Apple's Map sackings continue, so why does it matter?

How important are Maps to Apple [AAPL]? Very important, if the recent rash of senior sackings and the company's public apology mean anything at all. So why do Maps matter? Here's three potential reasons behind the company's cartographic conundrum.

Apple sacks Maps executive

The smart car

Apple and General Motors this week announced plans to put support for iOS6's Siri and its EyesFree feature inside new model Chevrolets, starting next year with the upcoming Chevrolet Spark (1LT, 2LT) and Sonic LTZ and RS.

It isn't just General Motors. Auto manufacturers BMW, Mercedes, Land Rover, Jaguar, Audi, Toyota, Chrysler and Honda have also announced plans to deploy Siri support in their cars. And surely it's a no-brainer Ferrari's planning similar support, given Apple's iTunes chief, Eddy Cue, now sits on the board.

Siri's EyesFree feature won't let you surf the Internet, but will allow you to use your voice to send messages, make calls, set reminders, access in-car information systems and launch apps. Apps such as Maps, equipped with such things as driving directions and traffic congestion data.

Apple's clearly put a great deal of groundwork into reaching this kind of arrangement with car manufacturers. In doing so the company has leaned heavily on the work its teams did to reach accords with the auto men for inclusion of iPod support in previous years.

It's also possible the deals were done by Apple's top fixer, Eddy Cue -- how else has he ended up with a director's chair at Ferrari? Might Cue's position in these negotiations have bruised other egos involved in development of these new relationships and the new Maps feature?

With this in mind it seems almost churlish that Apple hasn't yet acquired TomTom, after all, when things do eventually go right, the latter firm's business will be decimated.

The flaw? The maps used need to be accurate if vehicle firms intend offering them to customers.

Apple sacks Maps exec Williamson

[ABOVE: No queue for parking? No wonder she's smiling...]

The smart city

The challenge with driving directions is that simple geographical instruction habitually sends drivers into heavily congested routes which seem great on the map but which get widely used simply because they do. The missing link here is up-to-the-minute traffic information systems.

These do already exist, but they still rely on human input, don't provide complete coverage and take time to propagate via existing traffic management solutions.

This changes from now, as cities worldwide begin their investments in smart, connected traffic management systems capable of real-time monitoring of what's taking place on the roads.

Deals are already being reached between network providers and incumbent real-time traffic management system firms such as Streetline. Systems are already being deployed.

The eventual intention is to reduce traffic congestion through real-time management and monitoring systems (including provision of controllable street signs that may block some roads or change traffic light timing patterns in an attempt to reduce what congestion does build up.)

Drivers should also benefit from the provision of fast and immediate feedback on available parking spaces in specific areas using such systems. Municipal managers benefit from reducing the impact of traffic strain on their road transport systems; while everyone should end up with a faster commute.

Most of these solutions will offer up their data in some form of open format, meaning the Google's and Apple's of this world will perhaps be able to bring in data from smart city traffic management systems to offer incredibly accurate traffic information.

The flaw? The maps used need to be accurate for these solutions to be effective.

[ABOVE: Here's the Yeah Yeah Yeahs singing their song, 'Maps'.]

The smart shopper

Augmented reality apps are quite popular. Nokia Maps' City Lens is one of the leading features of the new Lumia. People like that they can wander round a new city and find what they're looking for. Siri offers this in that it links with popular services such as Yelp, and of course there's the Find My Friends feature for other forms of social contact.

Many of these solutions already offer some integration with Maps, with the help of third party apps. The ones we see today only scratch the surface when it comes to the depth and complexity of available information as the cityscape becomes ever more connected.

Location data twinned with intelligent, preference-based recommendation systems offer much future opportunity -- though the opportunity isn't without threats, principally to personal privacy, which is something that’s still to be satisfactorily defined.

Assuming a satisfactory definition of people's right to privacy in the face of these new technologies can be figured out, these three horsemen of auto information, city information and augmented navigation systems mean that at some indeterminate future point you'll climb into your vehicle in a new town and say:

"Siri, I want to visit the most cutting-edge comic shop in town. Take me there."

You won't know where the shop is, you won't know the town, and you won't know where you're going.

In a few seconds, Siri will poll the various systems, figure out the destination by assessing available user-submitted reviews, figure out how to get there, check that route against available traffic information systems, tweaking the route to avoid any congested areas, and find you a potential parking space.

It will offer you a few alternative retailers, and will let you know if any of these are offering a discount sale at that time.

The flaw? The maps used need to be accurate for these solutions to be effective.

Speaking to BusinessInsider Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst at Forrester Research said:

"Maps are a mission-critical application, and consumers have to trust that what they are seeing is correct. Apple will have to work really hard to re-earn that trust.”

Hopefully these three emerging scenarios underscore just why heads are still rolling at Apple as the company strives to make good its flawed Maps release. There's no way Scott Forstall or Apple's departing Maps overseer, Richard Williamson, can have been blind to these implementations.

Maps need to be accurate, or they're not maps, after all.

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