Apple’s Maps in iOS 6: A Bad Start, But Worth a Chance

| Editorial

Apple Maps iOS 6

Apple’s iOS 6 brings many exciting and important changes and improvements to iDevices. One change that has not been met with the usual praise is Apple’s Maps, a new application sourced from Apple-controlled data that replaces the venerable Google Maps that has powered iDevices since 2007.

Since its public launch Wednesday, users have begun to notice serious problems with the accuracy of the mapping data and search capabilities. Streets, points of interest, and even whole towns are missing or badly misplaced on Apple’s maps. Users attempting to search for points of interest near them, something that Steve Jobs touted using Google Maps during the first iPhone’s introduction, have received inaccurate and frustrating results.

Other problems include a lack of detail in congested urban areas, incorrect categorization of certain points of interest, and serious graphical glitches in the app’s 3D “Flyover” mode.

On top of the problems above, many users are quickly beginning to miss important features of Google Maps, such as public transit information and Street View, two features that many users relied on that have no analog in Apple’s app.

Apple Maps iOS 6 Google Maps ComparisonIncorrect placement of points of interest are common in Apple Maps (right) 
compared to Google Maps (left). Image via The Amazing iOS 6 Maps.

All of these points have many iOS users understandably frustrated, as it seems upon first blush that Apple has removed basic and important functionality from its software. The truth of the issue is that Apple felt it had to develop its own mapping solution, and it is the future of mapping on iOS whether users care for it or not.

Google has been providing maps for almost eight years, and has gained much experience over that time. No offering from Apple, however well funded or intentioned, could match Google’s quality in such a short amount of time. The frustration felt by many Apple users, frustration that the company’s competitors and critics are attempting to capitalize on, stems from the uncharacteristically poor offering that Apple chose to release on its flagship product.

Apple historically, and especially during the Steve Jobs years, held off on releasing products and services until they had reached a satisfactory level of function and polish. There were of course several high profile exceptions to this, such as the MobileMe launch, but, overall, users have come to expect a certain level of quality from Apple, and Apple’s Maps app does not meet that standard.

Apple iOS 6 Maps RunwayIncorrect 3D modeling of an airport runway suggests that takeoff will be bumpy.
Image via The Amazing iOS 6 Maps.

Should users abandon the app? Unless you rely on public transit information or Street View, probably not. There are many third party mapping applications, and Google is strongly rumored to have an iOS 6 compatible maps app awaiting Apple’s approval, but to abandon it entirely would arguably be a mistake. Why? Because it’s going to get better, much better, over time.

Apple released a statement to AllThingsD Thursday, in an attempt to make its case: “We launched this new map service knowing that it is a major initiative and we are just getting started with it. We are continuously improving it, and as Maps is a cloud-based solution, the more people use it, the better it will get. We’re also working with developers to integrate some of the amazing transit apps in the App Store into iOS Maps,” the statement read in part.

iOS 6 Apple Maps Google Maps ComparisonMany areas in Apple Maps (right), such as college campuses, lack the detail
found in Google Maps (left). Image via The Amazing iOS 6 Maps.

Apple is quickly moving to control its own destiny, removing services from Google and other industry rivals, and establishing an all-encompassing ecosystem where customers will soon process all of their commerce and mobile entertainment through Cupertino’s services. When you think about it, that’s terribly frightening, but it also means that Apple will not sit idly while a crucial feature of its software platform gets upstaged by third parties and competitors.

iOS 6 Apple Maps Report a ProblemUsers can report problems as they find them to help
improve the accuracy of Apple's mapping data.

Apple’s map data will be continuously improved by user corrections (tapping the arrow on any pin or point of interest allows users to report problems such as incorrect locations), new mapping data from one of the several mapping companies that Apple now owns or has a stake in, and new 3D modeling as problems are reported.

Transit information, identified in Apple’s statement, will also be eventually added, either from third party content deals or Apple’s own initiative. And, going forward, developers will find it far easier to tap into Apple’s mapping APIs than those of now disfavored third party options (just a note: this is not a good thing for Apple to do, but you can be sure it’s going to happen).

Free turn-by-turn directions, once the mapping data is accurate, is also a nice bonus. There are free third party options in the App Store, but the really good ones cost quite a bit. Having the service built-in is something that iOS users have long waited for.

Ironically, the most highly touted feature of Apple’s Maps, Flyover, is the least useful. It’s certainly cool, as long as you’re viewing a select location where the 3D modeling is available and relatively accurate, but it provides less information than Street View does for identifying buildings and storefronts while attempting to navigate a new or unfamiliar location.

In the end, Apple users have experienced a rare slip by the company, one that may not have occurred under the tenure of noted perfectionist Mr. Jobs. The app and service will undoubtedly improve, and users for whom the app does not currently meet their needs should check back in from time to time, as Apple will work hard to ensure that the best maps experience on iOS is provided by their own solution.

However, Apple supporters rejecting complaints from those critical of Apple’s Maps are wrong. As mentioned earlier, Google Maps was a core component of the iOS experience, and one that many users relied on daily. While there was ample warning that iOS 6 would replace Google’s service, many users were not aware of how much functionality they would lose in the transition.

Users have every right to be frustrated, upset, or angry at Apple during this transition. But users committed to iOS for the long term should not give up on Apple Maps. There is no doubt that Apple intends for its service to be the future of mobile mapping in its ecosystem.

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Comments

KitsuneStudios

My biggest concern is that many of the maps issues were noted in the beta, and were not fixed before release.

To me, that indicates Apple does not have the mechanisms in place to fix the errors in the mapping data in a timely manner, and _that_ is potentially fatal.

Lee Dronick

I don’t care for the way it displays traffic, not prominent enough. Make the dashed red line thicker.

Also no block numbers.

Satelitte view doesn’t zoom in very sharp

Logging in on iOS still crashes Safari. Sometimes it takes several attempts before I can comment. Then it auto logs me out too quickly.

Otherwise it looks pretty good and has lots of potential.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Welcome to being Google’s b*tch, Apple. Most valuable company in the world, and you can’t buy 8 years of experience. Hilarious! Sad that your customers will suffer while you play catch-up.

Terrin

Apple can’t have perfect Maps without user data. So the more users try the maps and point out errors, the faster the maps will get better. Apple will act quick here. When it rolled out OSX, it was very buggy and feature incomplete. Several months later, Apple released a major update to address the issues. The same thing happened with Final Cut Pro X. There is no chance Apple isn’t going to sink serious resources into perfecting its mapping solution.

Moreover, people act like Google maps was great. I haven’t used in once in three years. I preferred Map Quest’s iOS app, which gave free turn by turn. Street View is mostly a novelty feature, like Fly Over. Moreover, people can still use excellent third party apps like Navigon and Tom Tom.

webjprgm

I’m keeping my iPhone 4 on iOS 5, but I’ll get iOS 6 when my iPhone 5 arrives (next week, I ordered at 3am PST so I’m one of the unlucky ones).  So I’ll have to try the new maps soon enough.

I’m very excited about the vector maps, since the fact that Google Maps can’t zoom without a million years waiting for data to load drives me nuts.  But if the data is inaccurate, then it’s no good either.  I hope data issues get fixed very fast.

I use street view rarely, but it is quite useful to look at before I go somewhere new so I can recognize the right place.  However, I almost never do so on my phone because the screen is too tiny.  I prefer to use a desktop computer for that, and Google Maps still works perfectly well in my browser.

The lack of polish is unfortunate and annoying, but I fully expected it.  Apple isn’t leaving Google because they can do it better, but because they can’t make a deal they like. (Probably the deal would have to be that Google kills Android.  Remember the Jobs thermonuclear war quote.)

Rafael Verduzco

I guess Apple is ‘pulling a linux’ with Maps.app: implement and ship something although is half baked and has a lot of rough edges, try to make it better with time (hopefully).

I switched from Linux to Mac a few years ago (and later to iOS) because of the attention to detail and the almost complete abscence of half-baked software. Maybe we are just being too hard with Apple. Maybe they really couldn’t get a good deal with Google and were FORCED to pull their own maps solution in relatively short time (although I remember they acquired a maps technology company about a year ago).

For the time being, I’m sticking with Google Maps via Safari. Even though the vector graphics of Maps.app are way faster than Google’s graphics, of what use is a map that has so many inacuracies?

duanfromhp

I’ve only played briefly with apple’s IO6 maps, but it’s fair to say that in Ireland it’s got a very poor reaction, including an amused comment from a cabinet minister
““I know on occasion mistakes can be made and I am surprised to discover that Airfield, which is in the centre of my constituency in Dundrum, has, in Apple’s new operating system iOS6 maps application, been designated with the image of an aircraft,” he said.

Apple’s new iOS6 maps app has placed a standard airport map symbol on the spot of Airfield, a 35-acre site that is home to a city farm, gardens and a cafe.

“In the context of Airfield there are a variety of possible alternative images that could be utilised, such as a cow, a goat, a sheep, a flower or indeed any other type of plant, as Airfield operates a nursery,” Mr Shatter’s statement said. “An aircraft is an entirely inappropriate flight of imagination.”

http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2012/0921/1224324231646.html

Lee Dronick

See today’s Joy of Tech comic http://www.joyoftech.com/joyoftech/joyarchives/1745.html

Jim Tanous

Lee said: “See today’s Joy of Tech comic http://www.joyoftech.com/joyoftech/joyarchives/1745.html”

Nice, Lee. smile I LOL’d

Jack

Yes there are errors but I used the turn by turn from the airport to my home (34 mile drive) multiple highways and city streets and made my own decisions regarding where to turn. The speed at which my iphone 4S recalculated was astonishing. Faster than any TomTom or Garmin Car GPS I have ever owned. So… while we all bash them for poor QA practices it seems to me the underlying software engine is really good. Oh and it was 100 percent accurate on my test drive.

Robbo

@ Bosco, it’s unfortunate but you are correct.

I pity Apple right now, they could be flooded with hundreds of thousands of map corrections in all languages as well. I suspect that the vast majority will have to be hand checked for accuracy and a fair % will be spoofers have a dig at Apple. So the customer will suffer and I suspect for many just abandon it, maybe to never come back. A digital map has to be a direct alternative to a physical map otherwise forget it.

I’d also blame TT for a large part, I have sent in street corrections many times for London, UK, but the maps never get corrected.

FlipFriddle

If Apple can control how the maps are corrected in a better way than Google, they should be in good shape. I’m in charge of the university maps where I work and trying to get Google to update things is maddening, convoluted, and often pointless. They allow anyone to change anything at anytime, and users get to be decision makers on that by merely using the service a lot. Our university google map is riddled with mistakes and odd notations. I like that Apple’s solution is vector based as it should produce much better printed maps and load faster. We’l;l see how it goes.

Dane Udenberg

When Siri came out last year, they described it as still being in Beta.  In my memory, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard Apple disclaim a product they released like that, but at least they put it out there, basically saying, “Here it is, we’re still working on it, but have fun with it in the meanwhile”  Hey, I can deal with that.  But to trumpet the release of their new Map app as if it’s ready for primetime when they most certainly realized it wasn’t, is really bad PR.  They’ll survive it, because they have a lot of good will built up among their users for their normally clean-as-a-whistle programming.  But do this kind of thing too often, that good will is going to erode, their credibility will suffer, and then we start to see a slippery slope of reduced sales, slipping stock value, etc.

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