iOS 6 Maps app disappoints; Google substitute on the way


— 9:47 AM on September 21, 2012

The iPhone 5 came out today. On it ships iOS 6, which also became available for older iDevices on Wednesday. iOS 6 offers some long-awaited improvements over past releases, and it's been largely well-received—in all but one respect: everyone hates the new Maps app.

Yesterday, BBC News posted a whole gallery of the new Maps' failings, from not displaying some roads and serving pixelated satellite images to downright misplacing entire towns. Columnists from Fortune, the Wall Street Journal, Time, and Bloomberg have all slammed the app, citing either bugs or missing features. Lots of users are livid. Some have turned their frustration into satire.

Relief may be on the way, though. According to TechCrunch, the folks at Google are hard at work on a Google Maps app for iOS:

Debunking the diabolical theory that Google will take as long as it likes to release its Maps App, in an effort to convert people to Android, I've got a source telling me that the Google Maps team is taking this as a crisitunity, doubling down on staff, lining up the team and resources to have a standalone iOS app in the App store “before Christmas.”

The TechCrunch story also cites a 9to5Mac article that claims Google Maps for iOS app is already awaiting approval. However, that seems to be a mischaracterization of a report by The Guardian, which only says the app will "appear in time." The Guardian also questions whether Apple will approve the app when it's submitted—a fair concern, although Google's Chrome web browser is already available on iOS, and it, like the prospective Google Maps app, competes with built-in iOS functionality.

Apple, meanwhile, sounds largely unapologetic about the functional downgrade it's imposed upon users. Here's what the company said, according to another TechCrunch posting:

Customers around the world are upgrading to iOS 6 with over 200 new features including Apple Maps, our first map service. We are excited to offer this service with innovative new features like Flyover, turn by turn navigation, and Siri integration. We launched this new map service knowing it is a major initiative and that we are just getting started with it. Maps is a cloud-based solution and the more people use it, the better it will get. We appreciate all of the customer feedback and are working hard to make the customer experience even better.

As The Guardian points out, such statements are of little consolation to iOS users who must rely on mobile maps daily. "Mapping is now a key function in smartphones," says the paper. "Getting it wrong is on a par with having a phone that loses connectivity when you're holding it wrong."

I couldn't agree more. Because the new Maps doesn't offer public transit directions, I've had to seek out an alternative app to restore the functionality—TransitTimes+ which, to its credit, has more features than the old iOS Maps app. I've noticed that walking paths here in Vancouver's lovely Stanley Park are missing, and I've realized that, when you ask the app for directions, there's no easy way to switch between driving and walking routes. Satellite images are ugly and disappear if I zoom in too far, and Google Street View is gone entirely, with no substitute.

Replacing key functionality with a half-baked substitute might have been excusable in Apple's underdog days. But now that Apple is the "most valuable company of all time" (according to CNN Money), it's simply unforgivable.

   
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