Users Are Indeed Trying and Ditching Apple Maps

Photograph by A.B./Getty Images

Last week, data surfaced from app development shop Snappli, suggesting that a large number of iOS users had quickly tried iOS Maps and just as quickly dumped it. Since Apple launched Maps, Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has offered a public apology on the mapping issues and the iTunes App Store began featuring map alternatives. Clearly, something’s not quite right. But folks looking to see the bright side of the picture don’t believe Snappli’s data, so on Tuesday, the company penned a blog post to explain the methodology behind the numbers.

Because Snappli is a data-compression service, some assumed it was simply looking at smartphone data usage to determine that Maps had a fast uptake, only to see that merely 1 in 25 users continue to use it. And since Apple’s Maps use vector graphics combined with pre-loaded map data, it doesn’t need to keep getting more data for usage, so Snappli’s report was deemed inaccurate. That’s a reasonable assumption—but it’s incorrect, based on Snappli’s post.

From Snappli, with emphasis added by me: “[W]e were looking to see if we could detect any anonymized traffic from the Apple Maps app on any given day. We were not looking at the total amount of data used by the app. Our goal was to measure popularity, not how data hungry the app was, nor the impact of vector graphics. Some of you have asked us whether we accounted for variability in traffic over days of the week—the answer is yes, we made the effort to look at usage for the five days before and the five days after a day zero (with day zero being the day each user updated to iOS 6).”

As I read this then—and I’ve just clarified multiple items with the Snappli team over e-mails—the company’s report last week had nothing to do with the amount of data use for iOS devices running Maps; it simply checked the usage of maps, which would throw out the whole vector graphics argument. A Snappli rep told me in no uncertain terms that “Data we published was based on users using the app at all rather than on how much data.”

When I further inquired about Snappli’s process for apps that don’t use any data, I was told: “Snappli would know if any app was accessed or engaged with as long as any amount of data whatsoever is requested. When we used the terminology “using the app” we mean the user or the app itself actually making a data request of some kind however minimal. While Apple Maps has been shown to use less data than Google on iOS on a like for like basis due to use of vector graphics, there is still almost always a data request of some kind when users engage. So while it’s possible for a user to open an app, scroll a previously downloaded map and hence not pass any data whatsoever and therefore not be measured by Snappli, this is certainly an edge case.”

Essentially then, any iOS Maps user that didn’t request a single byte of data would pass by Snappli, sight unseen. That scenario—called an edge case by Snappli—would skew the data toward fewer Maps users. Even with such cases, it’s reasonable to believe that in Snappli’s data set, a large number of users stopped using Maps within a few days of having upgraded to iOS 6. Other possibilities for the Snappli results: Perhaps the sample simply doesn’t use Maps on a regular basis or Maps is so efficient that it works with local device data for the majority of people’s needs.

Apple users are typically supportive of the company’s devices and services—and I mean that positively—so I wasn’t surprised to see enthusiasts dig a little deeper into Snappli’s original data. Because Snappli is a young startup, it’s reasonable to make certain assumptions and question them.

However, it appears that among the sample size of 5,000 Snappli users, most are looking outside Apple for mapping needs. Snappli’s founders, Eldar Tuvey and Roy Tuvey, previously founded ScanSafe, which mined over 3 billion daily Web requests, creating weekly industry research for several years before Cisco acquired it.

Will the Maps issue to any extent slow iPhone sales or have a major impact on Apple? I doubt it. If anything, the problem will help Apple make a good product even better as the company moves quickly to fix any issues in the Maps application.

Also from GigaOM:

Why (and How) the Apple Maps Debacle Should Be Nokia’s Gain (subscription required)

AT&T Doubles Down on Bloom Energy Fuel Cells

Like Color, Time for Airtime to Get off the Air

The New Era of Startups Focused on Design

Why the Trick to Analyzing Twitter Data Is More Data

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.