What businesses and IT can learn from Apple's iOS 6 Maps debacle
While most iOS 6 and iPhone 5 features have gotten positive reviews, Apple's new Maps app isn't one of them. Over the past few days, there have been plenty of reported problems. Images not displaying properly, satellite images that are months or years out of date, directions that don't seem to be the best way to get from one place to another, businesses and addresses not being found or being in the wrong place, and vague instructions when using turn-by-turn navigation are among the common complaints. Then there's the fact that Apple simply doesn't have feature parity with Google -- there's nothing equivalent to Street View, and despite an icon for public transit directions, the app is unable to provide them even in major cities like New York.
The debacle has been compared to the antennagate saga that Apple endured after launching the iPhone 4 two years ago as well as the spectacular activation and service issues that surrounded the global launch of the iPhone 3G and Mobile Me two years before that. Some bloggers and pundits claim that Steve Jobs would never have allowed such a product to be rolled out. Others rightly point out that weaning iOS off of Google services like Maps was a decision that would have been made long before Jobs handed the reins of the company over to Tim Cook last summer -- after all, Apple had been snapping up mapping companies and technologies well before Jobs pass away.
A few cooler heads, including Fortune's Philip Elmer-DeWitt and former Apple exec Jean-Louis Gassée, have pointed out that Apple was stuck between a rock and hard place. To ensure future access to a map solution as well as the ability to innovate around it, Apple needed an alternative to Google Maps. After deciding to move forward with its own solution, Apple had to accept that its 1.0 release might not live up to the solution that it was replacing.
Every IT manager has faced (or will face) similar moments throughout his or her career. Thinking about Apple's Maps debacle reminded me of times when, as a systems administrator or IT director, I needed to make a choice that would be unpopular with users (indefinitely or at least at first) but that was crucial in the process of moving my organization forward. The most challenging of these moments centered around compliance with government regulations and executive mandates or a simple need to ratchet up security. Those are times where many users don't fully understand why an IT department is making their lives more challenging and when there isn't a tangible sign of additional value as there is in an upgrade to the latest version of Office or the Adobe Creative Suite.
Although Apple hasn't played the Maps debacle as well as it could, the situation offers some serious lessons for IT professionals and businesses in a similar catch-22 position - lessons that are particularly important in a world where users are tech savvy and able to find or create ways to work around what they see as roadblocks created by IT.
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