A Quick Note of Praise for Apple Maps

For quite some time, it has been fashionable to poke fun at Apple Maps.[1] In fairness, several have pointed out that Google Maps has its limitations as well, so the issues of trying to provide locations and  directions is not limited to Cupertino’s offering. Nevertheless, if someone is going to ask why one would use that mapping application, it is usually going to be Apple Maps that is being asked about.

For the past few days, I have been in Venice, Italy.[2] Venice is a city notoriously difficult to navigate on foot or by gondola — even for those who have a good sense of direction. I am happy to report that Apple Maps does a very good job of providing walking directions here. The path it laid out for us to walk from our AirBnB to La Fenice[4] was quick and easy.

This is not to say that the potential for getting lost was gone. It is easy to get turned around in a Campo[3] with five or more Calle[5] leading out of it. It’s at moments like this that the arrow pointing in the direction you are facing[6] becomes really important.

This is an older feature but one that mattered a lot to me when I was trying to find the way to the traghetto[7] in a part of the city I wasn’t as familiar with so we could get my hungry daughter to lunch.[8]

I point this out because, sometimes, the killer feature of an app is one that isn’t focused on by commentators or in one-on-one demos but provides utility when you absolutely need it to. Could the databases for locations used by our apps be better? Of course. Could they do a better job of directing us to the correct side of a building. Yes. But those are things I can work around. Not being sure of which direction I am facing on a cloudy day in Venice where there aren’t a lot of trees with directional moss isn’t something I can work around.

This is the kind of thing that Rene Ritchie refers to when he talks about Apple’s ability to produce a minimum delightful product. In this case, this delight was all about the fundamentals. And, just like in sports, getting the fundamentals right can take you far.

[1] My favorite moment of levity at the expense of Apple Maps was a joke told to me by my goddaughter soon after Apple Maps was initially released: “Apple Maps walked into a bar. Or a church. Or a store. Or a tattoo parlor.”

[2] Don’t hate me because I am lucky enough to have a wife who planned this trip.

[3] We took in a performance of Verdi’s La Traviata. It was every bit as good an as powerful as you would expect and was a wonderful reminder of the power and virtue of art.

[4] The large and small squares of the city.

[5] The lanes/walkways/roads that wind though the city.

[6]Google Maps has a blue fan that mimics the look of a flashlight, I believe, which serves the same purpose.

[7] The tragetto is the water bus system of Venice.

[8] If you are looking for something a touch more casual, check out Taverna San Trovaso.

Dr. Matthew M. DeForrest is a Professor of English and the Mott University Professor at Johnson C. Smith University. The observations and opinions he expresses here are his own. You are very welcome to follow him on Twitter and can find his academic profile at Academia.edu.