iConfused: Apple maps lead astray

By Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat October 12, 2012 12:07 pm

London’s Big Ben tower and the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., aren’t the only places that have been tough to find with tech giant Apple’s new mapping program.

A number of Mother Lode landmarks and locations are mismarked, mislabeled or just plain missing from the recently released Apple Maps application. 

 

And while the new program is experiencing glitches for locations around the world, this is not the first time a digital mapping or GPS device has given bad information in the Central Sierra.

“We’re going to try and see if we can get some of those issues addressed,” said Nanci Sikes of the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau.

Apple released the new program to compete with popular applications like Google Maps and Mapquest, as well as modern GPS devices, which allow people to navigate roads and highways electronically. 

But the company has since fielded public, worldwide complaints about inaccuracies and function errors with the program and is trying to work out the bugs.

Locally, the program identifies Main Street and Highway 120 as two different roads in downtown Groveland, when Main Street is Highway 120. 

The program correctly locates Pinecrest Lake, but it also lists a non-existent town called Pinecrest near Donnell Lake.

The Apple Maps program also does not show the Stanislaus River clearly where it flows above Murphys, nor does it show the Tuolumne River clearly above Don Pedro. And Sikes said there “seems to be a lot of missing information” related to business locations.

While the Visitors Bureau has not yet seen a case of a tourist getting lost because of the issues, Sikes said local tourism, business and government officials are trying to be proactive and point out the problems with Apple designers and subcontractors.

With more and more people navigating the area with handheld electronic devices, it’s important that those programs are accurate for both visitors and the businesses they patronize, she said.

“We can’t tackle the whole world,” she said. “But if we can make any corrections that we see relative to Tuolumne County, it would certainly be helpful.”

This isn’t the first time a new mapping technology has seen glitches in the area. 

Craig Will, a local software designer who works on applications for Apple products, called the recent issues a “piece of the big picture.” 

Because of the region’s rural nature, the local terrain and the many seasonal and rural roads, map programs for years have occasionally led tourists astray.

Will said in the early days of Mapquest, the program would often route vehicles up Old Priest Grade to Groveland instead of the safer, less steep New Priest Grade, sometimes leading to trouble. 

Some of the GPS and mapping programs have also been known to direct people on logging roads or up to closed mountain passes in the winter because the distance is shorter.

“In general, the rural areas are very poorly represented in the map databases,” said Will, who initially contacted officials with Tuolumne County about the Apple Map problems.

Not even the most popular destination in the area is immune to digital mapping areas. In Yosemite National Park, early incarnations of Google Maps had Mount Whitney in the park instead of Kings Canyon National Park, park spokeswoman Kari Cobb said. 

Visitors also were sometimes directed over old Forest Service roads off the main route in the past, she said.

Cobb said that, so far, park officials have not seen any problems specifically with the Apple program. 

But even today, tourists directed by mapping programs will end up at a rescue center looking for the popular Curry Village in Yosemite Valley.

“The idea of following a (GPS or map program) itself is something that should be approached with caution,” Cobb said.