Apple Maps, Search Engines, Siri, And The Command Line Social Network

So I’ve been giving a lot of thoughts to Apple Maps, and I have to agree with my friend Calzone, Apple has been taking it on the chin needlessly. He writes:

Yes, Apple Maps has issues, but someone needs to speak up about the upside. The issues, as I understand it, can be itemized very simply: (1) some satellite images are warped; (2) searching for locations by name is flawed and risks taking you to the wrong place. No one cares about item 1 — and even Google has had the occasionally funny happenstance with their satellite imagery, so woop-di-doo to everyone with their panties in a bunch over that. Satellite view is very useful on occasion (as a mountain biker I depend on it often), but hardly used as much as map view. And for item 2, yes, everyone cares about this. But I’d venture to say that nearly half of the critical navigation use cases for maps on the iPhone consist of the user entering an address, not searching by name. For the situations where you have to search by name, the workaround is simple: lookup the address first and then ask Siri to take you there. Apple will straighten this issue out over time, as we all know.

But the advantages for using Apple maps (as a user, not even regarding Apple’s corporate needs) are HUGE. Why isn’t anyone talking about these advantages?

Do you remember what it was like zooming in on Google maps and having to wait for the tiles to load? Do you remember zooming in and out and seeing blurry pixelated stand-ins while you waited for discrete zoom steps? How about those awkward in-between zoom levels? How about tiles that never refreshed and you were left with a map that was half zoomed in and half zoomed out? Or tiles that never loaded at all and all you get is a gray square? With Apple Maps, this is a thing of the past. The maps are INSANELY responsive. Zooming in and out is seamless and smooth. Panning is seamless and smooth. No more stutters, no delays, no dropped tiles. No fragmented imagery. No more waiting for something that eventually times out and then your connection sucks and you can’t get it back. Ok, part of that is me switching to Verizon instead of AT&T, but part is also Google’s stupid tech. I know this because I suffer the same some-tiles-that-never-load on my desktop computer even over a high bandwidth cable modem.

Do you remember walking around downtown somewhere, trying to find that bar five blocks over, and being lost… so you pull out your iphone, but north is on top and you’re walking south-east so you get confused about turning left or right at certain intersections. What did you do? You enabled compass mode so you could tell which way you were going. But now you need to zoom in or out again. Bam, compass mode would disengage and you’d lose your orientation again. Now that’s a thing of the past, just rotate freely and pinch to zoom in or out without losing your rotation.

Turn by turn? We got it now. 3D view (not even talking the flyover stuff here, just basic 3D view) kicks butt and pans really intuitively and helps give you a feel for the layout.

In short, usability — Apple’s hallmark — has increased a hundred-fold. Google maps was practically useless for me. Really, it was. Apple maps on the other hand, is everything I ever expected from a mapping app and it’s obviously only going to get better. Google, their supporters, and the screaming anti-Apple banshee contingent can suck it.

Yes, Apple’s database needs some filling in, but much of the criticism has been based on errors Apple maps generates that in fact Google and other maps also generate. When I first saw people were having issues, I asked Apple Maps to show me the Tobin Bridge, only to have it show me a bridge in Kentucky. I assumed that this was a problem with Apple Maps alone, until a friend showed me that Google Maps also got it wrong/ Only Bing Maps got it right. (Bing Maps, in my experience, is the currently the best of breed in terms of mapping content, both in terms of knowledge and in terms of directions.)

So why do Bing and Google maps both have better databases? I think the answer is obvious: they are connected to search engines, which provide all sorts of address data to the search engine, which in turn feeds the mapping database. If Apple is really going to catch up, I’m afraid they are going to need a search engine of their own. There are a number out there worth buying (I wouldn’t try starting from scratch) and I’ll tell you my pick in a bit. But suffice it to say, Apple needs a search engine if they’re ever going to get Maps right.

So let’s spend a moment to think about an Apple search engine, and what it would be like. The first think it needs is to be ad free, and respectful of privacy. They should introduce it by saying that “you have a right to search without being tracked and having your searches sold to sleazebag marketers” or something like that. Then, I would say, “because we believe that things are better when they’re open, we’re opening the search algorithms to people who have an Apple ID. So if you’re on an Apple device, and you want to customize your search in some way, you can do that. Because open is better than closed.” Something like that, kick Google right in the nads.

Because if you really want to conduct thermonuclear war against Google, then you need to give their main product away for free. What’s good for the goose, all that…

The search engine they buy ought to be one that already works largely by text input. Sounds silly, but there is in fact a lot of clicking around on most search engines. I like blekko myself. Everything can be entered in on a command line kind of way. Which is important, because I think we’re all going to be using the command line quite a bit more, orally, by way of Siri.

Because Siri is the new command line interface.

And really, you want to be able to do everything via the command line. So the Siri API needs to be available to other apps, so you can make restaurant reservations via Siri while cruising down the highway. Or pay bills. Or rate the song you’re listening to and tell the world about it. Or tell everybody how much the traffic you’re stuck in sucks.

Or maybe not.

Maybe what you need is for Siri to have access to a command line social network that can handle all of these things by way of apps that reside on it. The command line social network, of course, is Twitter, and I’ve already described how Twitter should be making money by selling commands for apps to run on itself. I only wished I’d coined the phrase “command-line social network: when I’d written that piece.

So yeah, Apple would probably have to buy Twitter to make that happen. So they should do that too.

Such a combination of services would be powerful in the extreme. A search engine, customizable to your needs, and completely private, feeding information to a maps database, which is also feed by users with iPhones all over the world. An auditory command line, into which you can run social network apps via Twitter. And with Twitter, you also own the ultimate universal login. All integrated, making the database stronger. And none of it to sell advertising. All of it to make a better phone experience that you’ll want to buy and upgrade again and again.

So what am I missing here?

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