While the iPhone 5 itself is getting very positive reviews — essentially raves — Apple Maps have received a mixed response. It has emerged as the potential Achilles Heel of the new handset (other than the generally reviled “lightening” dock connector).
Waze CEO Noam Bardin was quoted last night by Business Insider saying that the local data were weak and the navigation might get people lost. Most of the formal reviewers didn’t test Apple’s new maps very thoroughly, however. David Pogue’s New York Times article is representative of many critics who only gave Maps cursory attention. (Update: Pogue has a separate article on iOS 6 today, I excerpt the relevant discussion below in the postscript.)
In general the level of attention paid to Apple Maps and the corresponding critics’ responses are “all over the map,” so to speak. Some have praised the operation and appearance of the new mapping app, but there appears to be a consensus that Apple’s Maps are weaker than the Google Maps (mostly local/POI data and routing) they replace.
Below is a sampling of what people are saying. The excerpts are verbatim from the reviews published yesterday and last night.
Walt Mossberg Wall Street Journal (mostly critical)
The biggest drawback I found is the new Maps app. Apple has replaced Google Maps with a new maps app of its own. This app has one huge advantage over the iPhone version of Google Maps—it now offers free, voice-prompted, turn-by-turn navigation. Google had made this available on its Android phones, but not the iPhone. Apple’s navigation worked very well, with clear directions displayed as large green highway signs.
But the app is in other ways a step backward from the familiar Google app. For instance, while Apple’s maps feature a 3-D “Flyover” view of some central cities, they lack Google’s very useful ground-level photographic street views. And they also lack public-transit routing. Apple will instead link you to third-party transit apps. Also, while I found Apple’s maps accurate, they tend to default to a more zoomed-in view than Google’s, making them look emptier until you zoom out.
Ed Baig, USAToday (mostly praise)
The newly designed Maps app arrives preloaded as a key component inside iOS 6. Google had beaten Apple to the punch with audio turn-by-turn directions for Android. Apple has generally done a very good job with its own turn-by-turn feature, which I tested driving in San Francisco and the greater New York City area. The Maps app includes real-time traffic and accident alerts, and a feature called Flyover, photo-realistic 3-D imagery of landmarks as you zoom in over major cities.
The Loop (praise)
I really should mention Maps, Apple’s new turn-by-turn direction app on the iPhone. I love it. I used in Cupertino and I used it at home — it worked equally well in both places. Using Siri and Maps together, I can get information and directions to pretty much anywhere I want to go. The street labels in Maps are easy to read while driving, which is great at a quick glance and the spoken directions were great for me.
Whenever you hear that an app is beautiful to behold, especially an app as integral to the use of the iPhone as Maps, it can’t help but feel superfluous. Still, try to look at Maps on an iPhone 5 and not feel wowed.
It’s the new Maps app that will have the biggest impact on most users, and in general we found Maps beautiful and fast, a smooth and very aesthetically pleasing way to get from place to place.
But, it isn’t nearly as comprehensive as Google’s offerings on Android. The biggest drawback is the unfortunate lack of public transportation directions. If you haven’t quite mastered New York City’s subway system, you won’t get any help from your iPhone 5. Curiously, the app offers to give you public transportation directions, but should you choose that option it pops you straight into the App Store with a search for “Routing Apps.” Right now, there are zero results.
Gizmodo (harsh criticism)
Now, there’s a lot to like in iOS 6, but Apple Maps definitely isn’t one of them, which most early iPhone 5 and iOS 6 reviews seem to have glossed over. It’s rubbish, unfortunately, and here’s why . . .
Apple Maps falls flat on its face. For large parts of the UK, it just doesn’t feature the public transport you need. Now, I’m not talking about public transport routing — for that kind of thing I have dedicated apps that do it better — I’m talking about actually showing train stations, tube stations, bus stops, and things like that on the map; kind of important if you don’t know where the hell you’re going . . .
It’s not just public transport that Apple Maps totally fails on; it can’t find businesses or places either. Yelp has apparently provided its database to Apple, but compared to Google Maps it’s just poor.
Waiting for a New Google Maps App
Google has promoted Maps & Navigation on Android as a competitive differentiator vs. the iPhone. It’s unclear whether in the past Apple blocked Google’s efforts to upgrade maps on the iPhone or whether Google held back for competitive reasons. Regardless, the iPhone mapping app became weaker and weaker by comparison to Google Maps on Android.
Apple’s new mapping app appears to succeed in several ways but fall down in terms of local data and navigation. The absence of public transit data is also a very sore spot for many people (supposedly to be remedied by third party apps). The question now is whether Google will try and release a new Google Maps app for iOS.
The YouTube app that Google just released for iOS, after it lost “default” status on iOS 6, suggests that the company will indeed release a maps app for iOS. I’ve written about this several times and Danny wrote about this last night after the first iPhone reviews appeared.
It’s unlikely that Apple would try and block a Google Maps app given that there are numerous mapping apps currently available on iTunes, both free and paid. Danny argues that a new Google Maps app probably wouldn’t contain turn-by-turn navigation. However I’m not so sure; many other mapping apps in the App Store have turn-by-turn directions.
While a new Google Maps app wouldn’t enjoy the kind of deep integration with other iPhone features and functions that Apple Maps now has it would be welcome by most users. It would also potentially motivate Apple to go deeper and do a better job with its own mapping data and routing.
According to both comScore and Nielsen, Google Maps is currently the top local search app across smartphone platforms. A new Google Maps app for iOS would probably see lots of downloads and usage on the iPhone 5 — especially if Apple’s map data and directions do in fact “suck” as Gizmodo claims.
Postscript: David Pogue of the NY Times wrote a separate piece, published today, on iOS 6. In it he offers a mixed assessment of the new mapping experience. Pogue says the following about Apple Maps:
Not all is rosy in Mapsland, though. Apple’s database of points of interest (stores, restaurants, and so on), powered by Yelp, is sparser than Google’s. There’s no built-in public-transportation guidance. For big cities, you get Flyover, a super-cool 3-D photographic model of the actual buildings — but losing Google’s Street View feature is a real shame. During navigation guidance, you can’t rotate the map with your fingers or zoom in by more than a couple of degrees—to see your entire route, for example. Turns out you have to tap the screen and then tap Overview to access that more detailed, zoomable, rotatable map.
Flyover and the vector maps require a fast Internet connection, by the way. When you’re not in a 4G cellular area, it can take quite awhile for the blank canvas to fill in. (Navigation and Flyover don’t work on the iPhone 3GS or 4, the original iPad, or pre-2012 iPod Touches.)
Postscript 2: We’ve got a fresh statement from Google that unfortunately leaves in limbo the question of whether a Google Maps app will be coming.
- Apple Demos Local Search (Maps) And Siri Enhancements For iPhone 5
- Yelp Elevated By Apple Relationship, Second Only To Google In Local Importance Now
- Google Puts Interior Business Photos On The Map
- Google “Opens The Kimono” On How It Builds Maps
- Google Trounces Other Local Search Providers In UK — Study
- Google Says It Has A Million Public Transit Schedules, Adds Transit Features In Android Maps
- Google’s Offline Maps Now Live In 150 Countries
- YouTube Is Top Free App In iTunes Charts; Google Maps To Be Next?
- As Google Maps Disappears In iOS 6, Google Remains Cagey About Releasing Its Own App