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Apple Maps iOS 6 disaster: Three things all developers should take away

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Shane Schick

In an ideal world, developers would learn best practices by closely studying the most successful apps ever released for smartphones--whatever those are. The reality is that a high profile fiasco such as the one Apple is enduring following the disastrous launch of its Apple Maps for iOS 6 may be far more instructive, not only for what not to do, but how to be proactive about creating a more successful outcome.

There is, of course, a limit to the parallels that can be drawn between Apple Maps for iOS 6 and the average consumer app created by a one or two-man development shop. However, the outrage around errors and omissions in the product are a perfect illustration of a worst-case scenario. What started as a few irritable complaints on Twitter quickly morphed into lengthy blog posts, video and TV discussions about missing landmarks, skewed proportions and almost every other cartographical screw-up imaginable. If nothing else, Apple's misery should underscore for developers the need for a crisis communication plan--one that can escalate as the fallout from the product does. Tim Cook's apology letter over Maps late last week hit all the right notes in this area--it was a direct, genuine mea culpa that focused on future improvements and even pointed to competitive products as a temporary alternative. This kind of approach is even more important for the average developer because he or she can't fall back on a diverse set of other products and services, an otherwise high reputation for design quality and bucketloads of cash that Apple enjoys.

The second lesson may be equally obvious but easily forgotten, both by the world's richest companies and those that are still working out their basements: data matters. In the enterprise, companies of all kinds are trying to capture, sift through and derive insight from all the unstructured information that floats from inside their own walls to that generated by suppliers, customers and other stakeholders. "Big data," as it's called, is becoming a huge market but the technologies to make sense of it are meaningless if the material itself isn't checked and cross-checked. Sadly, many firms don't realize this until it's too late, and they've already spent considerable time and money on software that can't digest outdated, duplicated or irrelevant data. The same is true for mobile developers, who ignore the granular details of what they are offering via smartphones at their peril. Apple's big data problem is why many believe it will take a long time for them to fix Apple Maps, by which time Google will have created its own Google Maps for iOS 6 and scored an important victory in its ongoing rivalry with the iPhone maker.

Finally, there is the sense that Apple Maps for iOS 6 was rushed, with the notion that it could be improved over time. If there were ever a case to prove that great apps cannot always be treated like works in progress, this is it. In the desktop world, I've heard market researchers say that too many vendors spend 25 percent of their R&D creating the product and then 75 percent trying to maintain it. In the app world, it's probably closer to five percent and 95 percent. This, despite the fact that most developers now realize that users hate having to constantly run updates and fixes.

Apple will no doubt sort out these flaws in Apple Maps for iOS 6, but no matter what happens to the product, these gaffes are a gift, not only to Google but to developers everywhere. There may be a lot of bad directions in that app, but they ultimately point the way towards the kind of best practices the entire industry should embrace.--Shane