Without a good map, you will get lost.

Since I got my first iPhone a number of years ago, I have become more and more dependent on the maps app. I drive an older car without a GPS system and the phone/app has saved me on numerous occasions from being hopelessly lost. Of course, being saved depended on a decent cellular phone signal. This was easier when I lived in New York City than it is today in the wilds of New Hampshire.

When Apple came out with iOS 6, the new iPhone operating system, I eagerly downloaded it to get all of the wonderful new stuff. Much to my chagrin that great maps app had been replaced with some crude, inaccurate thing.

Turns out, my beloved maps app was a Google app. Apple and Google  are “rivals” in the software industry, say the trade papers. The new maps app was Apple’s version. Google had been banished.

Apple had been on the acquisition trail bringing companies into the fold with map expertise so they could bump Google off their iPhone platform. Students in any of my strategy classes will tell you that growth through acquisition is a dodgy strategy at best. So many things get in the way: inconsistent technology, different cultures, divergent visions, too much leverage, and numbers that just don’t work no matter how they are juiced (right Time Warner?)

Now for my prediction. Apple is becoming lost.

In Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, predominantly written while Steve was still alive and suffering terribly from the damned disease that finally took him, Steve is often quoted, in response to something that he felt was not just right, “This is a piece of shit, it sucks.” (I could have this misquoted. Gwen packed up the book to lessen some of the crowding in our tiny apartment. It is close, however, and makes the point.)

Now to dump an app that is so amazingly useful to me and other customers seems a true violation of good practice. How out of touch with their customers can Apple be?

Was Steve so much in touch with us when he made his nasty proclamations? Well, not really. It was not that he spent every waking hour focused on the customers. The amazing thing is that he somehow had us already built into his brain. This was part of his genius.

The genius is gone and Apple must now behave more like all of the other companies. They have to stay in close touch with their customers.

Another recent example, is Apple’s new computer operating system, Mountain Lion. When I installed that, again excited about all the cool new stuff, what happened? Apple had taken access to RSS feeds (neat little automatic news feed kinda things) out of their mail system MacMail and their browser, Safari. No warning, no information on how you could replace the function was offered. Just, poof, they were gone.

I discovered that most tech competent folks had other ways of capturing RSS feeds. Troglodytes like me, who found easy access to RSS through these two Apple approaches were just wiped out. I have tried to figure out how the “smart” folks do it but I still don’t have as simple an approach as having MacMail do it for me.

Don’t bother to ask customers. Apple engineers must just ask the engineer at the next desk or cube or core balance ball chair.

Absent genius, companies have to depend on regular people behaving according to learned management practices that have been proven successful for others. This unfortunately, begins the inevitable drift of Apple to normalcy and even mediocrity.

The drift has begun. Apple is becoming lost and they have crappy maps so they will probably stay lost.

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