I expect a lot of you are missing Google Maps after upgrading to iOS 6. Sure, it's nice that Apple has decided to establish their own mapping service, but such things aren't built out overnight. Even though Apple may have been working on this project for a while, particularly after it became obvious that Google wasn't exactly a friend to the company, the best test is in the real world with regular customers. No amount of beta testing can duplicate all the conditions that you or I might encounter in trying to find a specific location and get accurate directions.
For myself, I've not been enamored of the navigation systems in autos. The one in my Honda has somewhat bitmapped graphics (fixed, I'm told, in the 2013 models), and depends on a DVD to keep up to date on roads and other data. So I'm late in sending $149 for the 2013 renewal, which may be why I encountered streets the system couldn't map on a recent extended trip. But I usually just take a Google Maps printout, which, for the most part, tends to be reasonably accurate. In fairness to Honda, their newest navigation systems are relying on satellite data rather than fixed media.
Now some of the problems customers are reporting with the iOS 6 version of Maps are very much about version 1.0. Also, Google's fabulous Street View isn't something Apple has, so far at least, chosen to duplicate. Maybe that'll come, but the larger problem is accuracy. I've heard some curious stories, such as searching for cities and ending up with a location in the wrong country. Actually making trips from here to there may be difficult if you're not familiar with the terrain.
Another complaint involves the lack of support for public transportation systems, which hurts people in larger cities, particularly New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. Maps for iOS 6 will only present a list of third-party apps, free and paid, that provide support for such transit systems, and that's meant as the permanent solution, according to published reports. Perhaps that'll change by iOS 7, unless the third parties satisfactorily fill the gaps.
The core issue, however, is probably just the lack of data. You can't expect Apple, regardless of their resources, to map the entire civilized world in a couple of years, or however long they've been working on their mapping system. A lot of that data will come simply from ongoing surveys, plus customer experiences, and it'll no doubt get better with time.
Of course, the larger question is how long Apple's loyal customers will put up with a subpar product. Certainly Apple hasn't done so well with online services. iCloud, the service formerly known as MobileMe, remains troublesome. I was one of the roughly one percent of users who lost email access for almost two days not so long ago. As I write this column, I'm not able to update the buggy iTunes Match system since installing iTunes 10.7. I am only reminded that the "network connection was lost," and that I should try again later. Only the iTunes Store seems to otherwise work. But maybe the servers are still clogged with people downloading iOS 6.
The other question is whether Google is going to release a new Mac version of their mapping software, perhaps leveraging Siri to offer turn-by-turn navigation on supported models. I think there are enough disgruntled Apple Maps users who'd be delighted to return to Google if the option were available, and this would be a way to grab some traffic.
But I don't necessarily think lots of potential iPhone 5 customers will desert the platform because of buggy mapping software. Google and the Android partners, though, could still hit a few home rums with the proper advertising campaign. Instead of touting handset features nobody cares about, here's a chance for Samsung, for example, to promise a working and reliable mapping system. A couple of "reality show" style TV ads would get the message across and maybe sell some product.
On the other hand, I realize Apple is not living in a vacuum, and that the mapping software team is fully aware of the shortcomings. I also do not pretend to know how quickly the system learns from its mistakes. If it happens in a few weeks, maybe a few missing features won't matter so much.
Consider a statement from Apple Thursday afternoon:
Customers around the world are upgrading to iOS 6 with over 200 new features including Apple Maps, our first map service. We are excited to offer this service with innovative new features like Flyover, turn by turn navigation, and Siri integration. We launched this new map service knowing it is a major initiative and that we are just getting started with it. Maps is a cloud-based solution and the more people use it, the better it will get. We appreciate all of the customer feedback and are working hard to make the customer experience even better.
Some suggest Apple should have held off on their own maps app, but, being trainable, it wouldn't get better until it's in wide use. In any case, I will make some effort to give Maps a decent workout in my travels over the coming weeks. I will also be curious to see if possible mistakes are soon remedied. Obviously, if I get incorrect directions from the Honda, my only recourse is to upgrade the navigation DVD and hope it works better. Or go back to those printouts. With an online system, changes and corrections are apt to be made on a fairly regular basis, and it won't cost me anything. That, itself, is apt to make me more tolerant of the shortcomings of iOS 6.
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