Facebook/iPad Application Seminar - Maps

September 2, 2013

Ahh the Apple Maps app. What an uproar it has caused when it was first released. Like many iPhone users, I don't use the Apple Maps app but I use Google's Maps app instead, simply because it syncs with the location queries that I make in my MacBook's Chrome browser. Google's Maps app has amazing user experience compared to Apple's version. Makes me wonder if Apple even tested their app with real users before putting it in every iPhone that runs iOS 6 and above.

Huge Consequences

I cannot agree more with Benjamin on this point. Utility applications are so damn important in our lives now. I can't imagine a day where Google Search, Google Docs and Google Calendar breaks down; I'll be at a total loss as I rely on them so much to navigate my day. Map apps are especially important because that is the single source of dependence that a person relies on to navigate his journey. As the saying goes, With great power, comes great responsibility. If tens of millions of users rely on a service each day, it jolly well function correctly all the time or else the disruption will affect the lives of many people. It was mentioned that inaccuracy of the maps can cause potential danger hazards. This is especially true if people trust the map app completely and follow its turn-by-turn instructions. Drivers can get over-focused on following instructions from the app and lose track of the surroundings. It would be disastrous if the map app wrongly directs the driver to turn into a street of the opposite direction! It may be far too late before the driver realizes the mistake.

Some examples of the wonderful things Apple Maps was showing when they first launched: http://theamazingios6maps.tumblr.com/

Lousy UX

How can a map app not have public transport and cycling routes? It is only in the US that most people own a car. In Asian countries, public transport and cycling is still the dominant mode of transportation. Also, the app does not provide detailed lane guidance, which shows you which lane to be in as much as a mile before your turn and gets you set up to make your turn. Having drove in California to close to a year, this feature is extremely important when I am travelling to new places because I am unfamiliar with the roads. Speed limits on the road are high and there is little time to set myself up before a turn. This issues scream a lack of usability and goes to show how much thought and user testing Apple has put into the design and development of the application... perhaps none.

Crowdsourcing Traffic Data

Crowdsourcing is the new buzzword now. It is the act of seeking contributions from the masses, usually an online community. Crowdsourcing is increasingly relevant now because almost everyone possesses a smartphone. This makes everyone connected by the internet. The power of the masses can be harnessed if everyone shares information regarding their current location. This would make an extremely updated real-time traffic situation that benefits everybody. It's a win-win situation and everybody can benefit from a small gesture of sharing a little information. However, put in the context of the application, it is dangerous to be sharing traffic information when one is driving. However, this can be solved by modifying the UI/UX so make the sharing of real-time information be safe and accurate.

Original Thoughts

Few months back, I happened to switch back to using my iPhone 4S to navigate. I was driving along the roads of Mountain View, and I found the maps app extremely hard to use; the interface looked familiar, but the gestures were unintuitive, flow of the application didn't make much sense to me too. Then it dawned upon me: I was using Apple's new Map app. It was my first time using iOS 6 on my iPhone and I forgot that the default maps app in the device was no longer by Google. Wasting no time, I went to the App Store and downloaded Google's version of the maps app and continued on my journey.

It is appalling that Apple, a guru of UI/UX, produced a Maps app of such quality; the initial version of Apple's Map app seems horrible, but it was improved tremendously in the past year, by finetuning based on user feedback and also acquisition of navigation related startups and technology. The iOS 7 redesign unveiled during WWDC this year also faced the same fate of being flamed and slammed. Perhaps Apple is adopting the Lean Startup Methodology and iteratively building products and services. But I'd expect more from Apple if they want to regain their market share of handheld devices. Apple certainly has got much more to improve on.