Tag Archives: maps

Why Snappli’s Conclusion About iOS 6 Maps Usage is Probably Wrong

A few days ago, the makers of Snappli, an Android and iPhone app that is supposed to reduce and secure your mobile phone data usage though they’d get some free press by jumping on the iOS 6 Map.app-bashing bandwagon.

They looked at their data about network usage and drew the following conclusions:

  • 64% of Snappli users have migrated to iOS 6 within the last few weeks (UK and US)
  • Before the upgrade to iOS 6, 25% of Snappli users were viewing Google Maps at least once a day
  • Once they moved to iOS 6, that immediately went to 35% of users using Apple Maps
  • However, over the next 5 days that drops down to 4%

Their summary:

Before iOS 6 1 in 4 people were using Google maps at least once a day. After iOS 6: 1 in 25 using Apple maps and falling.

Damning, right?  Well, not so fast. People have pointed out that iOS maps use much less data. Snappli answers that they weren’t looking at overall Maps data usage, they were looking at actual use of the app. Of course, that’s probably not quite true.

There is very little an iOS App can see about usage of other apps. Snappli can see more than others though, because it intercepts network traffic on the phone. It shouldn’t be able to see which app is accessing the network, but based on the remote hosts being accessed is accessing, they should be able to make guesses about what application is being used. There are a few factors that call into question the accuracy of their guesses though.

First, since the Map.app is a relatively new application, and they were likely in a hurry to take advantage of the bad press surrounding some of its shortcomings they might not have a complete picture of all the remote hosts it accesses over days of use, so they might be missing traffic that indicates use of the Map.app.

Second, and more importantly, the new version of the Map.app doesn’t just use less data when talking to remote servers, it has to requires it less often, much less often. To demonstrate, I put my iPhone in airplane mode, which cuts it off from any Internet access.  Next I launched the iOS 6 Map application. I got a warning that I needed to turn on the network to use Maps, but when I dismissed that warning, I could see a map of the area near my home, where I last used the app. When I zoomed out, I could still see a map, so I zoomed out even further until I could see the limits of the cached data.

iOS 6 had cached data for more than one hundred square miles around Seattle. The screenshot below shows that it has even cached building-level detail for parts of Seattle I haven’t even been within a mile or more of since upgrading to iOS 6.

Snappli’s data tells a very different story if you take this behavior into account. Most people  cover the same territory in a typical day, or week. If they use the iOS 6 apps a few times, it is likely to cache a significant amount of the map data they need, it is only when they leave that beaten path, or do a text search for a location that the Map app will have to connect to a server on the Internet.

If we assume that after upgrading to iOS 6 and checking out the new maps the average iPhone users go back to using the app once every four days, then Snappli’s data suggests that they only do a text search, or need new map data once every six uses of the app. That doesn’t seem unreasonable, does it?

We don’t really have enough information to know for sure what is going on, but it does seem likely that Snappli’s data supports the idea that people are using iOS 6 maps just as much as they used iOS 5 maps as it does to support, while, on the other hand, it is likely that their interpretation severely overexaggerates a decline in usage, if such a decline does indeed exist.

Unfortunately, Kevin Tofel of GigaOm, while acknowledging some of the criticisms of Snappli’s data is uncritical in accepting the company’s defense of their methodology. Kevin, here is the thing, the data may “seem legit,” but the interpretation is bogus, because it doesn’t take into consideration, or even acknowledge, that there are alternative interpretations that might also explain the observed behavior.

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.