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Apple created the iOS public beta because its Maps app was so bad

In a new interview with Fast Company, Apple senior vice president Eddy Cue revealed that the 2012 Maps debacle was directly responsible for the company moving to public beta testing for new iOS releases. Apple’s replacement for Google Maps, which debuted as part of iOS 6, was so poorly received that it led to the departure of longtime executive Scott Forstall and numerous public apologies from CEO Tim Cook. “Look, the first thing is that you’re embarrassed,” Cue told Fast Company, recalling the widespread criticism of Maps. “We had completely underestimated the product, the complexity of it.”

That led to discussions among Apple’s senior executive team on whether it was worth sticking with the product at all, or if Apple should just dismiss it as a humiliating mistake and go back to tried and true third-party apps like Google Maps. Ultimately, everyone agreed that fixing Maps (which has noticeably improved in recent years) was a better option than abandoning it. “There were so many features that we wanted to build that are dependent on that technology, and we couldn’t see ourselves being in a position where that was something that we didn’t own,” Cue said.

But the bruise permanently changed Apple’s philosophy on software. Secrecy became less important than releasing a satisfactory product. “We made significant changes to all of our development processes because of it,” Cue said. “To all of us living in Cupertino, the maps for here were pretty darn good. Right? So [the problem] wasn’t obvious to us. We were never able to take it out to a large number of users to get that feedback. Now we do.”

Macs came first, but the first public beta of iOS — for version 8.3 — arrived in March 2015. iOS 9 would follow later, and today consumers are able to install and use iOS 10 ahead of its widespread release this fall. “The reason you as a customer are going to be able to test iOS is because of Maps.” Steve Jobs “never liked to do” public beta testing of Apple software, according to the Fast Company story; under his leadership, preview releases of iOS were made available only to app developers.

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