Apple promises to improve iOS mapping service as consumer fury mounts

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Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is facing growing consumer criticism over its new iOS mapping services, with users citing dozens of inaccuracies including missing roads, misplaced landmarks and mislabeled businesses.

Apple rolled out the Maps platform Wednesday as part of its new iOS 6 operating system upgrade. Developed in-house using data from partners including TomTom, the service replaces Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Maps, a fixture of iOS devices since the first iPhone launched in mid-2007. Competitive tensions between the two mobile giants prompted Apple to dump preloaded Google services like Maps and YouTube from iOS 6, with Apple promising its own Maps service would incorporate user-friendly features like free turn-by-turn voice navigation and integration with Yelp consumer reviews.

Apple rolled out its new Maps platform on Wednesday as part of its iOS 6 upgrade.

But in the hours since Apple pushed out the iOS 6 update to consumers, iOS device users have taken to social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to vent their frustrations with the Maps service, sharing screen shots of errors and comparing information with existing Google data. Users have so far identified a fractured river in Ann Arbor, Mich., and a search for the Golden Gate Bridge identifies a landmark about four miles away from its proper location. The Verge notes the problems are even more widespread outside of the U.S., with mapping detail in major international cities like London, Tokyo and Beijing virtually non-existent.

Apple said the Maps platform is a work in progress. "We are continuously improving it, and as Maps is a cloud-based solution, the more people use it, the better it will get," an Apple spokesperson said. "We appreciate all of the customer feedback and are working hard to make the customer experience even better." Apple also acknowledged the absence of key features like transit information and said it is working with developer partners to incorporate that data.

While Google Maps data remains available to iOS device owners through the browser, some consumers are already calling on Apple to restore native Google Maps functionality, even creating an online group called "Give Me Back My Google Maps. A Google spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal that the company's goal is to make its Maps application available to everyone who wants it "regardless of device, browser or operating system," and declined to comment on whether Google is at work on a dedicated Maps app for iOS 6.

Handset maker Nokia (NYSE:NOK) took advantage of Apple's misstep to trumpet its own mapping platform. "We truly understand that maps and location-based apps must be accurate, provide the best quality and be accessible basically anywhere. That's been standard practice at Nokia for the past six years, and we also understand that 'pretty,' isn't enough," writes Nokia Maps team member Pino Bonetti. "Our superior apps are built on the most accurate, automotive-grade Navteq maps, meticulously developed by over 20 years of know-how. We believe that the best user experience comes indeed from precise data, robust processing of core platform functionalities like routing, geocoding and traffic and by user-friendly apps. All this cannot be built overnight."

Analysts nevertheless remain bullish on iOS 6, with a new IHS Screen Digest forecast projecting that Maps as well as other new features like Passbook (a virtual container for boarding passes, movie tickets, retailer loyalty cards and other documents) will help Apple's App Store generate 2012 revenues of $4.9 billion, up from $2.9 billion a year ago.

"Apple is preparing to become not just a computer company or just a mobile hardware provider, but it seeks to be a key company in all parts of consumers' lives--from entertainment, communication and business, that is now expanding into real-world transactions for travel, entertainment events, daily deals and even retail," said Ian Fogg, senior principal analyst for mobile at IHS. "iOS 6 heralds just the start of this journey. And while Apple's Maps solution may lag that of rivals initially, Apple still has all of the capabilities to win."

For more:
- read this Wall Street Journal article (sub. req.)
- read this Verge article

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