While my first hands-on impressions of the iPhone 5 are quite positive, with a proper review still to come, there is actually one thing that’s genuinely “boring”, if not much worse, with Apple’s iPhone 5: the Apple Maps app that has replaced Google Maps in iOS 6 - despite the headline features of navigation and 'flyovers'.
Of course, with iOS 6 running on the iPhone 3GS, 4, 4S, iPod Touch 4th generation, upcoming 5th generation, iPad 2 and new iPad, as well as the iPhone 5, it’s not just iPhone 5 owners that are “suffering” from Apple’s schizophrenic maps app.
On one hand, Apple’s new Maps app features vector-based maps for super-fast loading, free turn-by-turn navigation in many countries (although not yet Australia a and a handful of other countries that will get voice-driven turn-by-turn navigation in October) and a new “flyover” mode that works on some (but not all) iOS 6 powered devices.
On the other hand, it’s clear that not only is “flyover” only available for a fraction of the world’s cities (as Apple must fly planes over cities to capture enough imagery to turn into flyover ‘3D’ amazingness), and that the transit information and Street View imagery that Google has made into two of the mainstays of its maps app are completely and utterly missing within the Apple Maps app itself, but also the inescapable fact that Apple’s maps, points of interest info, street and place names and satellite imagery are, in many cases and many places, nowhere near as detailed and accurate as those from mapping maestro, Google, and in some cases, astoundingly incorrect.
Indeed, it is a catalogue of what is clearly Apple’s absolutely worst software product of 2012, nestled within what is arguably its best in iOS 6.
Apple had to make its own maps app to free itself from Google’s talons and whatever Google’s demands were for continued licensing of Google Maps data, and it’s obvious that Apple knew full well that TomTom’s data was simply not up to scratch when compared with Google’s data.
Apple has included a “report a problem” link for its maps under the “curl” of the map where you can select different map styles and other information, and it’s obvious that Apple is hoping its end-users will help the company rapidly improve and fix all the errors that end-users know to be wrong, and hopefully, Apple can extremely quickly incorporate all the solutions to reported problems.
Obviously the reported solutions will need to be vetted for accuracy, and this will add to the time it will take to massively and rapidly improve Apple Maps data, something Apple’s competitors will no doubt seize upon when comparing this feature with their own mapping data, technologies and apps, and uncharacteristically puts Apple on the back foot and at a surprising disadvantage.
Apple clearly knew this tsunami of richly deserved criticism was coming, and while the pain is clearly evident for end-users, some of whom feel extremely let down by the change (especially those who relied on Google Maps and had absolutely no idea a change was coming in iOS 6), the decision was made so that Apple could literally map out its own mapping destiny free from Google’s prying eyes and redraw the map when it came to maps.
For many, this is no excuse for delivering an inferior and substandard mapping app when compared to Google Maps, and those who are unhappy are clearly right to feel aggrieved by a map that is leading at least some users right up the garden path to a never-never world even Peter Pan would have difficulty in finding his way around.
Thankfully, Google Maps fans do have an alternative available for iOS 6, even though Google has not yet created a native Google Maps app for iOS 6 (or at the very least, had one approved for release by Apple).
That alternative is visiting “maps.google.com” in your Safari browser and clicking on the “pop up” which lets you put a “Google Maps” web app icon on one of the iPhone’s home screens, delivering most of the previous native Google Maps experience including public transport information, although sadly without access to the excellent Street View feature.
So… there is indeed something extremely and genuinely boring about iOS 6 and the iPhone 5, and that’s Apple Maps.
While the pressure certainly is on Google to release a native Google Maps app for iOS 6, a black hole-sized gravity well of pressure is upon Apple to fix Apple Maps, and fix the damn thing FAST before it gets sucked into the point of no return and whisked off into the next dimension of sheer irrelevancy – fancy flyovers notwithstanding.
So, the beta that is Siri has an unexpected new companion – the undeclared, unchartered beta that is Apple Maps – the unfortunately comical “Where’s Wally/Where's Waldo” of the map apps world.