(My) Defense of iOS6 Maps

September 24, 2012

iOS6 Maps is not amazing, which is humerously documented here, nor is it great, neither was Google Maps for iOS 3/4/5/6 and I honestly can’t believe some people would say otherwise (e.g.). I do agree Google Maps was “awesome” and the “killer app”  for the iPhone in the first couple years but there’s no way it’s still being considered as “great”.

Look at Google Maps for Android, then the old Google Maps for iOS, there’s no comparison, the old iOS maps was getting stale. Most importantly the Maps app was/is no longer the app that people love the most about their iPhones.

Yes, turn-by-turn navigation is a big deal but it’s not the only reason the old app stunk.

Traffic

One of the features I use most is traffic data (we drive through LA so we have to) but it wasn’t accurate. So flawed that Google removed the feature from it’s web app, only to resurrect with improved data via crowd-sourcing in their mobile apps — mobile apps that exclude the iPhone [strike 1].

Now Maps has it’s own real-time crowd-sourced traffic data and with 400 million iOS devices (250+m iPhones) that crowd-sourced data will be on par (or possibly better) than Google Maps on fully supported devices.

Displaying traffic within maps has drastically improved but I concede that Apple could have made visual changes to the Google Maps add too.

 

Lack of features (like flyover)

I don’t believe that flyover is (or ever will be) a better feature than street view (a Google Maps feature that will most likely never come to the new Maps) but it’s an example of a feature that wouldn’t be possible without transitioning (away from Google Maps).

 

Flyover is (arguably) only a cool feature, it will impress iPhone owners and prospective buyers.

 …another feature Yelp!

Yelp being integrated into Maps is something you wont find in Google Maps and yelp is fantastic (in my experience). Google Place ratings (even with Zagat) can’t compare and I don’t think Yelp and Google are going to mend their relationship anytime soon after that fiasco a while back.

 

Turn-by-turn

First, we don’t know why turn-by-turn was never added to Google Maps for iOS but it’s clear without it the Google Maps on iOS was not “great” when it could be compared to Google Maps on the competition’s phones. It’s possible Apple just didn’t want to write the feature into their app but it’s also possible that Google didn’t allow it under their agreement; theories aside turn-by-turn is necessary to compete.

I’ve used Navigon since for years(?) now and I can count on one hand how many times I’ve used it — three times;  compare that to 10+ times I’ve used iOS6 Maps turn-by-turn in only a couple months. 

Navigon isn’t a bad app either, it’s credited as the best navigation app on the iPhone but it was never used because it lacked attention. Attention that a secondary app with only one purpose can never get.

 

Progress

Most arguments against the new maps app revolve around it being a “step back” without acknowledging or considering how progression sometimes must work.

The “re-write” needs to happen at some point, otherwise only small iterations occur and software becomes stagnant. Software devs. know this. In this case Maps introduced a fresh data store that is fully controlled by the developer (Apple) and not a competitor (Google). Data that they can by manipulated, tuned and accessed independently without a competitor’s API limits or agreements interferring.

It’s clear after 5 years of Google Maps for iOS with no real progress would have been worse for Apple’s consumers, and waiting to “improve the map data” would have made things worse because Apple’s data could (presumably) never catchup with Google’s without interaction. Interaction that millions of users will bring via iOS6.

Now Google is forced to make a Maps app for iOS that not only competes with it’s Android counterpart but iOS6 Maps. A Maps app that could disrupt Apple’s plans to improve the data that will make the new Maps app great. So blame Google for not releasing a new iOS Maps app at launch :), they made a good app to replace the default YouTube app..

Now

Now Maps for iOS can (and IMO will) improve to be the “killer app” for the iPhone (and iOS) that it once was.