Why Apple's maps are still miraculous

21st Sep 2012 | 13:33

Why Apple's maps are still miraculous

Amazingly flawed, yes, but still amazing

The release of Apple's new Maps app has been great news for the tech community. Just last week the iPhone and iOS were widely dismissed as boring; now, we're having a hoot at their expense.

It can't be long before we hear the inevitable tales of trusting iOS 6 Maps users being hauled out of the sea in helicopters, dug out of ditches or stranded in Switzerland after asking directions to the Co-Op.

The fiasco, brilliantly dubbed NaviGate, got the internet chuckling and added some much-needed laughs to the increasingly angry debate between users of rival smartphones, but it also demonstrated something else: Apple's maps are amazing.

I mean it. You wouldn't rely on them to get your heavily pregnant partner to the labour ward, but the very fact that we're all slagging off Maps shows just how amazing technology has become.

At the risk of sounding like Louis CK here, we have devices barely bigger than credit cards that watch us from space and give us three-dimensional maps of the entire world, and we're furious that the maps aren't perfect.

Isn't that brilliant?

It just works (except when it doesn't)

Maybe it's because I'm getting on a bit, but I'm constantly struck by how much we take very recent technology for granted. I bought an LP this week - a real, spinny-disc one - and had to explain what it was to my daughter, who's growing up in a world where even DVDs are looking past their sell-by date.

My wife was amused too, given that we haven't owned a record player for more than a decade: the LP was purely to support a band I love, something signed to hang on the wall while the accompanying CD copy is ripped and streamed through the air like everything else.

It's amazing how quickly technology changes. Take the iPhone 5 or the Samsung Galaxy S3, for example, and compare them to the phones of five years ago.

Or take LTE, which will go from "when will we ever get it?" to "Aaaagh aaaagh aaaaagh I'm only getting half the rated speed! My network provider sucks!" by the end of next year. iPads, Nexus 7s, Nintendo consoles with a tablet computer inside the controller, apps that know where a restaurant is and what your friends thought of it... it's all amazing stuff, even if it doesn't always work properly.

That doesn't mean we should let Apple off the hook - they've messed up on a huge scale, and for once the first part of "epic fail" is honest rather than hyperbole - but Apple's mess just demonstrates what an incredible achievement Google Maps really is.

Joni Mitchell once sang that you don't know what you've got 'till it's gone. Perhaps the modern equivalent is that we don't know what we've got until a tech firm makes a complete mess of it.

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