Apple’s iOS Maps and the High Cost of Management Failure

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In 2012, Apple abandoned its longtime reliance on Google’s mapping data to power its iOS Maps app, opting instead to go with data collected and curated in-house.

The result was an epic disaster, with iOS users complaining that the new data was highly inaccurate. As Apple rushed to repair the damage, CEO Tim Cook even posted a public apology on the company’s website: “With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.”

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Two years later, complaints about iOS Maps have died down, but Apple’s hasn’t made any splashy updates to its mapping platform, despite rumors that new features were in the works for last week’s iOS 8 unveiling at the Worldwide Developers Conference. Why is that?

According to TechCrunch, itself drawing from unnamed sources, Apple’s project managers and developers couldn’t quite get things together. “Many developers left the company, no map improvements planned for iOS 8 release were finished in time,” one source is quoted as saying. “Mostly it was failure of project managers and engineering project managers, tasks were very badly planned, developers had to switch multiple times from project to project.”

While one source argues that developers leaving Apple undermined the project, another speaking to TechCrunch insisted that internal politics and management ineptitude were more to blame.

It seems astounding that Apple, with enormous amounts of money and talent at its disposal, would be willing to let its vital Maps project implode like that—especially since, over the past few years, the company has acquired a number of mapping startups, almost certainly with an eye toward jumpstarting its cartographical capabilities.

But if true, Apple’s issues illustrate how any company, no matter how large and smart, needs its employees to be practicing good management skills in order to succeed in any initiative, especially those valuable to revenue or prestige. While those with technical skills tend to attract much of the glory in the tech world, it’s hard to overestimate the value of a good functional project manager, especially one able to handle projects of enormous complexity.

No matter the task at hand, it’s also worth remembering some basic tenets of project management: lock down feature sets ahead of time, beware of “mission creep,” choose your stakeholders carefully, test early and often, and try to anticipate as many potential issues as possible.

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Image: Apple

Comments

  1. BY Steve says:

    A pity. I hadn’t read anything on Apple’s maps in quite a long time. Perhaps one reason that there aren’t more complaints about them is because the competing product, Google’s maps, have gone decidedly downhill, or at least the user-interface has, with most of the familiar controls for the map missing when you look things up, can’t even zoom, and the markers for the exact locations are gone half the time.

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