Consumers are up in arms about the "map fail" of the new iOS maps app, collectively blogging screenshots of maps that fall short (http://theamazingios6maps.tumblr.com/). Why is this such a big deal?
Maps are strategic IP because they capture consumers' intent of where they want to go, which creates the opportunity to intervene and shape consumers' paths. Apple doesn't want Google to have that data on its users and doesn't want to give Google the opportunity to serve location-based guidance. The problem is that maps are difficult to build — Nokia and Google (the two main map providers) have been building their map IP for years. Nokia maps, for example, are on nine of 10 in-car GPS systems, each of which acts as a probe that continuously improves Nokia's maps. Apple can't catch up overnight, and it seems as if Apple was premature in pulling the plug on Google Maps — it has produced a consumer backlash, at least among early adopters.
Consumers who claim they won't download iOS 6 are overreacting — Google is planning to release its maps application in the App Store, and consumers can just download that app if they prefer. But if it turns out to be the case that consumers don't update their OS, Apple has a serious problem. Apple takes pride in avoiding the fragmentation that Android (and Windows) have, where consumers run different versions of the OS, which creates security gaps and problems for ISVs (app developers) creating software for those platforms. I think Mapplegate will pass, but it shows a crack in Apple's seamless veneer. When other companies launch half-baked software, they get away with calling them "beta," but consumers and journalists seem to expect perfection from Apple. But like any company attempting to innovate in this highly competitive consumer tech market, Apple is not infallible — there's a map for that.