The New Apple Maps
I’m a big Apple fan (a true fanboy) and also a huge fan of Google and most of their products, so it sometimes pains me to see the two companies argue, sue, counter sue, and fight ‘till the finish. Way back when Apple announced that they were dumping Google Maps in favor of their own, homegrown, version, I was like “uh oh” as I fully grasped that Google had such a head start, there was no possible way Apple could put something decent together no matter how many companies they bought, or deals they made.
During their presentation, they had a lot of pretty pictures, and bird’s-eye-view 3D maps, but they very conspicuously left out an equivalent to Google’s ‘StreetView’ feature which allows you to place a pin at many locations, and actually view the location as if you were at street level. I don’t know about you guys, but I found this feature indispensable when making plans to go to a place I have never been to before. What could be better than to actually preview a location so that when you actually get there, you know exactly what it looks like and where to go.
What I liked best was that when making rendezvous plans, I could actually preview the location, and let someone know to “meet me next to the grocery store” or “it’s the building with the big blue awning”, etc…
All of this is no longer possible with the Apple Maps app which was recently released with Apple’s mobile operating system upgrade to IOS 6 for the iPad, iPhone, iPod, and iPod Touch. It features impressive, albeit useless 3D aerial views of major cities and other landmarks. Beautiful yes, but useless unless you are a bird…or helicopter pilot. The issue is that for the vast majority of us, this is not our usual vantage point, and may not do much to prevent us from getting lost.
Other complaints have been that streets are labeled wrong, landmarks are misplaced and sometimes nonexistent, and public transportation schedules and maps are no longer baked in. The app also relies on linking to third-party mass transit apps for the missing data.
I recently had to visit my sister in Philadelphia using nothing but public transportation (I live in New york City and usually make the trip by car.) Using the old Google Maps app, I was was routed to the correct trains and buses, and even my sister was surprised at how quickly I got to her place. With the new Apple Maps app, the user experience is atrocious if you are taking public transportation, and surely has Steve Jobs turning over in his grave.
However, those issues don’t worry me because they are related to data which will doubtlessly be updated with future iterations of the software. But how will Apple ever catch up when it comes to something like StreetView? Sure, helicopters will continue capturing aerial shots of major (and minor) cities and towns in order to bring more and more 3D views online, but who else has undergone the gigantic task that Google has taken over the years to capture 360-degree street shots of every city, town and hamlet on earth? Has an Apple Car been secretly going around doing this? I doubt it, and I doubt they even have plans to. Which means that the Apple 3D map aerial views were supposed to be the StreetView killer from the very beginning.
Fortunately, rumor has it that Google has been working on, and will eventually be releasing a stand-alone Map application which everyone assumes will include the famed StreetView feature. Whether or not Apple gives them grief when it comes to releasing it to their App Store remains to be seen. Until then, you can always downgrade to IOS 5 (if it’s that important to you) or bookmark the web version of Google Maps onto your IOS6 desktop, which is not as cool, but is a good stop-gap measure while you wait for improvements.
-Pascal Antoine (Digirati at Large)-