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Photo: iMore.com

After a shaky start in 2012, Apple Maps has quickly turned things around and become the most popular mapping service for Apple mobile devices. Apple says its mapping service is now used more than three times as often as its next leading competitor on iPhones and iPads, with more than 5 billion map-related requests each week.

Being initially criticized for the maps app upon its debut, Apple rapidly focused all of their attention on the problem, and remedied the issues through a series of well played strategies with very little fanfare. They fixed errors as users submitted them. They quietly bought several mapping companies, mostly for their engineers and other key staff. In the fall of this year, they added transit directions for several major cities, narrowing a major gap with Google. Apple Maps is now used more widely than Google Maps on iPhones and iPads.

“We are fast learners and we are fast at fixing things,” said Greg “Joz” Joswiak, an Apple vice president who oversees product marketing for iPhones and related services. “We learned the maps business incredibly fast.”

Now, Apple receives data from more than 3000 sources for business listings, traffic, and other information. When the decision was made to add transit directions, Apple sent several teams out in the real world to map out subway entrances and signs. This strategy gave more accurate walking directions to the app, as public transit stations can seemingly go on for blocks and center points used by other services weren’t always the closest. They also started sending out their own version of a vehicle that uses sensors to map roads.

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Apple Maps now provides a more robust user experience with enhanced features. Photo: AP/Eric Risberg

When Apple booted the Google Maps app off of their iOS they made Apple Maps a core iPhone feature. This made it easier for outside developers to include mapping features in their apps. For example, when you got to a Yelp business listing you can find directions with just one tap. When you got to any business’ app, you can now see all of their stores.

Additionally, when you ask for directions while using iPhone’s Siri voice assistant it leads the user straight to Apple Maps. The same happens when a user taps on an address in Mail and other iPhone apps. This default behavior isn’t just a competitive advantage for Apple, but it’s actually a convenience for many users that don’t want to upload or go to a different map app on their iPhone.

Apple’s huge investment in fixing Apple Maps emphasizes how massively important maps are to tech companies. This is because location is paramount in helping mobile phone users find local restaurants and shops, to discover things to do in the area, and just to get around. Of course, it’s also BIG business to app makers as they use the core functionality of the mapping service to direct users in beneficial ways and offer them discounts or personalized sale offers based upon where their location is.

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Apple Maps app on an Apple Watch. Photo: AP/Eric Risberg

The brand says it’s not done improving Apple Maps. While the experience is infinitely better than when first launched, you can bet the farm that upgrades and new features will appear in the near future making the app even more user-friendly and robust. Some of these services will undoubtedly include the ability to let motorists store mapping data so that they can use the app even when cell service is intermittent. Mapping indoor venues is also a priority, as Apple unveiled its Indoor Survey App earlier this fall. Although it’s a separate app, it will clearly be used in conjunction with Apple Maps in the future. Look for better updates in temporary service changes to mass transit as well.