I have been called an Apple fanboy on numerous occasions, so I may as well accept the moniker and move on. Yes, I love Apple products, and I shudder at the thought of touching Windows. I have no less than 5 Apple devices in my home – a desktop, a laptop, two phones, and the latest iPad – but as of last week they were joined by a lovely little HTC One X, an Android phone. What could have possibly induced such madness and out-of-character purchase? One word – maps.
Directions To Nowhere
Along with iOS6 came a brand new mapping application, the product of multiple technologies and data-sets acquired over the last few years, with road data from leading brand name TomTom – and brand new turn-by-turn navigation feature for anyone with an iPhone 4S or 5. Now, I’ll be the first to admit the turn-by-turn interface is quite good – Siri announces the way in her ever dulcit tones – yet all the directions in the world won’t help if you can’t find the correct destination in the first place. It comes down to what you might call points of interest.
Points Of Interest
Google’s offering has had years to gather intelligence, crowdsourcing the task of marking locations and paying thousands of people to keep the information up to date and relevant. It knows about pretty much anywhere in the world, even that small local store down the road, and makes an intelligent guess at what you’re referring to.
Apple Maps Has Neither
Here’s a quick example: I tried to find “Earls Court”, a famous exhibition center in the middle of London – Apple gave me one result – in Africa. “Harry potter studio tour”? Somewhere in America (uh no, it’s in the town of Leavesden, UK). There’s even a Tumblr blog set up with user submissions of how dumb the app can be.
Honestly, it’s pathetic. I can’t use turn-by-turn anyway on my iPhone 4, but finding the locations in the first place has always been essential for me. Having spent 8 years of my adult life in Kyoto, I am not intimately familiar with every nook and cranny in and around London; I only started driving this year.
For driving directions, I’ve previously relied upon an (expensive) third party navigation app called Don’t Panic. It isn’t great, and suffered the same lack of POIs as the Apple maps app does; but at least I could get vaguely close, and then switch over to Google Maps to find the exact location.
Why not just downgrade, back to iOS5, you might ask? Well, no one likes to downgrade and it wouldn’t fix the core problem anyway. I want a good navigation solution, and nothing has provided me with this on iOS. iOS6 was supposed to fix all that. I would have happily upgraded to the iPhone 5 for turn-by-turn directions alone. I was waiting for that feature ever since it was first announced at the WWDC. What we were promised, and what we received is vastly different.
I’m sure there will be people who do downgrade back to iOS5 for this reason though, and they will find that apps slowly drop support and refuse to install updates; they’ll be forever stuck in some kind of limbo. Or we can wait around for a new Google Maps app to be released, which still won’t have turn-by-turn and is unlikely to arrive anytime soon.
Google Wins Mapping
Google has spent many years gathering information and locations for their superb mapping product, and it’s going to take Apple a long, long time to catch up to anywhere near the same level of quality. I don’t doubt that in the long run, Apple will come back with a fantastic mapping product, something exemplary to suit their gorgeous hardware.
Until then, I need a solution. Tim Cook even went as far as to offer a public apology, admitting their mapping solution wasn’t up to scratch and even suggesting competitors products that could be used instead; but that’s not really a solution, and it’s just not good enough. It is very much out of character for Apple though, so read into that what you will.
At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers. With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.
Must Have Car
Distinctly lacking from the new maps are walking directions and public transport. Apple added one feature (turn-by-turn) and took two away. Like most sane people, I don’t drive into central London – I take the train, and walk. Disregarding the fact that Apple doesn’t know my destination anyway – even if it did, it wouldn’t be able to show me how to get there using anything other than a car. I’ve resorted to using the Transport For London journey planner website, but it’s not the same; it’s not integrated and it still only gets me vaguely to the right place.
Along with the loss of Google also went StreetView – replaced by a 3D-flyover mode (again, only for more recent models); but it’s not in the slightest bit comparable to StreetView. It was obviously just a bit of eye-candy; the supported cities are few and beyond showing off the feature to friends, it quickly lacks any real-world usage.
Abandoning The iOS Ship?
Not entirely. I’ve been pretty vocal about the lack of good quality apps on Android beyond the Google owned products. There just aren’t as many, and of those, most are low-quality amateur offerings. But that doesn’t matter so much on my phone. I still have an iPad for the occasional game and media consumption; my phone is a navigation and communication device – that’s all.
More strongly in my mind is the issue of why Apple removed Google maps in the first place; it has emerged that they still had a year on their contract to licence Maps. Yes, it’s true that Google wasn’t letting them have turn-by-turn and that the Android app is far superior, but at least the core mapping product would have remained stable and functional. I fear a lot of people will jumping ship to Android because of this. It is a rare moment when an Apple product comes up short over their competitors.
What about you? Are you considering switching to Android, or do you not understand what all the fuss is about?