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Data Beats Math –Why Apple’s Maps Failure is a Big Data Problem

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At Lightspeed, we’ve been investing in the theme of Big Data over the last four years.  We like to say that at the core of the theme is the simple idea that “data beats math” or put another way that predictive algorithms working with data samples will never beat analysis where ALL of the data is evaluated.  

We started by investing in building block companies, DataStax and MapR, two pioneers building enterprise class platforms for “big data” workloads by leveraging Cassandra and Hadoop.  But we’re also big believers that with these innovative technologies maturing almost every industry, from healthcare to retail, will benefit from the power of “big data” solutions. 

There are already some industries benefiting by harnessing the power of these new technologies and pointing them at specific problems where better answers could be derived by looking at MORE data FASTER – companies like ZestCash* that is using big data to provide customers with better options in financial lending and Boundary* which is using big data to revolutionize the IT monitoring space.   

The recent chatter about how Apple Maps pale in comparison to Google Maps – ignited by all the iOS 6 users who are now forced to use the Apple product is a perfect example of “data beats math” in action. 


Why?  In addition to harnessing data from across the network (Google Earth, Listings, etc.), Google Maps has the potentially insurmountable advantage of using collected, historical data about what routes users actually take.  They use that information to drive and prioritize recommendations the next time somebody asks for the same directions or the same location.  

Conversely, Apple’s data set is infinitely smaller and therefore less accurate.  So until Apple builds up enough historical data to compete with Google, the product will be inferior because at the risk of over simplification it has to “guess” about the answer.  And as many have pointed out on Twitter, blog, etc. right now guessing just isn’t cutting it.   

The big question is will people endure the inferiority of Apple Maps long enough to let Apple capture enough data to provide comparable answers to the Google Maps product?  Time will tell, but for my part I’ll be seeking out alternatives for my iPhone.

*Lightspeed backed companies


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