Let’s Agree on What We Disagree About

Management genius Peter Drucker wisely observed that 90% of the disagreements in life arise from a failure to agree on what the disagreement is about.  I’ve been reminded of that comment this week in the aftermath of the problematic launch of Apple Maps.  A certain segment of the argument for and against Apple’s decision to launch goes like this:

Side 1:  Apple Maps are a major step back!  They shouldn’t have put them out!  Steve sure wouldn’t have!!!

Side 2: You don’t get it, Mush-for-Brains.  Apple had to build their own map to get away from The Great Evil!

Are so it goes, back and forth for a few dozen comments appended to the initiating blog.

It is a non-argument because the positions are not contradictory, which is typically a good starting point for a good argument (in my mind, John Cleese is saying “No it isn’t!).

Both points are true:

  • Apple maps have many glaring errors as has been amply pointed out by many, many people.
  • Apple did, in fact need to build it’s own maps.  Partially this was because Google was withholding some features from the product they offered Apple, notably navigation. But more importantly because Google uses their maps to drive a tremendous amount of data collection that they are and will increasingly use to drive better maps, customer intimacy and better approaches to marketing.  Apple could not continue to feed the Google marketing machine while continuing to compete tooth and nail for dominance of the mobile OS market. Bill Gurley did a good exploration of the underlying advantage that Google is pushing back in his “Less Than Free” blog in 2009 and many others have commented on it since.  It’s worth reading.

So, given that both halves of this non-argument are true, a couple interesting questions come up:

  1. If Apple had to build its own map platform in order to continue to be competitive, isn’t the same true for other companies that aspire to the same position in the mobile internet?  Thinking Amazon, Facebook, Samsung and others. Why would their situation be different from Apple’s?
  2. If you were the CEO of one of those companies, and were seeing all the flak Apple has gotten in the last week, despite four years of work by some very smart people,  why in the world would you want to start down that path?  Many of the people who definitively declared maps commoditized two weeks have now equally definitively declared their enduring conviction that “Maps are Hard!” Given that, would these CEO’s be willing to take the risk of rolling their own.
  3. But they have to (See Point 1)

I have no inside knowledge about whether Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos or Geesung Choi are even thinking about building their own map platform, but if they did, what might they learn from Apple’s experience?  And how could they adapt since they’d be starting four years later, and that much further behind? Or should they figure out another way to go?  Amazon has bought a mapping company (UpNext) and made a deal with Nokia, so they seem to be doing a bit of both.

Interesting topic for another blog. What would you do differently?


2 thoughts on “Let’s Agree on What We Disagree About

    1. Hi Richard, thanks for putting up that link. I think that refers to a map that Nokia is providing. As mentioned, they also bought UpNext maps a few months ago so they may be also working on their own map service. Nokia is now providing maps for Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon and (through Bing) Facebook.

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