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