Maps Hype

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The new iPhone 5 is tremendously successful. iOS 6 is fast, sleek, and feature-packed. While many Apple users are jumping for joy, many on the Internet have resorted to cheap tricks to counter this success. The distorted criticism of iOS 6 Maps has this Apple critic actually defending Apple. Having used the app extensively, I can honestly say it is amazing. It is fast, well-designed, accurate, useful and simply beautiful.

In the wake of the media fiasco, Tim Cook has officially apologized for Maps. This is unprecedented for Apple, and a sign of their new leadership. Steve Jobs did address “antennagate”, however, he claimed that users shouldn’t hold the phone a certain way. He was also correct that all phones have this issue. My last feature phone even had a sticker telling the user not to hold it in a certain area.

I think Steve Jobs was correct in not apologizing. When the Maps fiasco first surfaced, many sighed and remarked that this is antennagate all over. No mapping software is perfect. No phone is perfect. Apple is held to a higher standard than others. I think Reminders in iOS 5 was far worse than Maps. The YouTube app was also pretty bad. For me, Maps seemed to be of higher quality than most apps bundled with iOS.

I still think Maps is decent and the victim of a blogosphere smear campaign. Yes, and I operate this site which is critical of Apple! In my opinion, Cook apologized because of the media storm, not because Maps is awful and un-usable. One could say Maps does not live up to Apple standards. However, Apple has released worse software. Even getting my iPad to successfully sync with iTunes over wi-fi is a roll of the dice (and will be the subject of an upcoming how-to article). Where is the media on this one? The media have thorns in their sides, obsessively fixated on Maps. Competitors are pouring gasoline on the blogosphere distortion machine, hoping to put a dent in iPhone 5 sales. It seems with every Apple release, there is one issue that is blown out of proportion. It doesn’t stop people from lining up for days to get the new Apple device.

This marks a new direction for Apple leadership. Cook is more humble and down-to-earth. I personally think no apology was necessary. I have used Maps extensively, and it has worked well for me. That said, I mainly use the navigation system in my automobile. Cook even recommended other mapping/nav apps until Apple could fix the problems. Unfortunately, since iOS 6 Maps relies on user feedback for corrections, if too many users defect, it could slow down improvements. Cook mentions that with 100 million iOS users currently using Maps, the “…more our customers use our Maps the better it will get”. I plan on using Maps, but verifying critical destinations with MapQuest or Google Maps. One can use Google Maps via Safari, but it does not have voice-based navigation. This has me preferring MapQuest, which is a free app. I think the real-time traffic in Maps is useful, accurate, and has saved me paying for this feature on my car’s nav system.

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  1. Even my friend that has a job at Apple thought this was a bridge too far… their proxy war with Google finally bit the users hard. This is no smear campaign~ and I doubt Cook would have apologized unless there really were dealbreaker errors. They cancelled their deal with google early and seriously underestimated the work that has gone into G-maps, and once again, took choice away from the end user.

    1. Having used iOS 6 Maps extensively, I can honestly say it is quite good. Since I used MapQuest and the nav in my car, this move didn’t bite me at all. Larry Magid of the San Jose Mercury News, amongst others, agrees. NBC News also ran a story about how it’s actually a good app and is the victim of hype.

      The app is excellent, but the underlying data seem to be inaccurate in some cases. The app has a very handy mechanism for users to report corrections. With hundreds of millions of iOS users around the world, it will be even more accurate. Bloggers are taking these isolated examples and having a field day. The data in the SF Bay Area are accurate. According to Anthony Drendel’s blog, the data in China are actually superior to Google Maps. One can also nit-pick Google Maps and find flaws, although I think overall they have the largest data set.

      People should use what they want to use. Tim Cook even suggested that anyone having problems with Maps use a variety of other options, including Google Maps. I’m not sure how it limits the user’s choice when iOS users have myriad options, even Google Maps. Before iOS 6 Maps, I was using MapQuest, which had turn-by-turn, spoken directions. It is a free app. Google may or may not create Google Maps for iOS. Apple is not preventing this. The previous version of Maps used Google data, but was developed by Apple, much like the YouTube app.

      The smear campaign refers to Motorola’s ad campaign, as well as the fanboy/blogosphere hype. In most of the legitimate media, which I think also has a fair amount of bias, iOS 6 Maps fares pretty well.

      The notion that only Google can do maps and navigation is ludicrous. They do a great job. Most professional drivers use navigation units, as it is not always possible to access a wi-fi or 3g/4g signal. My car has a navigation unit that uses NAVTEQ data, updatable by DVD. It has never misguided me. Anyway, I am repeating what I already wrote in my article…

    2. Consumer Reports considers iOS 6 Maps to be “competent enough”. Indeed, with further use, in the SF Bay Area, I have yet to find an egregious mistake, or really any issues at all. All map apps have flaws.

      Two years ago, I went to LA for a rock festival. Google Maps street view showed the Radisson Hotel as an abandoned lot. The hotel is at least 20 years old.

      Google Maps has a great data set in many locations, due to the length of its existence. Google is also great at dealing with large sets of data. That said, as an iOS 6 user, I have the choice of using Google Maps, Apple’s Maps, MapQuest, Waze, and a plethora of mapping and navigation applications. Nothing but choice…

      From what I understand, Apple had to ditch Google’s data, as they were not provided with necessary information for turn-by-turn directions. I don’t know the details of these negotiations, but apparently Google gave them an offer they had to refuse. I won’t speculate, as I was not in that conference room. I am also suspect of the blogosphere pundits who think they were a fly on the wall at that negotiation.

      In either event, iOS 6 Maps is a huge improvement over its predecessor. It has spoken turn-by-turn directions, real time traffic information, breathtaking 3D views of major cities, Yelp integration, no advertisements, and the ability to offer corrections within the app, enabling rapid improvements in map data.

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