Apple, you can still fix Maps, mapping expert says

But the consultant says Apple may have to take some pretty big steps -- like buying a company or making a bunch of new hires.

Google and Apple Maps Apps
The Apple Maps app (right) knew we were on Columbus (bottom in blue), but told us we should continue on New Montgomery. We weren't even on Montgomery yet. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

One maps expert has some tips to help Apple deal with its "cartostrophe."

Even though it's only been available a few days, Apple's iOS 6 is already taking heat for its new Maps app. The new mobile operating system is the first to incorporate Apple's mapping technology instead of Google's popular Maps app. But the new technology is experiencing some hiccups, including misnamed cities, misplaced landmarks and absent mass transit directions.

Mike Dobson, president of map consulting firm TeleMapics, has a a few harsh things to say on his blog about Apple's efforts so far, but he says the company still can fix the problems.

"Apple's data team seems to have munged together data from a large set of sources and assumed that somehow they would magically 'fit,'" Dobson wrote. "Sorry, but that often does not happen in the world of cartography. Poor Apple has no one to blame but themselves."

Chief among the problems, Dobson says, is data quality, and that's something that's pretty obvious to users. Certain features are missing, and others appear to have mistakes. The mapping program isn't very accurate for figuring out position and determining if an area still exists. And Apple also has some problems with making sure something is where the map says it is -- for example, having a store's name and address correct but mapping it in the wrong place.

Not all hope is lost, Dobson says, but it's not going to be easy for Apple to fix its problems.

First, Apple can't do everything with an algorithm. It will have to step back and change its approach to mapping in general, Dobson says. The company  needs to hire mapping experts and other qualified people to fix the problem, as well as someone to oversee the development. It also needs to crowd source to improve the data quality, and Apple might even want to buy a company that specializes in integrating mapping with search services. The biggest mistake Apple could make, Dobson says, is hiring a big consulting firm instead of mapping experts.

"There is no really quick fix for Apple's problems in this area, but this should not be news to anyone who is familiar with mapping and the large-scale integration of data that has a spatial component," Dobson said. "Of course there appears nowhere to go but up for Apple in mapping."

Apple today refers us back to its earlier comment:

Customers around the world are upgrading to iOS 6 with over 200 new features including Apple Maps, our first map service. We are excited to offer this service with innovative new features like Flyover and Siri integration, and free turn by turn navigation. We launched this new map service knowing that it is a major initiative and we are just getting started with it. We are continuously improving it, and as Maps is a cloud-based solution, the more people use it, the better it will get. We're also working with developers to integrate some of the amazing transit apps in the App Store into iOS Maps. We appreciate all of the customer feedback and are working hard to make the customer experience even better.
 

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