Original 2007 Google-powered iPhone maps app reportedly built by 2 engineers in 3 weeks

I've read more than I ever wanted to about maps this week, but this story about how the original, Google-powered Maps.app was built for the original iPhone caught my attention. Here it s from Nick Wingfield and Brian X. Chen of The New York Times:

Including a maps app on the first iPhone was not even part of the company’s original plan as the phone’s unveiling approached in January 2007. Just weeks before the event, Mr. Jobs ordered a mapping app to show off the capabilities of the touch-screen device.Two engineers put together a maps app for the presentation in three weeks, said a former Apple engineer who worked on iPhone software, and who declined to be named because he did not want to speak publicly about his previous employer. The company hastily cut a deal with Google to use its map data.

2 engineers. 3 weeks. Apple has spent the last year or more and who knows how many engineering hours trying to roll a new maps app. It looks nice, but iOS 6 Maps currently locates my house in the middle of a park, when I try to find a place to get my car rust proofed -- because winter is coming -- I get the wrong area code and a phone number that consists only of 443-0, and if I want to take a train downtown I suddenly need to buy an app for that.

Yet in 2007 Google's data was good enough for 2 Apple engineers to make a decent, if feature limited iPhone app in 3 weeks. That just goes to show you how important data quality is for something like maps, and how little a nice looking interface matters when you can't find something on it.

Apple's CEO, Tim Cook has already apologized for the current status of iOS 6 Maps, but not for taking away Google's much more reliable data (even though the results seem to have been fairly predictable. I don't expect him to either, any more than I expect Apple to apologize for dumping Safari RSS or X11.

People keep saying iOS 6 Maps will get better just by virtue of all of us using it. I'll correct my house, and use Google to find and correct the phone number of the anti-rust place (no idea how I can help fix the lack of train information though...) But it's going to take a lot more than me, or any of us, simply feeding Apple data to make a proper maps app. It's going to take Apple investing as heavily and determinedly as Google has over the last decade, but doing it much, much, much faster. It's going to take tons of money and a Herculean effort. Apple has tons of money. Let's hope Cook and company are serious about putting in the effort.

The Times also repeats that Google was "blindsided" by Apple ditching their mapping data, which at this point is so ridiculous as to just make Google look disingenuous at best and deceptive at worst. If Apple still used Google's data, iOS 6 Maps would be fantastic. Google still has Google data. The moment Apple bought a mapping company in 2009 Google should have had an independent iOS app started as a skunkworks project. The moment iOS 6 Maps leaked before WWDC, Google should have been going full tilt. 2 engineers in 3 weeks? How does Google not have an iOS Maps app of their own ready yet?

Source: The New York Times

Anthony Casella
  • I wonder if they can some how use map quest's data or purchase it in general.
  • Are you an advertiser or just a scammer?
  • No kidding. As I mentioned in the post about Google taking "several months" to get a mapping app ready for iOS, no one would actually think it would take that long. Google has some of the best software engineers in the world. I don't know what took the iOS engineers a year or longer to write the current app. Maybe they hired RIM developers, they seem to take a long time to write software.
  • It's seeming like Google may be buying time to weigh their options about Google Maps. If maps is really that important and can prove to be a differentiator why give it away to the competition for free? Why not let those customers feel the pain for a while and see if it is a critical enough app to drive customers to get an Android phone? Seems like they have a clear advantage to tout to any iOS device in Google maps.
  • I thought the point of this was going to be: so why can't Google get a maps app out as quickly?
  • This article totally confuses the data and app sides of things. Unless you are really claiming the app they developed in three weeks is better than the new one, not that the only problem with the new one is that it doesn't have the same number of years of widespread use that Google Maps had had in 2007?
  • Man...Apple really shit on it's users with maps. Sad part is most Apple users will defend them while driving off a cliff.
  • The sad part is someone driving off a cliff because of a map app. Jesus folks were driving and finding shit way before google maps or GPS. WTF!!!!
  • Geez people, it's versoin 1.0. Most v1.0 programs blow anyway. And if you were expecting Apple to pull a Google maps clone out of their ass on the first try, then you are living in a fantasy world. It took Google years to get where they are with their maps program. So stop crying and download a 3rd party app.
  • That's a lazy, unreasoned, fanboy argument. Saying version one can be crappy bc it's version one just doesn't cut it. If version one is coming out ten years after the competitor's highly polished original, then it is on the newcomer (Apple in this case) to make their app as good as the current competition if not better. That's like saying Apple could release a TV that's 15" deep, a tube w light bulb, and an old school twisting dial to change the channel just bc it's their first iteration. I just bought iPhone 5 yesterday from iPhone 4. Pretty happy w it. But come on, be objective about the maps. But even Tim Cook is apologizing for it and recommending third party map apps in the interim. Quit drinking so much koolaid and just admit the app needs a lot of work and wasn't ready for prime time.
  • Btw bata data don't make good maps. I maybe defending them and good maps come from good data but not bad data which the Apple map is exhibiting now.
  • "Quit drinking so much koolaid and just admit the app needs a lot of work and wasn't ready for prime time." At no point did I ever praise Apple's map app. In fact, I do believe I directed others to download a 3rd party app to solve their woes. You should probably take AND pass a reading comprehension class before attempting to post more comments.
  • Maybe you should take and pass a reading comprehension class because not once did he mention you were praising Apple's map app.
  • I'm sorry, all I heard was..... "My iOS6 map app isn't perfect." 'I want it to be perfect, now....now now now now now!" "Mommy, Apple isn't listening to me." All I can offer you is a tissue.
  • If version 1.0 is this good, then Apple should really have included this as an option along with the older Google powered app
  • Google will probably submit their maps app when all the Apple Maps bad press ceases.
    I have some questions: 1. What is the difference from the Google powered maps app and a stand alone maps app? Aren't they both apps? I thought the only difference would be that you have to download it from the App Store.
    2. What has kept Google from submitting an app before iOS6 launched?
    3. If there was another year left on the maps agreement, isn't that a contract violation? Does Google have cause to sue? Thanks in advance for any answers!
  • For 1, I think the answer is that Apple maps are inbuilt and can be used to provide location based services to other apps. For example, Siri uses Apple maps for looking up things. I don't think a third party maps app (like the Google's upcoming app) can be integrated at the OS level like that.
  • For 2, nothing. People have argued that Google is dragging their feet, or that Apple has pre-emptively threatened rejection, but nobody knows. Google submit an app when they are ready, both technically and strategically. Apple will approve it when they find it acceptable, both technically and strategically. (Though the government will be watching carefully.) For 3, nobody outside the firms knows the terms of the contract. If the contract specified Apple HAD to use only Google's data through 2013 (doubtful), then yes. Otherwise, no...though perhaps Apple had to pay some exit fee.
  • I just got my ip5 and started playing with maps. I searched for my work place on East Nugget ave and the pin was dropped in the middle of nowhere. I noticed the on the hybrid view the road was named E Nugget ave, so I updated my search and the pin dropped right in the middle of the building. Kind of interesting.
  • I did the same as you, I first tried to find my address on Apple map it can't find it but when I searched for the it with my area code it dropped a pin smack on my address and I later corrected the area code with my address and now Apple map is capable of dropping a pin at my address. @Anthony the writer
    I believe there are free apps to help you get around but if you insist goof's map is the best then use an android phone, no one stopping you.
  • I'm sure Google could create a separate app fairly fast. It's a matter of bringing in features from the Android client. Think about what they did with the YouTube app on IOS. In that case, Apple does not have a video service to compete so to keep eyeballs on YouTube, they created a great app fast. With maps there is competition. I think that Google is purposely holding off creating that app and soaking in the glory for now. It's marketing at it's finest. Just my personal opinion here. Personally I use Waze on IOS and Android (I have both) because the social aspect of reporting traffic, accidents, construction, and police is more helpful. None of the mapping programs are fail proof. Even Google Maps can get you in a location you can't get through, but it's less of a problem on Google Maps. Plus you can edit Google Maps correcting issues through Map Maker!
  • "2 engineers. 3 weeks. Apple has spent the last year or more and who knows how many engineering hours trying to roll a new maps app." Anthony, you can't be serious implying that the iOS Google Maps app (including Google maps and data) was done by "2 engineers. 3 weeks"??? Don't you realize that those 2 engineers would have been Apple programmers who packaged Google maps and data into an iOS app, and that in 2007 Google maps was already several years old and had taken Google thousands of "engineers" to amass all of their maps and data? How many days has Apple Maps been in existence? Compare that to the about 10 years that Google Maps has been around. Even after 10 years Google Maps still has lots of errors (for which Google has never apologized). Consumer Reports recently put Apple’s new Maps against Google’s Android Maps in a “showdown” to see which provides better navigation features. In the report they state: “both the free Apple and Google navigation apps provide clear routing directions, Google provides a better overall package, but we feel that both provide a good solution for standard software.”; “having more thoroughly tested Apple Maps alongside a Samsung Galaxy S3 running Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich) with Google Maps, we have a more favorable opinion – certainly more favorable than comments and articles that we’ve been reading online.”; “both Apple Maps and Google Maps route effectively, providing clear guidance and great points-of-interest integration." Read the report.
  • i doubt it took two weeks to accumulate satellite imagary, accurate data for mass transit/trains, and drive around a vast number of countries in a car with a camera on it filming the street, blacking out national security sensitive imagery. nor developing a navigation system, turn by turn direction.
  • So Apple should put 6 engineers on it and get a "new" Google Maps going in 1 week. :)
  • Truth be told, depending on where you are located, Apple maps really isn't bad, and I've already seem major improvements in map quality since the beta days of iOS 6 which was not that long ago, so Apple will definitely be busting ass to fix this as soon as they can. Some aspects will take more time. It's probably the international users that are seeing the biggest issues. In the US, it's quite decent and turn-by-turn works really well.
  • Its really not that big of a deal. If you don't like the maps app, don't use it. There are many other alternatives out there. I have very rarely used google maps on my previous iPhones. I always used Navigon. Even though there is a price for it, I have found it, and mostly any other 3rd party apps, that it justifies the cost to get a real, working GPS with turn by turn. It doesn't rely on google, apple, or anyone else but NAVTEC data. I have found that it is pin point accurate and it suits my needs very well. But, your mileage may vary in choosing which service you want. If it is a free app, check out Wayz or Mapquest. Both are very good if you prefer the less expensive (free) route.
  • Nice Game of Thrones reference there in paragraph two.
  • Two engineers three weeks to put an app together for the presentation. Presentation ready applications rarely are consumer ready, and generally might include only the features to be shown, in the uses they intend to show them in. MacWorld 2007 was in January IIRC and the iPhone was released in June giving a few more months which could have been used to complete it.