Category Archives: Apple Maps & Siri

Google Map for iOS Ships

Late yesterday, as you probably already  know by now, Google Maps for iOS appeared in the app store. The product includes, turn by turn directions, transit directions, traffic information, street view and the ability to sync your searches and directions with your desktop.

The early (and frequent) reviews are predominantly and overwhelmingly positive. The legitimate criticisms offered include:

  • the inability to do offline navigation,a feature in iOS maps and critical with spotty cell service,
  • no iPad app yet
  • a lack of bicycle routes
  • slowness, choppiness and performance issues (definitely on the iPhone 4 but perhaps others as well)

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In my initial test, compared to iOS Maps, Google Maps is significantly faster at generating maps. Its ability to disambiguate and find locations is superior. And I assume that its database of places is better but I have yet to test that.

It does not however integrate with SIRI which from a car based “workflow” point of view is a huge drawback. Not necessarily Google’s fault but a typical use case for me is to ask SIRI about a location and from there get directions. It is mostly hands off and very easy. Speed of map generation is not as important as the convenience of getting directions in a mostly hands free way that is critical. All in all Google Maps appears to be a great mapping product.

Amazing what Apple had to do to get Google to provide turn by turn on the iPhone. One wonders though, even with the hoopla how many iPhone owners will take the time to download and use this product instead of Apple Maps or whether Apple Maps is “good enough”.

Nokia HERE Maps Sucks (Significantly) More Than Apple Maps

Nokia, with the help of Navteq, is a seasoned mapping company. Arguably they are in the top tier of digital mapping. Their new product, Nokia HERE Maps for the iPhone, should show Apple what good mapping is all about. It doesn’t. In fact basic interface issues prevent the product from being a serious contender in the iPhone navigation market. Apple can now proudly say that there is a mapping product for the iPhone that sucks more than theirs.

Visuals: When I read reviews online about it being blurry, slow, ugly and lacking turn by turn, I couldn’t believe that Nokia would put out an inferior product. Now is the time to strike while Apple is still recovering from their Maps fiasco and come out with a great product. I thought Apple fan boys were just ranting. I particularly could not understand a map that was blurry. But sure enough the maps are totally fuzzy, hard to read and annoying. The ONLY thing clear on the map was the “here” brand name. And as Andrew Shotland pointed out even that can be confusing in the context of a map.

Basic Interface Screw Ups: My first search was for 1 Riverside NY, NY. A search that both Apple Maps and Google Maps understands. Apparently Nokia HERE does not understand common abbreviations like NY for New York. When searching for NY it turned up a foreign airport who knows where. When I searched on SF, CA it turned up Santa Fe, New Mexico. Forcing users to type out every word on an iPhone is a big hurdle from the get go and not understanding common naming short cuts is a deal breaker.

Kludgey Interface: Generally the interface for anything other than basic directions is confusing. Certain tasks like looking up nearby business are totally opaque and often non functional. I searched for nearby Grocery stores and was shown a department store.

Business Listing Quality: As far as I can tell other than certain categories like food, entertainment and shopping these are missing altogether.

Routing: I do not live in a big city so my tests typically reflect testing a product’s familiarity with back roads and short cuts. I figure if the product can get these back country roads correct far away from urban centers then the chance of getting the more important stuff right is far higher. Apple and Google both gave me a choice of routes although Apple gave the better choices and in its current iteration, a better way to select the route. HERE offered no such options and offered no alternative routing. It was their route or the highway so to speak.

Things Nokia HERE Has: It does offer public transportation routes which Apple does not. For me that is not enough to get by the egregious interface issues. They also offer the option to save a map for offline use, although the many warnings and caveats were discouraging. A map can take up to 13 mbytes of storage.

Bottom Line: Don’t waste your time or bandwidth to download the product unless it is for a case study in the decline of Nokia as a force in the mobile world.

Some additional screen shots comparing Apple Maps & HERE Maps output (click to see images at full resolution): Continue reading

Is Siri Sick (of Local Search)?

Siri has been making lots of stupid mistakes lately in local search. Mistakes that it’s younger sibling, Apple Maps, is not making. These are simple mistakes that were not there when Siri was the only game in town. Is she just looking for some more attention? Is she thinking of heading in some new direction or is Apple Maps just sending her the wrong way?

Here are two example searches that return totally crazy results that Apple Maps gets essentially correct.

Note that Siri can not even find one jeweler in or near Williamsville and returns results that are 26 miles away while Apple Maps returns relevant results:

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I have found these types of results to be fairly widespread while I was traveling last week. Here is another example (Hotels Allegany NY) :

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GPSBites Interview

I did an interview in GPSBites where I was asked to muse on my background, the current state of mapping,  the fate of PNDs & mapping companies and the near future of the intersection of mapping and commerce. Here is a snippet of a much longer interview:

2. You recently published your own survey which was designed to gather feedback from users of the new iPhone map application for iOS6.  You stated that you did not believe the recent Apple maps issue was going to affect Apple sales, and in our view Apple must share a similar view as they went so far as publishing an apology on their home page which even recommended customers use rival solutions in the interim. 

However, they certainly are facing some challenges.  If you were heading up Apple’s cartography division, what recommendations would you make to the company on how they could improve the experience and application moving forwards?

I am not sure that I agree with the premise of the question. It assumes that Apple does not understand cartography and mapping. And that I have significant insights to provide to them.

Assuming that Apple is stupid or just uneducated is a dangerous assumption. Taking potshots at funky maps is an easy target. Remember it was not that long ago that Google was losing whole towns, repeatedly.

Mapping is hard. Apple knows full well how hard mapping is and they knew full well that they were going to have difficulties coming into this. When they announced Apple Maps in June 2012 I can not imagine that they would blow that marketing opportunity by announcing that their new Maps product had a “few” problems. NO they went ahead and presented it as the most innovative mapping product ever. Whether it is remains to be seen but  in some ways they are where Google with mapping was in 2008, in some ways ahead of that and in some ways behind it. But to assume that they need my advice is to ignore a lot.

Apple has been a late starter in several industries that they ultimately succeeded in leading or developing a very strong market position. They came to the already existing MP3 player market with one device. Over the years as they developed the necessary skills they came to dominate that market. When they entered the phone business NO ONE thought that they could succeed. But their smart phone still sets the standard and has significant market share. They continue to grow their PC market share to a healthy position after being at death’s door in that market. So they know how to succeed as an underdog, how to build out the capacity AND knowledge, and plan for the appropriate growth when they enter an existing and competitive market.

Mapping is in some ways different but in many ways the same.  It takes time to build up the institutional knowledge and the people necessary to compete head to head with the likes of Nokia/Navteq and Google. This knowledge can not be built over night and you can’t ramp up all the necessary efforts or staffing in one fell swoop.

Apple could have taken an easier way out of the mapping dilemma and their conflict with Google if they had partnered with TomTom or Mapquest, both of whom already had turn by turn apps working well on the iOS platform. They didn’t. Apple chose to go it alone. The real question that we need to ask (of Apple) is how much of the stack are they intending to own and of the parts that they don’t own, how are they going to get them up to the world class standards that they surely know that they need.

In choosing TeleAtlas, they chose a company with incredible underlying technology but limited resources. Apple has a history of making significant investments in their partners to gain a competitive advantage. By giving TeleAtlas access to the massive amounts of geo data generated by the iOS6 crowd Apple may just have provided TeleAtlas the information that both TeleAtlas and Apple need to compete.

We live in interesting times and Apple’s foray into Mapping promises to make it even more so.

Local SEO Blocking and Tackling for Siri & Apple Maps

With the announcement of iOS6 and Apple Maps at the WWDC today, the shape of Apple’s local search strategy started to become clearer. Greg Sterling pointed out this list of Apple’s copyright attribution for their mapping product. From the list it is clear that Siri/Apple Maps basic listing data will be coming from Localeze, Axciom and, with additional review & ranking infomation, Yelp. And the mapping base layer from TeleAtlas/TomTom

Greg noted that he thought that TomTom was also a source for business data but a careful read of Apple’s attribution page seems to indicate that Apple is just getting their mapping data from TomTom and its MultiNet system but not business data.

Obviously showing up correctly in Apple Local search is the first step and the first step to that is no different in practice than what you should have been doing right along… listing at all of the primary data suppliers for the local ecosystem; Localeze, Acxiom (& of course InfoUSA) as well as Yelp. If your listing process has only included one or the other of those sources you should expand your claiming process to include them all.

Axciom has a free front end tool as does Localeze & InfoUSA. UBL.org, as you probably know, also submits to Axciom and InfoUSA (& TomTom) although these primary data sources are both important enough that even if I submitted via UBL I would also consider submitting directly to them.

Localeze also has a free listing capability. If you have a traditional Ma Bell landline, the free listing option is probably adequate with Localeze. However be forewarned that if you or your client is using a VOIP or cell phone number, due to the technology that Localeze uses to verify a listing, the free option is not viable. In those cases you really need to submit a paid listing to Localeze to be sure that the listing is in fact verified.

In addition to providing basic NAP to the primary data suppliers, it makes sense to check TeleAtlas maps to be sure that your business addresses resolve correctly. Obviously a great deal of the use of Apple Maps will be for directions and making sure that your address is where you think it should be is critical. Historically their mapping data in the US has been less complete than either Google’s or Navteq’s.

Thus the basics of blocking and tackling of local search for Siri is the same as the desktop: NAP consistency at the primary data suppliers and checking the underlying map geometry and accuracy.

Ranking, at least so far, has taken on a very Yelpish color.  Matt Siltala did an excellent presentation at the recent Getlisted Local University Advanced on his observations vis a vis Siri and Yelp and some things that seemed to correlate well with rank. Here are some factors that seem to come into play in Siri ranking based on my observations and conversations with Matt:

Distance from the searcher
Yelp review totals
Keywords in review content
Yelp Premium partner status
Yelp Elite reviews

It will be September before iOS6 and Apple Maps hits the streets and another few months before it is widely used on all iOS devices. But unlike Siri, it will not be limited to the most recent phone only and should start to play a significant role in the local search arena. In addition given that it is a default app and includes turn by turn driving instructions its uptake should be very swift.

Time to get ready is now. Here are URLs Data submission forms noted above:

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