If you’ve been an iOS user for an extended period of time, you probably remember the first iteration of Apple Maps when it was introduced alongside iOS 6. And the one thing you probably remember most distinctly about the app is how incredibly awful it was – especially when compared to the competition.
The lack of detail, misplaced landmarks, distorted images, inaccurate navigation, and absence of many popular features found on Google Maps was frustrating for most users. In fact, Apple Maps is finally just catching up with Google Maps – Apple Maps transit directions, introduced in iOS 9, are still rolling out to major cities across the U.S. As it turns out, the inadequacy of Apple Maps at its launch changed the way Apple designs its software.
In a recent interview with Fast Company, Apple’s senior vice president of internet software and services, Eddy Cue, and senior vice president of software engineering, Craig Federeghi, discussed how the company learned from past failures. When discussing the launch of Apple Maps, both admitted that the company “completely underestimated” the scope of the product. Eddy Cue explained, “If you think of Maps, it seems like it’s not that hard. All the roads are known, come on! All the restaurants are known. There’s Yelp and Open Table; they have all the addresses. Mail gets delivered; UPS has all the addresses. The mail arrives. FedEx arrives. You know, how hard is this?”
For users that have become accustomed to Apple putting out well-tested and solid releases, the launch of Apple Maps was a bit of a surprise. The app was, for all intents and purposes, largely unfinished. “Completely underestimating” the Maps app meant that Apple only had “dozens” of people working on the app before it launched publicly. According to TechCrunch, Google had, by comparison, hundreds of engineers and “thousands of people working on location data” for Google Maps. According to Eddy Cue, Apple Maps seemed fine to them when they released it. “We were never able to take it out to a large number of users to get that feedback. So, to all of us living in Cupertino, Maps seemed pretty darn good. Right? The problems weren’t obvious to us.”
After years of trial and error, Apple now has “thousands of people” working on Maps, and their dedication is obvious with how much the product has improved. Perhaps more importantly, the Apple Maps fiasco changed the way Apple does business. “Look, we made some significant changes to all of our development processes because of it. For example, the reason you as a customer are going to be able to test iOS is because of Maps.” Last summer, Apple launched the iOS Public Beta program, allowing customers early access to beta versions of iOS with the theory that the more users Apple can get running the operating system, the more quickly bugs will get sniffed out and fixed. A macOS public beta program followed, and since initiating each program, official releases have been more stable than ever.
Aside from discussing what the company learned from the launch of Apple Maps, Cue and Federighi discuss the release of the Apple Watch and the future of innovation at the company. We’re all just glad that Maps is finally usable, and that the release of iOS 10 this September is sure to be relatively bug-free.