In an interview with Fast Company, Apple Senior Vice President Eddy Cue admitted that the company’s embarrassment over its dismal Maps rollout directly led to its offering of public betas today. When the Maps app debuted in 2012 with bridges plunging into rivers, shopping malls marked as hospitals, and airport runways labeled as navigable roads, Apple went into crisis mode. “We had completely underestimated the product, the complexity of it. All the roads are known, come on! All the restaurants are known, there’s Yelp and OpenTable, they have all the addresses,” Cue said. “The mail arrives. FedEx arrives. You know, how hard is this?”
Apple went so far as to wonder if it should just scrap the whole app and rely on a third-party solution, Cue said. But in the end, the company decided Maps was too ingrained in what it wanted to do in the future to cut and run. Apple restructured and expanded the team working on the product, but the most lasting impact to how it does business was a simultaneous scaling back on its overwhelming need for secrecy, finally providing public betas so users can deliver the feedback needed to avoid another similar blindsiding. “To all of us living in Cupertino, the maps for here were pretty darn good. Right?” Cue said. “So [the problem] wasn’t obvious to us. We were never able to take it out to a large number of users to get that feedback. Now we do.”
Maps has made big strides since the initial chaos, but the lessons learned from that rollout have expanded far beyond that single app, to most of Apple’s software development. In 2014, the company let users test its Yosemite upgrade to OS X, and last year, Apple opened up beta testing of iOS. “The reason you as a customer are going to be able to test iOS is because of Maps,” Cue said.