iOS Maps: More Reactions and Analysis

Regarding the pickle Apple has gotten itself into by providing its own maps in iOS 6, some context and analysis is provided by Gizmodo, the Guardian, Macworld and The Verge, all of which are worth reading. Cult of Mac suggests some workarounds. AllThingsD has a statement from Apple promising that it will get better, plus news that “the team assigned to the app is under lockdown right now working to fix it.” In general, everyone agrees that maps are hard to do and that Apple has a lot of work ahead of it. Dan Frommer is strangely optimistic, seeing in adversity an opportunity for Apple to prove itself. Meanwhile, 9to5Mac reports that Google does have an iOS map app that is awaiting approval from Apple. (Update: Dalrymple says nope, and he can be relied upon.)

Previously: Reactions to Apple’s Maps; Early Reviews of iOS 6 Maps.

Reactions to Apple’s Maps

Apple’s maps have been out for 26 hours, and they’re already getting pummelled. See coverage from AppleInsider, BBC News and MacRumors. Ian Betteridge: “iOS 6 Maps is a mess.” Max Slater-Robins: “Apple Maps is, in a word, awful.”

What’s happened here is that Google Maps usage has become so ubiquitous, so relied upon—especially on mobile—that any change will be seen as a downgrade.

There’s no question that Google Maps is the best online map product out there at the moment. There’s no question that switching from Google Maps will result in a downgraded mapping experience, no matter how hard anyone tries. But that’s not to say they’re flawless, or that their competitors can never beat them at one location or another.

I’ve been covering Google Maps since its launch in 2005. It’s come a long way since then. It’s gotten a lot better in that time, but it too has had its growing pains, especially when it switched its mapping data providers: first from Navteq to Tele Atlas, then to its own mapping solution, which at the outset was a significant downgrade—sound familiar?

Frankly, a lot of the glitches pointed out here have been found on Google Maps at some point, including the warped bridges, misplaced points of interest, and so forth. If you can’t find similar problems in every map platform, you’re not looking hard enough.

There will be glitches, and errors, and missing data in Apple’s maps for years to come. I know this will be the case because that’s what happened with Google. They started out small, and added features, and added countries, and eventually got good.

The difference this time is that there’s already a Google, with all that good stuff that Apple can’t match yet. Google didn’t have to worry about that kind of competition (MapQuest didn’t even have satellite imagery!).

Bottom line: Apple’s maps are going to suck for a while, folks. Some of you will be able to use them without much trouble; others will find them impossible, in which case you should probably look into an alternative. You could use the Google Maps website until Google gets around to releasing its own Maps app. There are also plenty of third-party map and navigation applications that make use of Bing, OpenStreetMap, or other mapping data.

On the Map: A New Book from Simon Garfield

Book cover: On the MapVia a post by Mark Ovenden on Facebook, I learn about a new book by Simon Garfield, On the Map, which from the description sounds like a book in the vein of Mike Parker’s Map Addict and Ken Jennings’s Maphead.

From the British publisher’s description: “From the early sketches of philosophers and explorers through to Google Maps and beyond, Simon Garfield examines how maps both relate and realign our history. His compelling narratives range from the quest to create the perfect globe to the challenges of mapping Africa and Antarctica, from spellbinding treasure maps to the naming of America, from Ordnance Survey to the mapping of Monopoly and Skyrim, and from rare map dealers to cartographic frauds. En route, there are ‘pocket map’ tales on dragons and undergrounds, a nineteenth century murder map, the research conducted on the different ways that men and women approach a map, and an explanation of the curious long-term cartographic role played by animals.”

It’s out next month in Britain; the U.S. edition will be out at the end of December.

Buy at Amazon | author’s page | publisher (UK) | publisher (USA)

Early Reviews of iOS 6 Maps

The release of iOS 6 is minutes away as I write this, but there are already some early reviews of the new maps, which replace Google Maps in iOS 6. Macworld goes over the new maps at a detailed and functional level.

A lot of people think that the new maps are a substantial downgrade, not just in terms of missing features (Street View) or features that will require third-party plugins (transit directions), but in terms of basic features like local search and directions. Josh thinks that local search is “a tremendous step backwards and something that cripples iOS for Apple’s customers” because it’s limited to names, addresses and Yelp categories. Anil Dash also found problems with local search, as well as with driving directions; he thinks the transition privileges Apple’s corporate priorities over the user experience.

It’s almost certain that this is fallout from the iPhone-Android wars: the presence of Google Maps on the iPhone may have been untenable. Rafe argues that, strategically, Apple needed to stop making Google’s maps better, “which is what they’ve been doing moment-in and moment-out for years. … Usage makes maps better a lot faster than software does.” John Gruber wonders what’s been going on behind the scenes: “We do know that Apple’s existing contract with Google for Maps expired this year. It’s possible Apple tried to renew for another year or two and Google either refused (unlikely, I’d say) or offered to do so under terms Apple found unacceptable (possible, I’d say).”

We won’t know for a while, if ever, why Google Maps are being replaced: whether it’s because Apple wanted to deny Google its userbase, or whether Google wanted user data that Apple was unwilling to share with its chief competitor, or something completely different.

In the meantime, the question isn’t whether Apple’s maps are worse: the consensus seems to be that they are. (When I upgrade to iOS 6 and try them out myself, I’ll be able to add my two cents’ to the conversation.) The relevant questions are, I think, (1) whether Apple’s maps will get better, and how quickly they will do so; (2) whether there will be a standalone Google Maps app, made by Google, for iOS, as has been promised, and how quickly it will be available; and (3) whether said Google Maps app will be feature complete compared to its Android counterpart, or will be limited or hobbled to give Maps on Android an advantage.

Previously: Apple Replaces Google Maps on iOS.

Soundings: A Biography of Marie Tharp

Book cover: Soundings A review in Maclean’s brought to my attention a book that came out two months ago: Hali Felt’s Soundings, a biography of Marie Tharp (1920-2006), who with her partner, Bruce Heezen, created the first global map of the ocean floor, discovered the Mid-Atlantic Ridge’s rift valley, and helped provide the evidence for plate tectonics. She’s a major figure in cartography and among women in science, so I thought I should bring this book to your attention, too. Another one to add to the to-read pile.

Previously (on The Map Room): Marie Tharp; Marie Tharp and Plate Tectonics.

Buy at Amazon | author’s page | publisher’s page

Ground Truthing Google Maps

“Google Street View wasn’t built to create maps like this, but the geo team quickly realized that computer vision could get them incredible data for ground truthing their maps.” The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal gets an exclusive look at Google’s “Ground Truth” program, which uses Street View cars to check and improve map data. I can’t help but see giving press access to this as another example of Google explaining how hard making their maps is for competitive reasons.

Dung Kai-cheung’s Atlas

A book has been brought to my attention that sounds relevant to my interests: Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City by Dung Kai-cheung, an English translation of which is now out from Columbia University Press.

Book cover: Atlas by Dung Kai-cheungFrom the publisher’s blurb: “Much like the quasi-fictional adventures in map-reading and remapping explored by Paul Auster, Jorge Luis Borges, and Italo Calvino, Dung Kai-cheung’s novel challenges the representation of place and history and the limits of technical and scientific media in reconstructing a history. It best exemplifies the author’s versatility and experimentation, along with China’s rapidly evolving literary culture, by blending fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in a story about succeeding and failing to recapture the things we lose. Playing with a variety of styles and subjects, Dung Kai-cheung inventively engages with the fate of Hong Kong since its British ‘handover’ in 1997, which officially marked the end of colonial rule and the beginning of an uncharted future.”

I will get back to you on this one once I’ve bought it and read it. In the meantime, here is an interview with the author. Here is a review in The Japan Times. Via Jeff VanderMeer.

Buy at Amazon | publisher’s page

Mapping the Nation

Book cover: Mapping the Nation Susan Schulten, a history professor at the University of Denver, writes to let me know about her new book, Mapping the Nation: History and Cartography in Nineteenth-Century America, out this month from University of Chicago Press.

From the publisher’s page: “Today, statistical and thematic maps are so ubiquitous that we take for granted that data will be arranged cartographically. Whether for urban planning, public health, marketing, or political strategy, maps have become everyday tools of social organization, governance, and economics. The world we inhabit—saturated with maps and graphic information—grew out of this sea change in spatial thought and representation in the nineteenth century, when Americans learned to see themselves and their nation in new dimensions.”

This sounds very interesting. Her previous book, The Geographical Imagination in America, 1880-1950, came out in 2001. I may have to pick up both: maps and the history of mentalities is too much to resist.

Buy at Amazon | publisher’s page | website

Kate Elliott on Fantasy Maps

Fantasy and science fiction writer Kate Elliott talks about maps. An excerpt:

I know that some love maps, some are indifferent, and some dislike them. That’s as it should be.

I personally like maps, because I’m geeky that way but also because I process information both visually and kinesthetically, and thus maps make it easier for me to negotiate certain kinds of plots. Yet with other stories, I don’t even think of wanting a map. I wonder if there is a kind of story that seems more to benefit by a map while others just don’t have any call for them.

There are narratives in which there are things about the world you can’t learn from the story but which you can glimpse if the book includes a map, so in that sense a map can add a bit of extra dimension to a world. One of the challenges of writing the Spiritwalker books in first person is that there is a lot of information about the world that can never get into the narrative because it isn’t something a) the narrator would reflect on much less know &/or b) that is necessary to the plot.

Previously: How Readers Use Fantasy Maps.

Waldseemüller Globe Gore Found

Waldseemueller globe gore
During The Map Room’s existence I frequently reported on Martin Waldseemüller’s 1507 map of the world, notable because it was the first with the name “America” on it. Dubbed, as a result, “America’s birth certificate,” the last known copy of the large, 12-section map is now on display at the Library of Congress, which paid $10 million for it.

But Waldseemüller also produced small gores, which are used to construct globes; these ones would have been about four inches across. Four of these gores were known to exist, but yesterday Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München announced that they had accidently turned up a fifth copy in their library collection. It differs from the other gores; they believe it to be from a later edition. It can be viewed online here. BBC News coverage. Thanks to Drew for the tip.

If you’re interested in the Waldseemüller map, you’ll want to read The Fourth Part of the World by Toby Lester. I reviewed it in December 2009.

Mapping the Heat Wave

EO: Heat Wave Fuels Wildfires in the Rockies
Hotter than usual? Yes. This map shows how much land surface temperatures during the week of June 17-24, 2012 have been above or below the average for 2000-2011. Now this map measures something very specific: land surface temperatures (LSTs) aren’t the same as air temperatures: “LSTs indicate how hot the surface of the Earth would feel to the touch. From a satellite vantage point, the ‘surface’ includes a number of materials that capture and retain heat, such as desert sand, the dark roof of a building, or the pavement of a road. As a result, daytime land surface temperatures are usually higher than air temperatures.” Via Bad Astronomy.

A Scholarly Work on Fantasy Maps

Stefan Ekman: Here Be Dragons (book cover) I knew that Swedish literary scholar Stefan Ekman has been studying fantasy maps—see, for example, this blog post of his—but I only found out today (thanks to the Locus forthcoming books listings) that he has a book coming out on the subject: Here Be Dragons: Exploring Fantasy Maps and Settings will be published by Wesleyan University Press in January 2013.

The publisher calls it the “first in-depth study of the use of landscape in fantasy literature”; here’s an excerpt from their description:

In Here Be Dragons, Stefan Ekman provides a wide-ranging survey of the ubiquitous fantasy map as the point of departure for an in-depth discussion of what such maps can tell us about what is important in the fictional worlds and the stories that take place there. With particular focus on J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Ekman shows how fantasy settings deserve serious attention from both readers and critics. Includes insightful readings of works by Steven Brust, Garth Nix, Robert Holdstock, Terry Pratchett, Charles de Lint, China Miéville, Patricia McKillip, Tim Powers, Lisa Goldstein, Steven R. Donaldson, Robert Jordan, and Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess.

I’m not sure I can overstate how much I’m looking forward to reading this. Once I do, I’ll tell you all about it.

Pre-order at Amazon: hardcover, paperback | publisher’s page