updated 03:00 am EDT, Thu October 11, 2012
Small but angry segment very put off by early problems
A survey by an SEO ranking provider for small businesses has turned up a surprising level of satisfaction with Apple's Maps in iOS 6 and suggests further that, at least within the US, the media reporting on the topic may be overblown. While Apple itself and many others have noted genuine problems with the data found in Maps, especially right after launch, many in North America (particularly those using the driving directions) have a better experience. The survey found that 74 percent of respondents were happy with the new Maps app.
The initial survey, hosted on Google Consumer Surveys, attracted over 1,100 respondents, but only 200 were included in the in-depth study because they had iOS 6 and had used the new Maps app. While the sample size is relatively small, the respondents were a diverse group and are therefore considered statistically significant, though not a large enough sample group to be considered definitive. Of the 200, a majority (50.7 percent) said the Maps issues had not personally affected them at all, while another 23.3 percent called it "good enough" for their needs. A further 17.2 said that issues with the Maps app were "annoying, but not a deal breaker."
Among those who were not happy with the new Maps app, 5.6 percent said that the Maps problems "might affect" future buying decisions, while 3.2 percent -- six out of 200 respondents -- said the problem has put them off the iPhone to the extent that they will not buy another one. The Maps app in iOS 6, which replaced a Google-powered one in iOS 5, added some features like scalable vector maps, better offline use and turn-by-turn directions -- but also took away features such as transit directions, Street View and Google's more detailed and complete mapping data. Drivers who don't need transit directions have generally had fewer issues with Maps, and recent tests against even dedicated GPS units and Android phones have found drivers largely preferring Apple's new offering.
While Apple has spent the time since launch rapidly correcting the biggest issues with inaccurate map data or mislabeled map points, most of the improvements (and the best set of original map data) has mostly been concentrated in Apple's largest markets -- China, North America and Europe. Outside those areas (or even outside urban parts of those areas), errors are likely to be seen more frequently. For example, a MacNN reader in Montreal reported that Maps works fine for his driving within the city, but at his rural home his neighborhood is portrayed in black and white, with outdated data and few labels for points of interest.
The survey, conducted by blogger Mike Blumenthal, covered October 5 through 7 and included only US residents. Overall, 91 percent indicated a generally positive experience (or were not inconvenienced with any problems to the point of anger). Out of 170 respondents, 16 indicated some level of dissatisfaction with the Maps app -- a small percentage but relatively high given Apple's usual stellar ratings in customer satisfaction. A further breakdown showed that women were more likely to find the Maps app satisfactory than men, and that rural users (somewhat unsurprisingly) were more likely to find it inadequate.
If they were part of the group that was dissatisfied overall, men were much more likely than women to find fault with the Maps app but only slightly more likely to swear off the iPhone completely over the issue. Seniors who liked the Maps app were more likely to say the issues hadn't affected them, while seniors who were part of the dissatisfied group were more likely to say they would never buy another iPhone. It should be noted that seniors, as a group, buy and upgrade smartphones less frequently than younger demographics, which could mitigate the severity of the "will not buy again" threat.
Blumenthal has acknowledged that on a secondary level, the sample size is too small to be really conclusive, but notes (based on responses from people who participated in the survey) that big changes in online services that people rely on -- such as Facebook's Timeline feature -- tend to get "piled on" by industry insiders while the public is largely oblivious. He also wonders if mapping services are less important to the population at large as the media would have us believe, which might explain the large percentage of satisfied users. In many parts of the US, for example, people drive much more than use mass transportation -- a fact that is reversed in many other countries, and a factor that would dramatically change the survey if had been conducted in, say, Singapore or Japan.
Blumenthal thinks a larger study that surveyed people on how often they use Maps and how aware they are of quality issues would put accuracy and importance into better context. Are "general" applications like Google Maps and Apple's Maps used mostly for driving directions and casual use, and do third-party apps get more of the "serious" usage? While Apple is likely to have gotten much more (and more diverse) feedback on Maps' shortcomings, it would seem that unless users are dependent on transit directions or live in rural areas, US users are likely to find the Maps app an improvement -- not a downgrade -- from the previous Maps app.