John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Apple Maps App Takes Reality Distortion to a Whole New Level

Apple may some day deliver a mobile mapping application that bests Google’s, but the new Maps app in iOS 6 — the latest iteration of its mobile operating system — isn’t it. Not yet, anyway.

Though it has been widely available for only about a day now, mounting complaints over the Maps app have already badly tarnished it as inaccurate, glitch-ridden and generally a poor substitute for the Google Maps-driven app that it replaces. Among the recurring criticisms of the app: It offers no information about public transportation; searches for an in-town destination sometimes return results for an entirely different city; it occasionally mistakes farms for airports; some of its Dali-esque flyover imagery is lousy; and it places gas stations in utterly untenable locations (the Amazing iOS6 Maps Tumblr is gleefully cataloging them all).

Apple urged patience. “Customers around the world are upgrading to iOS 6 with over 200 new features including Apple Maps, our first map service,” spokeswoman Trudy Muller told AllThingsD. “We are excited to offer this service with innovative new features like Flyover and Siri integration, and free turn by turn navigation. We launched this new map service knowing that it is a major initiative and we are just getting started with it. We are continuously improving it, and as Maps is a crowd-based solution, the more people use it, the better it will get. We’re also working with developers to integrate some of the amazing transit apps in the App Store into iOS Maps. We appreciate all of the customer feedback and are working hard to make the customer experience even better.”

Nonetheless, it’s an embarrassment for a company that prides itself on making “great products.” To be clear, Maps, which draws some of its data from TomTom, can be quite slick when it works well; the Flyover feature is nice, as is the addition of voice navigation and crowdsourced traffic data. But none of those things matters much if Maps continues to stumble with its core functionality by returning inaccurate mapping data and directions. (Anecdotally, I used Maps for directions to the San Jose courthouse during the Apple-Samsung trial and ended up at a dead end in Campbell.)

Amazing iOS 6 Maps

Making things worse, Maps is an Apple-designed replacement for Google’s far more serviceable offering. And some pundits are already accusing the company of degrading the iOS user experience simply to seize back control of a critical functionality that it ceded to a rival years ago.

The Amazing iOS 6 Maps

Google’s Maps are still available via Apple’s Safari Web browser, and Google is working on a standalone iOS 6 app, but whether that will ever see the light of day is an open question.

TomTom noted that it delivers the raw map materials to many companies, but the end result is largely out of its hands. “We supply maps and related content to the majority of handheld players, including RIM, HTC, Samsung, AOL (MapQuest Mobile), Apple and, yes, Google (for the areas where they don’t make their own maps),” the company said in a statement. “When people use a map, their experience is determined by two things. Firstly, the underlying content, notably the maps. This is what TomTom is currently supplying the mobile industry with and it is what gives their maps the best foundation. Secondly, user experience is determined by adding additional features to the map application, such as visual imagery. This is typically defined and created by the handset manufacturers and third-party software providers on the basis of their own vision and needs.”

Amazing iOS 6 Maps

That all this turns out to be headline fodder the day after Apple’s biggest product launch of the year is a rare misstep for a company whose marketing acumen is legendary. Remember, Maps is a tent-pole feature of iOS 6, one that Apple talked up quite a bit when it debuted it at WWDC earlier this year.

Now, there’s no question that Apple will improve Maps over time. Sources tell AllThingsD that the team assigned to the app is under lockdown right now working to fix it. But it’s unfortunate that it was ever released in this condition in the first place. Mapping applications are awfully hard to do well. Apple certainly knows this. And for a while, at least, it has a rough road ahead.

[Images via The Amazing iOS 6 Maps]

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— Gitesh Pandya of comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”