Breakout

Why Everyone’s So Worked Up About Apple Maps

Jeff Macke
Breakout

People have had their underpants in a bunch over Apple (AAPL) ever since the iPhone5 starting getting passed out in stores on September 21st. In part it's because the stock price has dropped about 6% in five trading days; shares are now at $671. It's not pleasant to watch the dip, but it's also not an unheard of event for the company. From July 19 to July 25 Apple dropped 6.3%, and no one was talking about it then as if it marked the fall of the Holy Apple Empire.

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What has people buzzing negatively about the stock and company are comments such as this from the NY Times' David Pogue:

"In short, Maps is an appalling first release. It may be the most embarrassing, least usable piece of software Apple has ever unleashed."

If David Pogue had dreamed of saying such a thing about an Apple product two years ago, he would have then woken up and emailed an apology to Steve Jobs. If he had published the remarks, fanboys would have blown up his car. But this time is different.

If not for the outcry, it probably would have been months before anyone even noticed the degree to which Maps stinks. It would have been months before I even opened it. The fact that such a fuss has been made over GPS speaks for itself.

This Never Would Have Happened Under Jobs

Apple didn't need to use its own Maps app. The company had a relationship with Google (GOOG) that would have allowed it to use that company's map service at least until the iPhone6 was released. Presumably, Apple would have used the time to make its own maps program less humiliatingly awful.

The iPhone5 is an important release and Apple botched a vital feature for shortsighted reasons. Jobs never, ever would have let that happen. The fact that Tim Cook did isn't a huge problem for the 5 but it does make one wonder what's going to be overlooked next.

Losing Its Cool

Watch the Samsung Galaxy anti-Apple viral ad.

Now watch the Jeff Daniels' narrated iPhone5 ad.

Imagine you dropped in from space and had $400 to spend on a smartphone. You'd buy the Samsung and it wouldn't matter what shape your ears were. Apple is getting badly out-cooled in the smartphone market. Cool matters. Apple years ago marked its rebirth with groundbreaking, awesome commercials. Now they're just churning out 30-second blocks of creepy.

Diminishing Returns on Form-Factor Phone Tweaks

The iPhone no longer looks or feels functionally superior to anything else on the market. The screen is as big as is workable with one hand. Two-handed types who want to read more can go with the Samsung. There are few, if any, major worlds to conquer in terms of shape tweaks.

That means the Next Big Thing in smartphones is going to be about the ecosystem and software. iTunes has been the cornerstone of Apple's ecosystem advantage. There's still a huge moat between them and the competition, but it's getting smaller.

As for Apple's software aptitude... have you seen how crappy their Map app is?

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