Apple's mapping fiasco is trivial, its future is not

Apple is a company that either attracts sky-high adoration or studied disinterest--there seems to be little available middle ground.

Having attempted to debate the relative merit of products and services with Apple enthusiasts--or should I say unbridled zealots--I have routinely come away bloodied and not a little battered.

First, I need to admit that I am not an Apple enthusiast. The company makes great products with slick design that are hugely expensive, but do they do so much more than a humble PC running Windows? They are tools to make us more productive and perhaps life a little easier--a bit like a dishwasher, perhaps.

Hoping to steer away from entering into another fruitless debate, I note with interest that Apple CEO Tim Cook admitted that the company's new iOS 6 Apple Maps app is slightly less than optimum. Or to put it his way: "We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better."

Having used this particular mapping app—alright, I do sometimes use Apple stuff—it truly does some bizarre and wonderful things. It appears to have taken location-based services to a completely new level of incompetency.

But the more important question is how could a company that prides itself on developing world-class, and world-leading, products ship something so bad to so many customers?

Of note, David Pogue, the New York Times technology writer, wrote: "It may be the most embarrassing, least usable piece of software Apple has ever unleashed."

I'm sure the company will fix this app, and if it doesn't there are many alternatives, some of which Cook suggested, such as Bing, MapQuest or even Google or Nokia maps. Mention of the latter two might have been difficult given their expertise in mapping, and in the growing success that Nokia is having with its software.

This error could be ruled less serious than the antenna problem experienced by many iPhone 4 customers, prompting former Apple CEO Steve Jobs to issue a rare public apology, albeit as an impromptu remark.

But to be fair, and hope that I avoid another verbal battering, the poor quality of Apple Maps app shouldn't be gaining the media traction it has. Of more significance is what direction the company will take given the dominance it has achieved.

Many, once-mighy and power-obsessed technology companies have been blindsided by a need to defend their turf from burgeoning competitors. Microsoft springs to mind as it slid from invincible innovator to straggler as it focused on defending its cash-cow Windows platform and Office applications.

The recent moves by Apple to aggressively take legal action over perceived patent infringements are perhaps growing signs of a more inward-looking company.

The real test for Apple and its executive team will be their ability to develop and launch products in the next few years that supersede the iPhone and iPad. A tough call, but a true measure.--Paul

P.S. For those zealots out there, it might be worth remembering that Dorothy Parker once said: "The sweeter the apple, the blacker the core. Scratch a lover and find a foe!" I think she was talking of the eating apple, but still worthy of consideration.