Steve Jobs was famous for his temper, especially when faced with what he considered sub-par work. He was also known for his attention to detail. He'd do the unthinkable to get everything right, once famously requiring -- just days from the official launch -- that the original iPhone switch from a plastic display to the glass it ultimately was launched with.
Steve Jobs might thus have been the ultimate quality control that large bureaucracies usually fail to enforce. His near-psychotic drive for quality found itself reflected in Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) products, rendering them as close to perfection as you're ever going to get in consumer electronics.
But Steve Jobs is gone, and with him his paranoid drive towards perfection might also have vanished from Apple. Ever since Steve Jobs died, this has been a lingering fear, yet it seemed the jewel-like appearance of the new iPhone 5 was proof that such fears could have been overdone. They weren't.
I have already talked about how Apple's attempt at a Mapping solution, made to drive Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) solution away from iOS, was inferior to Google Maps as well as Nokia's (NYSE:NOK). However, this was just a detail, one feature where Apple didn't measure up, I thought. Reality, though, surprised even me. Apple basically shipped a feature filled with bugs and utterly lacking quality.
Indeed, Apple Maps is so filled with monstrous bugs, lack of quality and lack of detail that it represents a giant step backwards from where iOS 5 stood. And it's this incredible lack of quality which I believe wouldn't have made it past Steve Jobs. Yet, in today's Apple, it reached the market.
Apple's Maps have a large number of problems in several areas, the main being:
- A huge lack of detail when compared with what Apple shipped with iOS 5 (using Google Maps). This is made even worse when abroad, where the lack of detail borders on the absurd and would sometimes compete mostly with GPS software from 10 or 15 years ago.
- A half-baked 3D approach which produces ugly artifacts (such as roads and bridges that appear to be buckling) time and time again.
- Routing which seems inclined to drive customers off a cliff or in roundabout ways towards their destination - that is, if it points to the destination at all.
- Badly curated satellite images, especially abroad, where one can easily find entire zones whose ground is clouded.
In a way, the defects are too many to mention. For those wanting to check on how bad the situation is, I recommend this Tumblr page: "The Amazing iOS6 Maps," which has hundreds of examples of the inaccuracies of Apple's Maps app, including one where the North American continent is labeled "Australia."
The point is, the product is quite obviously flawed. It's so flawed that one can't believe Steve Jobs wouldn't have killed it before it reached stores.
For now this is just a harbinger of possible change. I believe the iPhone 5 will be a huge commercial success nonetheless. But as it stands, a red flag was waved. A feature decidedly lacking in quality was let through because of corporate considerations, which clearly overrode the customer's interest. This is not a good sign. The kind of market position Apple attained will not be easy to defend if such fodder is given to Apple's competitors.
Apple's position at the top of the world in terms of margins and market capitalization is predicated on the continued success of the iPhone. In a hugely competitive market where many leaders of the past have stumbled, any letting down of the guard can bring with it sudden misery. While the iPhone 5 shouldn't be the product that ends Apple's run, for the first time, Apple seems to have blundered heavily with a feature it had no need to change other than for corporate reasons.
It's not the first time Apple commits a mistake (Antennagate comes to mind), but for now it's unlikely that the Maps situation can have a quick solution, due to the nature of the problem. It's a huge quest to provide half-decent mapping data.
This is perhaps a first sign that the post-Jobs Apple is somewhat of a different animal.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.