When Apple updated its mobile operating system yesterday, iPhone, iPod, and iPad users found a brand-new maps app. The new iOS6 offering loads more quickly than the Google Maps-powered version it replaced. It includes turn-by-turn navigation. And it’s terrible—at least, for many users.
The new app no longer offers directions via public transit, which was perhaps the most useful feature for urbanites. Type in an address, and your phone would guide you: Take the X bus to the Y train to the Z stop. No squinting at bus schedules in the dark. No need to stitch together a bunch of subpar third-party apps to do it for you. It was the golden age of getting around. Now, it’s over.
But, hey, the maps are prettier … sometimes. Apple’s maps are less cluttered than the Google ones—in certain places, at certain zoom levels. But the terrain in Apple’s maps is poorly contrasted with the streets, and the roads also seem unnecessarily narrow.
While the new app is markedly faster, it’s also less accurate and less reliable. There’s a tumblr and a hashtag devoted entirely to documenting its problems. Businesses that have long been closed appear open. Placemarkers are off. A search for “Coney Island Brooklyn” will put the map in Manhattan. Some European towns are missing entirely or in the wrong location. Closed train stations appear open. Satellite imagery is patchy and cloudy. Parks are sometimes airports, and stadiums are sometimes parks.
The list grows as more users try out the new Maps. Any mapping service will have inaccuracies, and if millions of users are using it, some will inevitably be led astray. Still, it’s clear that Apple’s new data are not nearly so reliable as Google Maps’.
If you drive a lot, you’ll probably get along with the new Maps. The rest of us will have to use Google Maps as a Web app and wonder why Apple would release such a half-baked product.
It’s not that there aren’t alternatives—but there shouldn’t have to be. Apple products are supposed to be intuitive, elegant, and functional. If they’re not the best, they’re supposed to come pretty damn close. That’s why they’re expensive. Right?