Apple Didn’t Lose Its Way With iPhone 5 Maps

By Adam L. Penenberg , written on September 21, 2012

From The News Desk

Line outside Apple Store, Soho, New York City.

The tech press wasn’t exactly smitten with the iPhone 5, the latest jewel in Apple’s crown. But clearly customers are, as throngs of early adopters have descended on Apple stores in the hopes of snatching a gleaming new iPhone 5. Not even a rash of Samsung Galaxy television ads poking fun at Apple worshippers can dampen the enthusiasm. Nor a flurry of complaints about the not-ready-for-primetime maps feature. Nor the fact that you have to plunk down $30 for an adapter if you expect to use your new iPhone with your Bose SoundDock — and with all the other sundry products that make up Apple’s multi-touch ecosystem.

That’s okay. You’ll forgive Apple in a way you’d never forgive a lesser company. The new iPhone looks great; it’s faster and lighter and has a slightly longer screen. It still has that coolness factor, and that’s something Samsung can’t copy. And the way Apple’s writes about it in its marketing materials you’d think it was describing a stealth bomber:

“…each iPhone 5 aluminum housing is... [compared] … against 725 unique inlays to find the most precise match for every single iPhone.”

“…the iSight camera is as clear as glass… [but it’s] actually sapphire crystal, whose hardness is second only to diamond on the scale of transparent materials.

“… made with a level of precision you’d expect from a finely crafted watch,”

“…a nano-SIM card, which is 44 percent smaller than a micro-SIM…”

“… the new A6 chip is up to 2x faster than the A5 chip but 22 percent smaller.”

“…even with so much inside, iPhone 5 is 20 percent lighter and 18 percent thinner than iPhone 4S.” It sure sounds impressive, reminiscent of the medical talk in an episode of that old TV show, "ER". You probably didn’t know what “chem screen” and “stat” meant either, but then again you didn’t expect to, as long as each episode offered the verisimilitude of a real emergency room.

So Apple has good will to squander, which it does by squeezing consumers for $30 per converter. But the real test for user loyalty is the Maps App, which Apple developed to push Google off a core functionality of its iPhones. As New York Magazine put it, while the Maps App may look beautiful “it has no built-in public-transportation option, messes up basically every destination, and might take you to a mobile home instead of a hospital if you're about to die.”

But even that’s okay. You know why? Because it will get better. You see, the iPhone Maps App is learning, and while it may be lousy now, as users’ iPhones report in to the home office in Cupertino, the data will be cleaned up. In essence, every iPhone 5 user becomes part of a massive crowdsourcing experiment. Expect that every software update will clean up problems like a photo of the Brooklyn Bridge appearing like it belongs in a Salvador Dali painting.

In some ways, Apple releasing the Maps App before it was ready is part of a new trend for the company. It used to be that Apple never released anything before it was Steve Jobs approved, and you can be sure that meant perfect (with some notable exceptions like MobileMe). But Siri changed that. While John Malkovich might have you believe that Siri is a witty companion with deadpan humor, Siri often struggles with basic English. But Siri is also improving her oral skills and aural comprehension. As with Maps, data is automatically transmitted back to Apple, where its artificial intelligence engines and, I suspect, engineers keep tweaking in the hopes that Siri will one day fulfill its promise.

In the mean time with the iPhone 5 Maps App, you can amuse yourself with a Tumblr devoted to inadvertent masterpieces — screenshots of San Francisco looking as if an earthquake had just hit, Bogota, Colombia appearing as if it were being sucked into a giant vortex, and Stockholm, Sweden flowing over a waterfall. (Hat tip to Boing Boing's Rob Beschizza.)

[Image Credit: The Amazing iOS 6 Maps]