What Maps on IOS Reveal About Apple’s Core Weakness

By now everyone has come to the conclusion that the new maps feature for IOS 6 fail to provide the best experience for users. The hope is that Apple will be able to iterate quickly enough to improve the system to the point of reliability. Truth be told, this is a minor inconvenience for IOS users, there are a variety of other mapping solutions available on IOS and users can still use Google maps through their browser. For me though this brings back into the spotlight my primary problem with Apple. If you buy Apple products you sign up for Apple’s experience. Let me clarify, if you buy a Google, or Microsoft product they set it up the way they think you should use it, but for the most part you have a great amount of freedom to customize it the way you want. This is not without its pitfalls, but for the most part on other platforms you can create your own experience. If you are on Apple, on the other hand, you are stuck with Apple’s vision and their vision alone.

Apple is anti-choice

Apple’s decision to switch the map solution on IOS makes sense from a corporate stand point. The contract with Google had expired, and seeing as there is no love lost between the two companies it is reasonable to assume neither wanted to re-up the terms of the agreement (editor note: during the writing of this piece news broke that the contract had a year left, meaning Apple’s decision to launch a beta product was a bit more craven). The problem though comes from the way IOS handles user interactions with the device. If you see a map location on your iPad, be it in an email, on the web, or in an app, it will appear as a link. This link brings you to the default mapping application on the device. While Google maps on IOS were never the most robust solution available, it was at least was serviceable. The change to IOS maps reveals that the problem isn’t the new maps are inferior (in many ways they are equal), but that you can’t change the default behavior. On android the default solution is of course Google maps, if however you decide you like an open source solution such as waze you can make that the default, if you can’t decide a dialogue box will appear every time allowing you to choose. This may not be the most elegant solution for some, but it leaves the power of choice on the user.

The greatest feature phone ever made

There is a reason the feature phone market no longer really exists. Back in the day there were three real categories of cell phones. There were your standard cell phones that made calls and could text, then you had smartphones that could connect to the Internet do email and handle a lot of features that only your computer could, somewhere in between the two was the feature phone that could do a lot more than a regular phone but was not really versatile enough to call a smartphone. When Apple unveiled the iPhone 5 years ago they created the best feature phone on the planet. This is not to disparage the iPhone and what it became (One of the most innovative products on the planet). At launch though, there was no app store, meaning there was no ecosystems. Not only that there weren’t any plans for one, developers were supposed to use webkit and html5 and all the software was supposed to reside on the Web. In other words the iPhone was not a platform but a portal to the Web as a platform. There were numerous reasons why this was a horrible idea, the least of which being the pokey 2g connection on the original iPhone. Realizing these limitations Apple created the app store and made the iPhone into a true platform. But Apple still held the keys to the castle, and are still the sovereigns of your idevice.

Appliances that act like computers

In the world of electronics there are computers and then there are appliances. A computer is a programmable machine that can be used for a variety of purposes limited mostly to the imagination of the programmer. An appliance by contrast is a machine designed to do a limited number of functions. The iPhone is in many ways an appliance; it is a remarkably versatile one but an appliance nonetheless. This may seem facetious given the half a million apps available in the app store, but hear me out. The fact that it has apps does not make it a computer. My cable box has apps, and under no circumstances would I call it a computer. No, what separates a computer from an appliance is the nature of the limitations. For any device there are limitations, some are technical and some are self imposed. Computers are mostly limited by the technical: processing capabilities, access to hardware, and storage capacities. Appliances on the other hand are limited by the manufacturer. A good example of this is the Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire HD, both are running android, but while you can run any android compatible app on the Nexus 7 out of the box, it will take some hacking to get the Kindle Fire HD to do the same. Apple treats their user experience much the way Amazon does, in order to access the raw power of the device will take a jailbreak. This provides a consisted user experience for consumers and developers, but prevents any true ownership of the device.

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