Skift Take

Tech pundits are calling this Apple WWDC a do-or-die for the future of the company, but we really want to know if the company will get its act together on maps for the iPhone.

Apple is set to unveil its new iOS 7 mobile operating system and what it has in store for iPhone and iPad users today at its Worldwide Developers Conference. Anyone who uses their iPhone to navigate their way around will be curious to see if there’s any news about the map product — even if they gave up on Apple Maps as soon as Google Maps re-appeared on iOS last December.

We knew two things about Apple’s replacement of Google Maps in favor of its own mobile mapping system in last year’s iOS 6 update: one, that Apple needed to do it if it wanted mobile data of its own and, two, that the end result was terrible.

When Apple debuted its new maps, we had some high hopes about their interactive features, like Yelp integration and turn-by-turn directions, which had not previously been present on iOS except for some paid third-party apps (Google Maps for Android already did this). But these hopes turned to frustration when the maps sent us the wrong place or when the subway line nearest to our destination failed to appear. So when Scott Forstall, the Apple exec who wouldn’t apologize over maps was fired, we thought it was a good idea. And when Google Maps returned to iOS, we were happy.

But nobody likes one service to dominate (especially if that someone is going to buy the invasive map service Waze, as rumored), so we’re rooting for Apple to add a bit of competition to the field. With that, here are the three things Apple absolutely has to get right in any map update.

Understand where you are when you’re searching for an address.

Apple Maps fails at this most basic task any time you look up a street address without a city/state/ZIP combo. Click on a highlighted “115 W 30th St” link a friend’s email or a website, and Apple Maps will ask you about that street address in multiple cities that are nowhere near you. How about you just show me the closest on, Apple, and give me a chance to change it if that’s not the one I need?

Don’t be wrong so often.

Years ago a co-worker of mine sent a hate-filled rant to MapQuest for sending him to the wrong neighborhood in Philadelphia when he was trying to track down his towed car. I feel that way every time Apple Maps sends me miles away from where I want to go, and that’s all the time. Well, it was, until I began using Google Maps as often as possible.

Get public transit.

I’m pretty sure Google Maps is at the point where it can tell me if there’s a seat on the subway I’m about to hop on, yet Apple Maps can’t tell me what trains are at what station or where any of the entrances are. There are plenty of apps and websites that have real-time subway information in major markets, from Embark to HopStop. Apple needs to either acquire a product like this, or build it on their own — pronto.

Don’t get distracted by too many features.

Sure, real-time traffic information is nice, and so are those 3D flyovers we were impressed with so much when iOS 6 came out. But operating a touch-screen while driving needs to be simple, so focus on the basic A-to-B cases first since doing those well will satisfy the majority of users most of the time. Those of us who need real-time traffic data are going to continue to trust AM radio more than a system that may or may not be tracking us everywhere we go (while draining our batteries), at least for a couple more years.

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Tags: android, apple, ios, maps

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