Apple, please give up on Maps

It’s been more than six months since Apple introduced iOS 6, and nearly as long since Tim Cook issued a public apology for the company’s Maps app, which arrived with iOS 6 and replaced the far better version powered mostly by Google. Said Tim,

…The more our customers use our Maps the better it will get and we greatly appreciate all of the feedback we have received from you.

While we’re improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their web app.

Everything we do at Apple is aimed at making our products the best in the world. We know that you expect that from us, and we will keep working non-stop until Maps lives up to the same incredibly high standard.

In spite of slow and steady improvements, and a few PR scores, Apple’s Maps app still fails miserably at giving useful directions here in New York — while Google’s new Maps app (introduced in December) does a better job, every day. For example, yesterday I needed to go to a restaurant called Pranna, at 79 Madison Avenue. On my iOS Calendar app, “79 Madison Avenue” was lit up in blue, meaning if I clicked on it, Apple’s Maps, by default (which can’t be changed by me) would come up. Which it did. When I clicked on “Directions to here,” it said “Did you mean…” and gave two places: one in Minster, Ohio and another in Bryson City, North Carolina. It didn’t know there was a 79 Madison Avenue in New York. So I went to Google Maps and punched in “79 Madison Avenue.” In seconds I had four different route options (similar to the screen shot here), each taking into account the arrival times of subways at stations, plus walking times between my apartment, the different stations, and the destination. For me as a user here in New York, there is no contest between these two app choices, and I doubt there ever will be.

Credit where due: Apple’s Maps app finally includes subway stations. But it only has one entrance for each: a 9-digit zip code address. In reality many stations have a number of entrances. At the north end of Manhattan, the A train has entrances running from 181st to 184th, including an elevator above 184th with an entrance on Fort Washington. Google’s app knows these things, and factors them in. Apple’s app doesn’t yet.

On the road, Apple’s app still only shows slow traffic as a dotted red line. Google’s and Nokia’s (called Here) show green, yellow and red, as they have from the start. Google’s also re-routes you, based on upcoming traffic jams as they develop. I don’t know if Apple’s app does that; but I doubt it.

But here’s the main question: Do we still need an Apple maps app on the iPhone? Between Google, Here, Waze and others, the category is covered.

In fact Apple did have a good reason for rolling their own Maps app: there were no all-purpose map apps for iOS that did vocalized instructions and re-routing of turn-by-turn directions. Google refused to make those graces available on the Apple Maps app, which was clearly galling to Apple. Eventually Apple’s patience wore out. So they said to themselves, “The hell with it. We’re not getting anywhere with these guys. Let’s do it ourselves.” But then they failed hard, and Google eventually relented and made its own iOS app with those formerly missing features, plus much more.

Bottom line: we no longer need Apple to play an expensive catch-up game. (At least on iPhone. Google still doesn’t have a Maps app for iPad. Not sure if that’s because Google doesn’t want it, or because Apple won’t let them distribute it.)

Unless, of course, Apple really can do a better job than Google and Here (which has NAVTEQ, the granddaddy of all mapping systems, behind it). Given what we’ve seen so far, there is no reason to believe this will happen.

So here’s a simple recommendation to Apple: give up. Fold the project, suck up your pride, and point customers toward Google’s Maps app. Or at least give users a choice on set-up between Google Maps, Here, Waze or whatever, for real-world navigation. Concentrate instead on what you do best. For example, flyover and Siri. Both are cool, but neither requires that you roll your own maps to go with them. At least, I hope not.

 

 

10 comments

  1. PXLated’s avatar

    While I understand your frustration in your area Doc, Apple maps work great for me, in fact better than Google Maps in most areas I go.

    Please Apple, don’t listen this harping, many of us are more than happy with your maps app.

  2. James Robertson’s avatar

    If Apple followed your advice, Google would put the current version of the IOS app in Amber, and we’d be back to the same problem Apple faced last year in a couple of years. Apple has to continue, or watch Google sit still.

  3. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Hi, James.

    Maybe you’re right.

    Do you think Google came up with the current Maps app because Apple competed with them on an app-vs-app basis, or because iOS has umpty-million users and is a market best addressed by actually having a good maps app there? Or both? (I dunno. Just guessing here.)

  4. Doc Searls’s avatar

    PXLated, where does Apple’s app work better for you? Is it on the road? If you don’t mind my asking, where do you live (at least approximately) and use the app?

    We compared the Apple Maps app vs. Google’s when driving from New York to Washington, D.C. twice recently, and there was no comparison. Google’s app saw traffic that Apple’s didn’t see, and re-routed based on the live traffic situation. I didn’t put that finding in this post because I didn’t want to harp too much. 🙂

  5. JonW’s avatar

    You forgot to mention that Google traffic is basically a work of fiction. I’ve been stuck in jams many times when Google says the road is clear. I think it averages over a few days rather than giving real-time info. Very frustrating.

  6. Doc Searls’s avatar

    JonW, I don’t think Google’s traffic is fiction at all. From what I can tell it’s based on live, or nearly-live, input from mobile phone use. While there are many cases where the traffic can turn to red on the map after the fact, the latency doesn’t seem very high.

    I’ve been using Google’s Maps app in traffic since it came onto the iPhone in early December, in Boston, New York, Baltimore, Washington and the Bay Area, and I’ve only seen it miss a jam once: when I was about ten cars behind an accident in the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel a couple weeks ago. The jam didn’t show up for about 20 minutes on all the map apps I checked: Google’s, Apple’s and Nokia’s Here.

    Do you use it to route you to destinations before you depart? Try it. Look at the alternate routes. It’s kind of amazing, I think. On Saturday it took us to San Rafael from SFO by way of the Bay Bridge and the Richmond Bridge through the East Bay. The map also gave choices through San Francisco (19th and Van Ness were the two), with estimated times for each, given current traffic, which we could clearly see, with its red stretches. Instinctively I would never have taken the East Bay route, but we breezed through and arrived exactly when Google Maps said we would.

    Likewise with the subways in New York, which is our primary use of the app. It’s sometimes wrong (e.g. when subways don’t arrive exactly when it says), but those times are surprisingly rare.

    Anyway, I invite you to give it another chance or two.

  7. Stephen Downes’s avatar

    Google Maps could disappear any time, or become a GooglePlus-only feature, or some such thing. So it would be short-sighted of Apple to give up on maps.

  8. Joakim’s avatar

    You’re forgetting one important factor: Apple has almost $140 billion in cash in the bank. They could try to build almost every service Google offers and not run out of that money. Not sure why you would ever argue for less competition, as long as the product isn’t a spectacular failure, which tends to correct itself. 😉 Also, you’re not paying for any of these apps, so you can switch back and forth between them whenever you like. It’s not like you can’t use Google Maps on iOS anymore, it’s still there.

    Personally, I would never buy an Apple product, with their crazy stance on patents and how closed they’ve become. I got my first and last Apple product in 2004, a Powerbook, never again. But I don’t see why more competition is a bad thing.

  9. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Joakim, having money doesn’t mean a company is ready to spend the money. And spending the money doesn’t mean the spending will do any good.

    Here’s the thing: except for flyover and Siri, Apple’s Maps app is not competitive with Google’s Maps app, or even Bing’s or Here’s. On the road, Waze is way better. Maps are a competitive category as it stands, without Apple.

    That said, I’m fine with getting it wrong. If Apple comes out with something better, hats off. But if they do, we can agree it will be for their silo alone. And that too is a deal-killer for many of us. You and me included.

  10. Bradley’s avatar

    Microsoft are forced to offer users a choice of browsers on every copy of Windows. Why aren’t Apple forced to offer a choice of default map app?

    And come to think of it, why not force Apple to offer users a choice of browser too? – but I digress.

    Everyone seems to love to hate Microsoft, and yet on all versions of Windows I am able to choose which is the default application I use for browsing, image editing, video playing, and so on.

    It’s time for Apple to enable users to choose the default applications in the same manner.

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