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Scott Forstall, senior vice president of iOS Software at Apple Inc., demonstrates turn-by-turn navigation in iOS6 using Siri during the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference 2012 in San Francisco, California June 11, 2012. (STEPHEN LAM/REUTERS)
Scott Forstall, senior vice president of iOS Software at Apple Inc., demonstrates turn-by-turn navigation in iOS6 using Siri during the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference 2012 in San Francisco, California June 11, 2012. (STEPHEN LAM/REUTERS)

Apple’s mapping goes in the wrong direction Add to ...

The Statue of Liberty has gone missing. The Hoover Dam has sunk into the Colorado River. Toronto’s Pearson International Airport appears to have been rerouted through a series of funhouse mirrors.

Apple Inc.’s new mapping software is not off to a good start.

The iPhone maker released its in-house rival to the Google Maps service this week, part of a wider upgrade to the iOS software that powers all of Apple’s tablets and phones. But what was supposed to be a victory for Apple, as it works to limit its dependance on the company that is now its chief rival, instead turned into an embarrassment, as users found myriad problems with the service within minutes of its release to the public.

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Some of the features users have come to rely on, such as Google Inc.’s transit-based directions, are gone or severely limited in the new Apple software. In addition, many locations around the world were either missing or populated with inaccurate data about local points of interest.

For years, Google’s maps service was the default on Apple’s mobile devices. However, relations between the two have been strained as of late, in large part because Apple accuses the search engine of essentially ripping off iPhone and iPad software to create the Android operating system, which now powers the phones built by many of Apple’s top competitors. As such, Apple took the decision to essentially wipe out Google maps as the default location service in the latest upgrade to the iOS software, on which all iPads and iPhones run.

Instead, Apple has designed its own mapping and directions applications in-house. It promised the new service would contain many useful features, and indeed, since its release, the Apple maps app has garnered some positive reviews for features such as turn-by-turn directions and a “flyover” mode that presents a sort of bird’s-eye view.

However, most of the overall reviews have been far from positive. Users quickly found all manner of glitches, inaccurate data and missing locations. In one instance, the Eiffel Tower has been re-imagined as a pancake. Rendering errors left myriad bridges, roads and runways around the world hopelessly warped, as though they were built in close proximity to a black hole. In perhaps the most blatant blunder, Apple’s new maps service neglected to include the Statue of Liberty on New York’s Liberty Island.

Of all Internet-based services, global mapping apps are among the most difficult to do well. That’s in large part because such tools require massive amounts of raw data, and need regular updates to keep up with real-world changes – everything from new roads to constantly changing points of interest.

As such, while some will wonder how a company grounded in late founder Steve Jobs’ famously meticulous attention to detail could have missed so many glaring errors, many Apple customers will be willing to give the company a pass.

“As Apple grows and tries to conquer more of the tech world, its tasks will become more complex,” said Kevin Restivo, a mobile-device analyst with global research firm IDC. “So it’s hard to criticize Apple or Tim Cook. The more land Apple tries to grab, the harder it’s going to be.”

Within hours, a website began collecting all the geographic mishaps, posting dozens of entries ranging from a melting bridge in Tacoma to a misplaced Washington Monument to a pair of Kuala Lumpur towers that appear to be doing their best impression of a waterfall.

It is likely Apple will quickly get to work on fixing the numerous errors in its software. In anticipation of the maps app, the company has purchased several smaller map-making firms in recent years. Even so, Google has a head start of more than a half decade in building maps software.

It is unclear whether Google will build a standalone maps app for iOS devices in the near future. This week, the company unveiled an upgrade to the version of its maps software running on Android devices. Apple users can still access Google maps through their Web browsers.

Google has also seen its fair share of map-related embarrassments. The company’s street-view feature, which gives users an on-the-ground view of many major cities, has generated countless images of everything from robberies to lewd acts that happened to take place just as the company was collecting its visual data. In a more serious incident, Costa Rica and Nicaragua almost went to war over a disputed border region after a Nicaraguan military leader cited Google Maps data to justify an armed raid on the area.

 
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