What Apple Maps “PR Disaster” Says about Human-Automation Interaction

With the release of Apple’s in-house developed mapping solution for the new iPhone 5 (and all iOS 6 devices) there has been a major outcry among some users bordering on ridiculous, frothing, outrage1.  

Personally, the maps for my area are pretty good and the route guidance worked well even with no network signal.

However, some of the public reaction to the new mapping program is an excellent example of too much reliance on automation that is usually very reliable but falible (we’ve written about here, and here.).

It is very hard to discern what too much reliance looks like until the automation fails.  Too much reliance means that you do not double-check the route guidance information, or you ignore other external information (e.g., the bridge is out).

I’ve had my own too-much-reliance experience with mobile Google Maps (documented on the blog).  My reaction after failure was to be less trusting which led to decreased reliance (and increased “double checking”).  Apple’s “PR disaster” is a good wake up call about users unreasonably high trust in very reliable automation that can (and will) fail.  Unfortunately, I don’t think it will impact user’s perception that all technology, while seemingly reliable, should not be blindly trusted.

Some human factors lessons here (and interesting research questions for the future) are:

  • How do we tell the user that they need to double check? (aside from a warning)
  • How should the system convey it’s confidence?  (if it is unsure, how do you tell the user so they adjust their unreasonably high expectations)


1I say “outrage” because those users who most needed phone-based voice navigation probably had to own third party apps for it (I used the Garmin app).  The old Google Maps for iPhone never had that functionality.  So the scale of the outrage seems partially media-generated.

6 thoughts on “What Apple Maps “PR Disaster” Says about Human-Automation Interaction”

  1. When dismissing outrage, remember: you are not the user. Just because your area has good coverage does not mean that the rest of the country has the same level of service.

  2. Good point! But remember, those who SHOULD be outraged (rightly or wrongly) are the ones who built up reliance on the previous app only to have it fail. My point was that they could not build up reliance on an app that didn’t exist (there was no voice driving directions before unless you bought an app).

    1. I think you are still extrapolating your own experience onto all users. I regularly use Maps to look at driving routes and never purchased a third-party app. Maps was a used feature on the phone, and there is some good documented procedures to demonstrate that it performs poorly. For instance, 20% of Ontario cities are not found by Apple Maps (http://tinyurl.com/9chlq5b). The problem isn’t that the driving directions are poor- the problem is the data used to overlay the basic maps and build directions from is poor.

      1. Not extrapolating at all. I’m a person too so I can have an opinion based on what I read. You also bring up another good point: one way to reduce reliance (blind trust) is to increase knowledge of how and why a system failed or how it works. Since you understand the limitations of the mapping system (bad underlying data) your relationship with automation could be said to be better calibrated.

  3. You have some good points here but I do wish that you had maybe touched up on Apple Maps running on a regular 4G phone. I upgraded to iOS 6 the day it came out and decided that I would play with the new maps on my 4G on the way to work. It was (still is) extremely buggy and the gyroscope couldn’t seem to understand which direction I was facing in addition to a whole plethora of other problems. Anyways, I’m sure that these issues will be worked out in the future but it does seem to be a bit of a premature release as far as the maps go. I enjoy your blog and look forward to more of your posts!

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