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

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.