Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Apple loses its way with Maps

Today Apple's iPhone5 is a hot news - albeit for wrong reasons. Critics and users are screaming mad about Apple's decision to abandon Google Maps and replace with their own product. Apple acquired 3C Technologies in October 2011  for its mapping software. Apple was hoping to recreate what Nokia accomplished by acquiring Navteq for map application

It was not the first time Apple had made such a blunder, Apple has made many, many mistakes before: See: Blunders of Apple.

But this blunder stands out from the rest mainly because the decision to change the maps app was a strategic, egoistic blunder. The other mistakes were either with product design or material or manufacturing.

Agreed that changing business conditions forced Jim Cook to move far away from Google, but then it was Apple's decision to sue (indirectly) Google or any company that used Google's Android. Steve Jobs once commented that he was willing to go thermonuclear on Android and the Maps App became a "collateral damage" in this war.

What should have Apple done?

From a product management perspective, all product decisions must be in-line with the company's strategy. So the replacement of Google Maps was inevitable, but product management could have done either one of the two things:

1. Delay the replacement of Apple's Maps Software till it catches up with Google.
2. License Nokia's Map software and offer that as replacement to Google Maps.

Since Apple's map software was clearly not ready for release, product management should have delayed the Map App changes in iOS 6. ( It takes a lot of guts to stand up to the CEO and say that, but that was the right thing to do)

Now that things are out in open, Apple faces two choices:

1. Quickly fix the mapping App. Which is not an easy option.
2. Allow users to install Google Maps, like YouTube app.
3. Drop C3 mapping technology & License Nokia's Navteq maps or MapInfo from Pitney Bowes. (MapInfo is commonly used as Microsoft Maps)

Given the three options, it looks like Apple will try option-1, i.e, fix the mapping software. Only under intense pressure from customer & customer groups, Apple may allow users to download a Google Map App. In case Apple is unable to fix the Map App, then Apple will license the technology from other company (which is highly unlikely)

Closing Thoughts
The errors in the Map App will not affect iPhone5 sales. People will buy iPhone5 irrespective of the app. Customers will always find a workaround - just use the Google Maps in the  browser. So from user perspective this is not a show stopper.

The glitches in Apple's Map App was blown out of proportion, and media made a big noise. But in the end, all the negative publicity on Maps helped Apple push up iPhone5 sales to a new record for a new smart phone. Apple sold 5 Million units of iPhone5 in just 3 days!

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