How To Find Golden Seeds in Bad Apples
“[Apple] has 48-72 hours to deal with [the] firestorm of criticism” proclaimed Macworld on Monday. “We can always forgive people for one mistake,” says Sunil Gupta, a professor at Harvard Business School. “And for the post-Steve Jobs era, this is the most significant. Another slip of this kind, people will start questioning Apple.”
All the fuss began, as you may already know, after Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) released its much-anticipated iPhone 5.
Once customers updated their iPhones with the newest software, the popular map application switched platforms, from that of Google Inc. to primarily TomTom NV.
Complaints range from a lack of public transit routes to inaccurate maps and points of interest to missing streets and addresses and more. You may have even experienced this already for yourself. It’s the one big smear on an otherwise great product.
In fact, it echoes the “Antennagate” incident in 2010. That was the public relations disaster revolving around the iPhone 4 when signal strength plummeted and calls dropped if you held your phone with merely a fingertip over the wrong spot.
Tech news sites raved then, as they do now.
But Steve Jobs pulled it all together with an emergency meeting back then. He audaciously deflected the antenna bug by claiming that all phones lost service.
Somehow, his PR statement proved exceptionally effective. Unfortunately, he’s not around to work that kind of magic now. More importantly, competing devices don’t have the same bugs in their map apps.
After all, maps to mobile are what algorithms are for search. In other words, the map application isn’t just a cool component in a smartphone, it’s crucial one.
Apple’s decision to have its own mapping system was made with over a year before the company’s agreement to use Google Maps expired, according to two independent sources familiar with the matter. So why did they do it?
It all goes back to when Steve Jobs declared “thermonuclear war” on Google for creating the Android smartphone. He thought that Eric Schmidt, who was on Apple’s board at one point, stabbed him in the back by stealing the iPhone idea. Ever since, Apple and Google have been duking it out in simultaneous legal battles amid a worldwide war between tech businesses.
Although there is evidence to suggest that Apple will correct it in time, as they have before (like with MobileMe), time is running out. What Apple needs is a mechanism to leverage the activity of their existing customers to help correct the problem.
To an extent, it’s already doing this. Apple said in a statement: “Maps is a cloud-based solution, and the more people use it, the better it will get. We appreciate all of the customer feedback and are working hard to make the customer experience even better.”
For example, if you search a specific route and it comes up with the wrong destination, when you click the “cancel” button, it provides useful data for Apple to correct the problem.
But it would be better to focus on enabling existing customers to more directly create the solution, not merely flag the problems.
I should add that since Apple has more cash on hand than the federal government, it’s perfectly capable of acquiring small companies with new technologies to incorporate into existing products… and hence create those much needed solutions. What is it waiting for?
Here’s an example of a technology that would bolster the new map application system…
It’s a “building mapping” device, created by a group of researchers at MIT, with a high enough standard of quality to help emergency responders coordinate disaster response. It, essentially, is a sensor system that automatically creates a digital map of the environment according to where the user is moving.
According to Technology Review:
“The prototype of the sensor platform consists of a handful of devices attached to a sheet of hard plastic about the size of an iPad, which is worn on the chest like a backward backpack. In principle, the whole system could be shrunk to about the size of a coffee mug.”
This is an example of an existing technology (although it’s young) that could be applied for a completely different and incredibly useful applications. Namely, if a similar technology could be built into everyday smartphones, customers could literally build a new maps applications from the inside out.
Of course, it’s not a simple affair. But this is exactly what Steve Jobs was known for: coming up with entirely different applications with existing technologies for purposes that nobody else had thought of (or acted upon). And it’s exactly what Apple needs now.
“They can ride this out if they make the necessary adjustments,” said Dany Gaspar, director of digital strategy at Levick, a Washington, D.C., firm that helps companies deal with public relations emergencies.
“They realize they made a mistake, but now they have to be upfront and explain what they’re going to do, do it honestly and do it sooner, rather than later.”
“They can weather this… but they need to move now or people will start reconsidering whether to buy an iPhone 5 or not.”
Consider this one reason why you should always be up to date on the latest technologies. You never know when even the most successful companies will make a mistake. It’s up to the investors to be a part of and profit from the correction.
To check out the new map-building technology that companies like Apple should be looking at, click here. Both the U.S. Air Force and the Office of Naval Research have supported the work going into this device.
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