Category Archives: iPhone

Google, Apple, Maps, and Anil Dash

Anil Dash is pretty down on the new maps in iOS 6.

But this time, they’re right: Apple’s made a new product that actually is pretty but dumb. Worse, they’ve used their platform dominance to privilege their own app over a competitor’s offering, even though it’s a worse experience for users. This is the new Maps in iOS 6.

The root of the issue: from iOS 1.0 through iOS 5, the Map application was built on data from Google. Google’s data was used for the maps themselves along with local search, street views, walking, driving, and transit directions, and, I think, current traffic conditions. In iOS 6, Apple has dropped Google’s data, and some of the features that depended on it.

I face the change with some trepidation. If nothing else, I think the street-level views are much more useful than the fly-over views that are replacing them. I hope a Google Maps iOS app shows up real soon. That said, Dash is missing some important aspects of the issue.

His first mistake was to assume that the status quo was sustainable. Often, in business (and war) that isn’t option. In this case, it is like that continuing to use Google’s data as they had in the past was not an option for Apple.

At my last job, we depended heavily on Google’s Map API. About a year ago, Google made moves that make their maps API completely untenable for a variety of once loyal customers. They backed down to some degree, indecisiveness creates uncertainty, itself a big negative. Apple may have more leverage than most customers, but Google likely tried to push some big changes on them too.

It may have boiled down to dollars, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Google wanted to push mobile advertising into iOS maps. How would that be for users? Part of Apple’s value proposition is: you are the customer, not the product. Apple is not in the business of forcing advertising on their well paying customers.

Consider also that Apple is adding turn-by-turn navigation in iOS 6. This is something Google has offered on Android for a while now and some people have been critical of Apple for not having the feature on the iPhone. It is quite plausible that Google would not allow Apple to use their map data with a turn-by-turn navigation feature.

Dash also seems to forget that the Map apps is and has always been Apple’s. Google’s data has been integral, but it was never Google’s app. Apple has always privileged their own map application over those from others, it’s just that their map application used to be based on Google Maps.

Despite getting these things wrong, I suspect Dash is right, the Map app in iOS 6 is going to feel like a step back in a lot of ways. In the long run though, I think this is a good thing. It gives Google some competition, and hopefully it will result in improvements flowing to OpenStreet Map, which Apple is using for some of their map data.

Apple, Cricket & Virgin. Hints of the future?

Before I could finish a long overdue post on Apple’s evolving relationship with mobile carriers, events overtook me. Since I started writing that post, Virgin Mobile and Cricket Wireless will soon be selling iPhones for use with their pre-paid plans. The pre-paid plans offer significantly lower monthly rates than traditional iPhone plans from AT&T and Verizon, particularly, but the hardware is significantly more expensive than the subsidized prices offered by those carriers. I find these developments interesting for a few reasons.

First, I it fits the pattern I described in my earlier post in that Apple is experimenting with more expensive phones in combination with cheaper, more flexible service.

Second, it is coming sooner than I anticipated, in ways I didn’t anticipate. I thought it would start with TMobile, but it is instead starting with Sprint, which owns Virgin Mobile, and Cricket, which makes heavy use of Sprint’s network. While I thought this would start with TMobile, it makes sense that it is starting with Sprint, since Sprint, like TMobile, is a second tier carrier which needs to be open to new business models in order to stay in the game at all.

I’m interested to see what comes next. I expect we’ll hear more by the time the next iPhone is released, likely by fall. I wouldn’t be surprised too if iOS 6, which will be announced at Apple’s World Wide Developer’s Conference next week, contains new and improved features that help marginalize the mobile carriers.

On all the iPhone 4s Inspired Whining

I’ve been reading a lot of blog posts and comments about today’s Apple iPhone 4s announcement. A lot of people are disappointed.  A lot of the complaints are about the fact that Apple is keeping the same form factor as the existing iPhone 4 (as if that wasn’t the likely course all along). Plenty more complaints zero on a handfull of specs, like the screen size, or resolution, or technology, or the camera megapixels.

Needless to say, I think they are myopic. Apple wins customers because of the overall experience. These days, with Apple, it’s not just how the parts come together into an exceptionally well made device. It’s not even about the combination of software and hardware. Its the retail and support experience, and now, with iOS 5, iCloud, and Siri, its going to be about how it all ties together across your devices, and even out into 3rd party websites.

iOS 5 and iCloud are going to be a major platform for future innovation. I think they are downplaying it after their miss-steps launching MobileMe, but with iOS 5 + iCloud + Lion, Apple has the foundations for pervasive computing. You’ll soon be able to close up your MacBook in the middle of editing a Keynote presentation. Review it on your iPhone while you are waiting for your flight and revise it on your iPad without really even thinking about syncing, or copying the file.

These complaints remind me of the whining about what was missing from the original iPhone. Yeah, it wasn’t 3g and lacked MMS, video recording, copy/paste, installable applications and who knows what else. On the other hand it was pretty awesome in a way that no other phone could touch, and Apple had a obvious list of improvements to make.

Apple’s Automatic iPhone Backups Suck

iTunes is supposed to make a backup of your iPhone settings and data every time you sync, but I’ve already been burned twice by their crappy software.

First time I tried restoring my phone to fix a problem with no sound coming out of the earpiece. It didn’t help (plugging and unplugging the headphones several times did), but I found out that they don’t backup and restore the photos you take on your iPhone. Idiots.

Second time I decided to restore my phone before installing the 1.1.1 update, just to be on the safe side. This time, it started restoring the iPhone while the activation process still seemed to be underway. A few minutes later I get an error message on my computer that there was a problem restoring from backup because their was a timeout. No option to try again. I went ahead and tried syncing my phone. It updated bookmarks and contacts, because those were synced with desktop applications, but my e-mail account settings, my favorite contacts, my calendar, all my notes and pretty much every other setting was gone. I was going to try restoring the phone again, but iTunes only keeps one backup, and from the associated times on the backup, it had gone ahead and created a new backup from my iPhone after all the data went missing.

WTF, Apple? I thought your stuff was supposed to just work.

Maybe you should open the iPhone up to 3rd party developers, because you aren’t doing a very good job on your own.

Update: This post is old. iPhone backups are much better now.