Show Me the Data

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All the uproar over Apple’s Map app debacle shows that at the end of the day, all the whizz bang over flyovers, 3D renderings, and turn-by-turn voice directions can’t make up for bad data.  In addition to lacking much of the geographic data and street level imagery that Google Maps contain, the new Map app from Apple is missing cities, contains such geographic errors as duplicate islands, and mislabeled locations resulting in a myriad of complaints about the data quality of Apple’s newly released mobile map app.  A growing list of geographical bloopers can be found on Tumblr’s Amazing iOS 6 Maps.

Jump to: How to Use Google Maps on an iPhone or iPad running iOS 6

Apparently a literal interpretation of names is being used for the map symbolization.  Madison Square Garden Arena is symbolized as green, even though it’s not a park. Airfield Gardens in Dublin, Ireland was marked as an airport complete with an icon of an airplane, even though in reality, it is a 35-acre farm and gardens center.  The error in symbolization cause the country’s Justice Minister, Alan Shatter, to issue a statement:

“I know on occasion mistakes can be made and I am surprised to discover that Airfield, which is in the centre of my constituency in Dundrum, has, in Apple’s new operating system iOS 6 maps application, been designated with the image of an aircraft,” Minister Shatter said in a statement.

“Clearly the designation is not only wrong but is dangerously misleading in that it could result in a pilot, unfamiliar with the area, in an emergency situation and without other available information, attempting a landing.

Airfield Gardens in Dublin, Ireland, marked as an airport on Apple’s Maps app.

Trying to get somewhere?  There are plenty of examples of Apple providing erroneous directions.  Users driving to navigate to Oulu, one of the largest cities in northern Finland, are directed over 100 kilometers east of the actual location and instead are sent into a desolate area.

Erroneous directions to Oulu, Finland. Source: Amazing iOS 6 Maps.

Think you’re seeing double?  China Digital Editor, Samuel Wade, sent out a picture of the Diaoyu Islands (aka Senkaky Islands) as shown on Apple’s Map app, tweeting, “Apple Maps actually seems to have duplicated the Diaoyus, perhaps in the hope that China and Japan can take a set each”.

Lots of examples abound of warped imagery, causing many to remark on the sudden proliferation of earthquakes around the world.

Bogota, Columbia looks like a devastating earthquake hit it. Source: Amazing iOS 6 Maps.

TomTom, which is supplying much of Apple’s data, has tried to distance itself from the debacle.  A statement from Caroline Fisher, vice-president of TomTom’s consumer business unit: “We don’t know what is causing the issues (on the Apple maps) but from our perspective the quality of our data is great and we stand behind it.” Nokia, on the other hand, was only too happy to jump into the fray with a post on its blog, Conversations, entitled “Benchmarking mobile maps.”  The post included statistics about its turn-by-turn navigation data and concluded with a set of global maps showing the coverage of Nokia as compared to Google and Apple’s data.

Turn-by-turn coverage for Nokia (top), Google (bottom left), and Apple (bottom right). Source: Nokia.

TeleNav is also coinciding the extension of their promotion for Scout, the companies Turn-by-turn navigation app.  New customers can access Scout by Telenav, an app for the iPhone for one year for free.  The premium service includes voice directions, 3D turn-by-turn navigation, cheapest gas location, and other traveling information and normally costs $24.99 per year.

Apple spokesperson Trudy Miller released a statement to AllThingsD in a concession to the quality issues surrounding Maps:

“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.”

Google’s Ground Truth Project

In the meantime, over in Goo Land, an article highlighting Google’s data collection efforts has been making the rounds.  Google has been on a steady march to capture the entire world as part of its comprehensive geospatial data collection efforts.  From scenic views down the Amazon captured via boat, triking through Arctic villages, and underwater cameras capturing the Great Barrier Reef, Google is almost literally leaving no stone unturned to map and capture imagery of even the remotest corners of the world.

A recent Atlantic article profiled the labor and technology intensive data review that Google undergoes. If operation ground truth sounds like military operation, it’s because it truly requires a small army to vet geographic data.

The sheer amount of human effort that goes into Google’s maps is just mind-boggling. Every road that you see slightly askew in the top image has been hand-massaged by a human. The most telling moment for me came when we looked at couple of the several thousand user reports of problems with Google Maps that come in every day. The Geo team tries to address the majority of fixable problems within minutes.

Alexis Madrigal, a senior editor with The Atlantic who wrote the article, concluded,

“I came away convinced that the geographic data Google has assembled is not likely to be matched by any other company. The secret to this success isn’t, as you might expect, Google’s facility with data, but rather its willingness to commit humans to combining and cleaning data about the physical world.”

How to Add Google Maps to an iPhone or iPad running iOS 6

With the future of an iOS google maps app uncertain, there is a work around for putting google maps back onto your iOS 6 running iPhone or iPad device.  The workaround involves placing a shortcut icon on your home screen that links to the mobile version of Google Maps running in Safari, the web browser that comes installed with all iOS devices. Here are the step-by-step instructions for getting a version of Google Maps back onto your iOS device.

First, open up Safari (ironically, the icon with the compass on your iOS device) and type in maps.google.com in the address bar.  If this is your first time visiting the page, a handy tool tip will pop-up (see image below) with instructions on how to add a shortcut as an icon to your home screen.  To add the shortcut, click on the arrow icon at the bottom of the screen and select the “Add to Home Screen” option in the popup window.

 Next, either select the default name of “Google Maps” or type in a new name for your icon.

Hit the “Add” button in the upper right hand corner.  Now an icon with the Google Maps logo is now available on your home screen.  Press and hold your finger down on the icon until it starts shaking (and an “x” will show up) and you can now drag and drop the icon to the place where you want it on your iOS 6 device.  The next time you want to access Google Maps, click on the icon and you will be taken via Safari to the mapping application.

Look for this new icon on your iOS device:

Keep in mind, this is a workaround and won’t replace the functionality of the previous Google Maps app that was the default on all versions of iOS up to version 5.  For example, Street View is not available in the mobile version via Safari and running it is clunkier.


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