Fred: Why are they doing a smaller iPad, what’s the point? Bill: Well it’s because Amazon has the Kindle and Samsung has the Galaxy, Apple think they’re missing out and want to corner the market. Fred [with feeling]: The Bastards!
Er, Ok. The biggest story to exercise the minds the office tech commentators of late is of course how bad the new maps are on the iPhone 5. Widely touted examples of ‘Duncaster’ and, locally, ‘Sponden’ are bandied about. To be fair, we are probably in the best (or worst) possible place to judge how bad the maps are (though not quite as bad as the poor folk of Colchester). Satellite coverage in particular is beyond dire for most of Derbyshire. At least our neighbours in Nottingham have decent resolution in their satellite coverage – even if it is monochrome for some bizarre reason. Most of Apple’s woes with its mapping can rightly be pinned to the underlying data rather than the app itself. Indeed the app can be argued as being far better than what went before. I’m still not sure that the formatting of the mapping as beautiful as many think – I rather suspect that the American commentators have never seen true cartographic beauty produced by the Ordnance Survey. There is, however, a major issue with Apple mapping that can be be laid at the door of the app itself rather than just the underlying data. When a map is zoomed out it makes sense that a town’s label is placed close but not quite on top of the detail representing the urban area itself. For example, the label for Uttoxeter lies over three miles north west of the town centre, a sensible design choice at a scale of, say, 1:100,000. With a raster system of mapping, where new tiles are downloaded and drawn when zoomed into a larger scale, the label will be repositioned appropriately. The new maps, however, are vector data. In many respects this is a good thing as they scale smoothly and, so it seems, the data transfer required is reduced by about 80%. The downside is that with the vector data, the name stays resolutely where it is anchored and worse, that’s where the route planner takes the unwary traveller.To see Apple Maps at their best, I recommend taking a virtual trip to Manchester. The aerial coverage and three-dimesnional buildings (the so-called “Flyover” feature) is implemented beautifully. And I think that is the point. In admiring what they’ve created in the good bits (i.e. most of their coverage of the US), Apple somehow managed to forget the rest of it which still needs work. They say that they are labouring unceasingly to update things, and I gather some evidence of this has started to appear. However, there is no indication as to when the data being generated by the “report a problem” system or updates to Yelp! to improve the business listings, will start to filter through. Perhaps this is sensible, as there is little doubt that the Trolls will have found this an excellent way to entertain their little minds. There is one thing that Mapgate serves to illustrate very well and that is Apple are increasingly the company that people love to hate.
As of late October 2012, not only has Doncaster had its name restored (still says Sponden though and there are no other repairs of local mapping faux pax), but I note today that the satellite imagery for Derby & South Derbyshire has improved vastly. Note this Before & After as the page refreshes…
Improved, undoubtedly, but it is nevertheless about five years old. Oh well, gift horses and all that.