It’s 10:30 p.m. and I’m hanging off the side of a mountain in Switzerland’s Matterhorn region. In a rental car.
The Google-powered Maps app on my iPhone 4S is telling me this is the way to the Gasthaus Alpenroesli. It’s not. But I don’t know that yet. The road this supposedly vaunted mapping app, which has been under continuous development and improvement since 2007, has sent me on has narrowed in the last 100 meters to about a meter in width. The pavement ended some time ago, and now this…this…cow path is headed straight up a mountain.
The path is so steep my rented Opel Corsa (with its “mighty” 1.6-liter engine) can’t even get up it in first gear. I roast the clutch and over-rev the engine to get up a short section to a farmer’s cabin. He rolls his eyes when I ask him if this is the Alpenroesli. He points me in another direction – toward a higher road that I had been on a couple of minutes earlier, until the Maps app told me I was going the wrong way.
Actually, this was Maps’ third chance to get me to the Gasenreid guesthouse; two previous attempts had me going up the road to Graechen and some other uncharted cluster of farmhouses.
When I finally arrived at the Alpenroesli, the worried innkeeper asked me how I had gotten there in the dark. When I pointed to the path, she gave me a “you’re lucky to be alive” look, and shook her head. At dawn’s light, I saw what she meant.
This isn’t the first time the Google Maps app on my iPhone has nearly killed me. When I was driving a quarter-million-dollar Audi R8 through the Austrian Alps one night last year, it directed me down a road that dead-ended over a cliff. In Sorrento, Italy, it guided me down a walking path that narrowed to less than the width of my Abarth; locals had to pull me backwards to help me out of there. Later that evening, it pointed me down what became a sidewalk in front of a church, and then up a flight of 33 stone stairs – toward the main highway above. In Italy’s Nova Siri, it directed me onto fruit pickers’ roads through an apricot orchard to the Ionian Sea.
I have not tried Apple’s new mapping app – you know the one that earned so much initial scorn, when the iPhone5 and new iOS were introduced. But I can’t imagine it being any dumber – or more dangerous – than Google’s Maps.
October 10, 2012