It seems that no launch of an iPhone is complete without intense focus on a single feature, deemed lacking, of the product. This year it was always going to be a toss-up between the new Dock and the Maps app, and it looks like it's officially Maps.
For some reason this hyperbole has been suffixed by the term ‘gate’, a reference to the Watergate scandal in 1972 when the President Of The United States formed a team to break into the hotel room of the opposition Democratic Party and place a wiretap on their phone, and the FBI arrested them and connected cash on the men to a slush fund for Richard Nixon’s re-election.
Let’s all just let that attempt to override the democratic process of the United States by the - then - most powerful person on earth, at a time when the world was considered to be on the brink of nuclear war, sit for a moment alongside Apple’s Map search’s inability to find Truro on the Map.
It’s also usually accompanied with some kind of hysterical “Apple is teh Doomed’ style commentary, typically from enthusiastic Apple detractors (a mixture of trolls that find Apple fandom funny, which to be fair it is; and other tech companies who’d rather they sold some products this year).
This is all egged on by a tech press, keen to get traffic and Apple SNAFU stories always do well (articles about Maps are currently trending highest on Macworld).
Meanwhile, Apple consistently sells more iPhones with ever launch, and while we’re sure the bubble may burst one day, it probably isn’t going to be today. So we thought we'd put things in perspective with a history of Apple launch '-gates' and how they stack up.
Mapgate - iOS 6 and iPhone 5
This year it seems that it’s the (admittedly more than a bit wonky) update to Apple Maps in iOS 6 that has caught the attention of the tech world. We did think, for a while, that it might be the new smaller Dock connector and the requirement to purchase a new Apple Connector for £25. Admittedly, this is high and annoying, but with early adopters are queuing up to spend £529 for a phone they can only sing Cry Me A River so much. Maps, however, that affects everybody.
And it is a bit of a problem. Admittedly a bit of a first-world problem, and not the end of the world. But the new Maps app is genuinely not as good as Google Maps as our iOS Review points out. Bit if, like us, you’re wading through Map hyperbole (probably while waiting for the iPhone 5 to arrive) we though you might want to take a look at a brief history of Apple launch gate-based hysteria.
Batterygate - iOS 5 and iPhone 4S
After the whole world went a little crazy over the iPhone 4 (below) the iPhone 4S launch was relatively small scale. There was, however, a half-hearted attempt to introduce Batterygate into the public consciousness. Apparantly some iPhone 4s models battery drained extremely quickly, and was rumorued to be due to constant iCloud syncing. This didn’t affect all users, or indeed many users, so few people cared. And by god did this phone have a good antenna. Two of them, in fact. Just in case.
Like Heatgate, Batterygate crops up again and again again.
Antennagate - iOS 4 and iPhone 4
This was the one where the whole world seemed to go a little crazy for a while. Somebody figured out that if you held your hand over the join in the iPhone antenna that you’d lose a bar or two from the signal quality. The great thing about this was that everybody could do this at home, so we could all join in. Including the national press. Even BBC’s Newsnight interviewed us about it, which was the point where we genuinely thought the world had gone a little mad and should perhaps take a couple of pills and lie down for half an hour.
MobileMeGate iOS 4 and iPhone 3GS
“Can somebody please tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?”, Steve Jobs asked the development team after it’s launch, and after hearing a reply allegedly shouted “So why the fuck doesn’t it do that?”
Actually this is probably the most comparable flaw to Maps that we have. MobileMe was supposed to be “Exchange for the Rest Of Us”, a service that push synced your mail, contacts, and calendars seamlessly to all devices. Only it didn’t. The Mail server fell over, contacts vanished completely from devices. Apple moved quickly to fix the faults (as it is with Maps) but the service was tarnished and eventually was replaced with iCloud, which works.
See also: Apple's MobileMe Problem Child
Let’s also not forget the equally problematic Slowgate that affected iPhone 3G owners. The 3GS with its faster processor ran iOS 4 admirably, the older 3G became virtually unusable until Apple issued the 4.1 update. A web developer at Macworld said to us “this is the last Apple product I will ever buy”. Not that it’s stopped Apple being successful with the iPhone, but we think this was actually the most problematic launch.
Heatgate - iOS 2 and iPhone 3G iPhone 3G
The iPhone 3G was the point where the iPhone really started to fly in the UK, and around the world. And it turns out that some places are hotter than others (who’d have thought it). And that Apple rather sensibly built an overheating feature that switches off the iPhone 3G when it gets too hot, rather than letting it melt. Cue panic “Is the iPhone overheating” stories. For some reason this story is perpetually popular, and like the Lock Ness Monster pops up every so often with new Apple products like the iPad, iPad 2, new iPad, and so on.
Activationgate or Pricegate - iPhone and iOS 1
Even when the iPhone first came out of the gate, it had a ‘gate’ suffix. Although there was competition between two issues. The first was activation problems in the US that meant AT&T couldn’t activate some phones, leading to “I’ve spent $599 on a brick” type stories. O2 in the UK wasn't immune either, also cracking under the pressure of so many sales.
This was followed by Pricegate, when Apple slashed $200 from the price of the iPhone after just two months on sale, citing the wholly unreasonable desire to “make it more affordable to even more customers”. Outrage followed leading to Steve Jobs writing a letter on the Apple website and offering a $100 store voucher to each early adopter.
In fairness, Apple’s Maps app is manifestly not as detailed or accurate as Google Maps. Something that Apple is, by all accounts, scrambling to fix and improve (by locking up its engineers in a room until it’s sorted.
But every year there is an annual iPhone SNAFU that the press latches on to, and this year it’s maps. It’s not the end of the world. Apple will - hopefully - improve the Maps service, and fix any problems. Google map get its App back on the store. Lots of people will continue to buy iPhone devices (or alternatives if they’d prefer). The world still spins.
Interestingly the hoohah surrounding gates focuses on iPhone and iOS features, rather than Mac features. There has been relatively little furore surrounding Apple decision to introduce an third-party app approval feature into the Mac OS X operating system, so we can’t write about Gatekeepergate.