I’m sure you’ve all heard the saying ‘never judge a book by its cover’, and I’m guessing the same can be said for mobile phone applications. Never judge an app by its icon? Yes? Well unfortunately for Apple their new iOS6 maps application is flawed from the icon down.
From substandard satellite imagery to an icon which appears to be telling the driver to jump off a flyover in a manoeuvre only James Bond would dare to make, Apple’s new mapping app just isn’t up to scratch, and here are my main gripes as a Londoner.
One thing I think Google maps does pretty well is providing directions for public transport, buses, trains, London Underground, it seemed to have it all. I drive around London a lot, but I still make around 5-10% of my journeys using public transport, perhaps because I want to avoid the congestion charge or because I’d like to have a drink (or eight) when I go out, so having the option to quickly and easily bring up public transportation information is pretty useful. The problem is, Apple’s maps don’t include this data. In fact when you select the public transport option the app actually asks you to download another app from the app store! Apple are really missing a trick here, but hopefully this is something that can be resolved quite easily if Apple work together with Transport for London or another data provider.
Google have been developing their mapping platform for a number of years now, and one of the best things I’d say they’ve ever done is bring street view to the map. I’ve found street view so so useful over the years, it’s meant that I can turn up to a location that I’ve never been to before already knowing what to look out for and exactly where it will be. It’s not just that though, one thing I’ve found street view incredibly useful for is checking roadside parking restrictions because you can see the yellow or red lines and the signs placed next to parking bays. The loss of this functionality is a huge blow of iOS users, but one I’m sure they can live without.
Points of Interest
Now I don’t know about you guys but I’m finding the points of interest which are shown at various zoom levels a little bit odd. For example I might be zoomed right out and see all of the local rail stations and parks marked which is a good start, but then I also see places like Temple Church pin pointed whilst attractions like The London Eye and Trafalgar Square are ommitted until I zoom further in. Oh and if you zoom too far in the city just becomes a sea of bars. There’s a hell of a lot of data missing too. Say you’re a student and you wanted to head down to +1 at Fabric on Monday night to see Sway or Pendulum perform, you’d be faced with these two images. The one on the left being Apple’s map on my iPad and the one on the right being Google’s Android app on my Samsung Galaxy S II.
Despite being zoomed right in on both, only Google’s app actually shows you where the club is, oh and if you were in any doubt, you could just switch to street view.
One final issue I have with these points of interest is the misuse of the petrol station icon. Almost every single convenience store seems to be marked on the map as a gas station. I even have one at the end of my road, now as much as I’d love to have one so conveniently placed, it’s actually really misleading and something I hope that Apple sort out pretty soon.
You can see exactly what I mean from the photos of Fabric above, the image quality is pretty poor on Apple’s offering compared to Google’s, and I’ve also been lead to believe that the images haven’t been optimised for mobile because them seem to take quite a while to fully load. It’s not just the poor quality though, flyover literally turns the city into something you’d expect to see rendered by Driver 2 on the PlayStation One. Take a look at this image of Battersea Bridge for example. How this got through quality control I really have no idea.
The Future and Alternatives
I honestly don’t think that the future of Apple’s maps is too bright. I have no doubt that the maps will improve and that they’ll be fairly decent by this time next year, but Apple face a couple of problems. Their maps rely on data from other providers, so it’s up to for example TomTom to update their data before iOS users will see an improvement. They’re also faced with the problem that they’re years late to the game. Google didn’t get to where they are now overnight, it took years of development to get thigns like street view and transit directions right.
As for alternatives, you can of course use Google Maps in Safari, Chrome or whichever other browser you have on your iOS device, and there is the much rumoured Google Maps App. Although Google have come out publicly to say that they have no plans yet for an iOS app, and to be honest I don’t blame them, they want people to use the Android platform.
One fantastic navigation app that I’d like to bring to your attention though is Waze. Now Waze is a little different to most mapping applications because it’s community driven much like Wikipedia. Users can go in and edit the map themselves, fixing any problems they might have noticed recently, meaning that the maps are constantly being updated and pretty damn accurate. One other fantastic feature Waze has is reporting. By simply driving around with the application open you’re sending your speed back to the servers which helps Waze to build up a picture of the traffic flow in the area. Users can also be slightly more active by using their phones to report slow-downs and things like police traps, all of this is brought together to provide users with the optimal route to their destination. Waze is available for free for iOS and Android. You can find out more and download it here.
What do you think of Apple’s maps? Let me know in the comments. Oh and if you are by any chance interested in seeing Sway or Pendulum at Fabric, you can find out more here.