On Apple and Maps

Unless you’ve been living under an Internet rock, you know that Apple released a new version of iOS, featuring a much heralded new mapping application. This application replaces the old Google Maps application. You also probably know that it has been roundly criticized and mocked.

Now, before anyone accuses me of blatant fanboyism (although, without a doubt, I am an Apple fanboy), the new Maps application sucks. It’s a step backwards from the previous one, lacks some of the features the previous one had, and is generally disappointing. I especially don’t like how it didn’t degrade gracefully on the iPhone 4 (no voice turn-by-turn, and, for some strange reason, it seems unable to count down the distance to the next turn). In general, it clearly isn’t ready for primetime, Apple over-advertised it, and I think Apple could have done better.

But, other than being disappointing, the new Apple Maps application has no real impact on me because I never used the old one. It sucked also, and I think people are forgetting just how badly the old one was allowed to languish without significant updates. The Google-based Maps app in iOS 5 was essentially unchanged from the one that was released 4 years earlier.

Here are some things that were wrong with the “old” Google-based Maps app as of iOS 5:

  • No voice turn-by-turn directions.

  • Had to manually advance while driving when doing directions.

  • Searching sucked: you had to spell things exactly right or it wouldn’t find them.

  • For some reason, it thought I lived in Madison, Wisconsin all the time.

If you live in anywhere but a large city, it was essentially useless for navigation. You could maybe find an address, if you knew exactly what you were looking for, but you couldn’t safely get there in a car. In short, I long ago abandoned the built-in mapping application for better services available in the App Store.

I’ve been using the free Mapquest app for the last couple of years, and it’s worked great. It’s gotten better with each iteration, to the point where it’s pretty much my sole navigation app now. My process flow as usually been search for an address in Safari (or get it from another app like Yelp or Urban Spoon) and paste it into Mapquest, or search in Mapquest (usually with a little better luck than the built-in Maps app). Bam. Reliable turn-by-turn voice navigation that actually works on my iPhone 4. Pair that with the new Bluetooth stereo I put in my truck, and it works like butter. If it would just do night colors, it would be damn near perfect.

Now, if I lived in a big city, I can understand being upset with the new app. Lacking walking or biking directions and public transit directions seems a curious oversight considering how many of Apple’s iPhone customers live in those environments. I can’t really understand why Apple would leave that data out unless they simply could not get it, and I hope they address that soon for all the people that do rely on it.

But, for me, the new Maps app sucks just as much as the old one did, and I will not use it just as much as I didn’t use the previous one. So, for me, nothing has changed.

Just, more than anything though, I’m disappointed in Apple, for two reasons. One, that they couldn’t get this right, and two, that they released it in spite of what they had to know were serious problems with it, all while heralding it as one if iOS 6’s killer features. Especially in light of news that they still had a year on their Google maps contract, I would rather they have spent that year fine tuning it rather than release something that clearly wasn’t ready for primetime.

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