the bluster of a champion but the flabby insides of mediocre mapping data. On Friday, during rush hour, I asked Maps to get me from point A to point B and it gave me three options:

  1. A route involving the freeway that it said would take 20 mins.

  2. A walking route (?!) that it said would take 2 hours.

  3. A route on backroads that it said would take 20 mins.

I chose the back roads route. On Sunday afternoon, I asked for the exact same directions and it gave me three options:

  1. The route involving the freeway.

  2. The walking route.

  3. The back roads route — but with a weird turning halfway through that diverted me via the freeway for a couple of miles.

I’d wanted to take the original back roads route, but that wasn’t an option, so what I had to do was ignore the freeway turning, at which point Maps reverted to the original route.

I understand (I think) what happened here. The three routes Maps provides you with are probably what it considers — based on a variety of data points — to be the fastest options. On Sunday, the traffic wasn’t bad on the freeway, so the route that took me on backroads completely didn’t make it to the top three.

The thing is, I just don’t have quite enough trust in Maps to let it make this kind of decision for me. In this case, I wanted to go on the back roads so I could learn that route. I didn’t want a route that was half back roads and half freeway — if I had I’d have picked number 1.

If Maps was a little smarter (and had proved it to me consistently) that would be fine. If it was a bit dumber, but gave me enough options and controls, that would be fine too — if something went wrong I’d take at least some of the blame.

This awkward middle area we float in, where Maps acts like it’s a genius but gets it wrong 10% of the time, creates poor expectations. And controlling expectations is how you get happy customers. You can’t ever impress anyone if you’ve made them expect more than you can really deliver.

Give me complete fine-tuned control, or magically whisk me to my destination, but don’t leave me scratching my head in the middle.

  1. Say that ten times fast…