Google Maps for iPhone

As announced by AllThingsD shortly before it happened, Google Maps for iPhone was released last night. If you rely on Google’s extensive local search database, Street View or transit directions, downloading this app is a no-brainer. You will say, “At last!” and go get it. Here’s the App Store link.

Some caveats: there is no native iPad version. Both Engadget and Techcrunch point out that this is a get-the-essentials-out-the-door-now maps app: certain features you’d expect from the desktop or Android version (e.g., biking, indoor, offline maps) aren’t available. While it’s vector-based, it seems to me to be a little slower and less responsive than Apple’s native app.

And its interface is quite different from the Google-based maps app we saw on the iPhone prior to iOS 6: not only does it adopt the design language of other Google iOS apps, like Google+ and the iOS 6 YouTube app (which isn’t to my taste, but Google is running with it), but it puts things in different locations: transit, traffic and satellite imagery are obtained by pulling from the right; local info and Street View are on the bottom. Obtaining the 3D map is not at all obvious: it requires a two-finger drag explained here. Which is to say that you may need to get used to the changes. If you were hoping to get the old Maps app back, that’s not happening.

Apple-Google Maps Kremlinology

Details continue to emerge, as details tend to do, about how and why Apple replaced Google with its own maps in iOS 6. John Paczkowski reports that the Apple-Google maps arrangement faltered over voice-guided turn-by-turn directions, which Google Maps has had on Android for years but Apple couldn’t get from Google. John Gruber looks at the timeline of Apple’s contract with Google here and here, and has some ideas why Apple would give the boot to Google with time still on the clock.

Pogue calls Apple’s Maps app “an appalling first release. It may be the most embarrassing, least usable piece of software Apple has ever unleashed.” (I guess he never tried version 1.0 of the Podcasts app on older hardware.) In passing, however, he also mentions that Street View is coming to the mobile website in a couple of weeks. Street View is a big part of my own Google Maps usage; if it is for you as well, you’ll welcome that news. (The desktop web version requires Flash, so has not been available to mobile devices.)

The competition has been having fun at Apple’s expense, except that Motorola’s ad gave iOS a nonexistent address to get lost with.

Previously: Early Reviews of iOS 6 Maps; Reactions to Apple’s Maps; iOS Maps: More Reactions and Analysis; iOS 6 Maps: First Impressions and More Links; Apple, Google and China: iOS Maps.

Update: Apple CEO Tim Cook’s statement.

Apple, Google and China: iOS Maps

First, how to report a problem in iOS 6 maps: MacRumors, Macworld. Jamie Ryan reports that reported errors are being corrected quickly.
More information about Google Maps’s removal from iOS 6, and whether it will return with a Google-built app. Eric Schmidt said Monday that, contrary to rumours, Google hadn’t submitted an app yet, and things got muddled from there. The Verge and the New York Times’s Bits Blog reported last night that there was still a year left on Apple’s contract with Google, and that Google was caught flatfooted by the move and is scrambling to build its own map. They are building one, though. It’s just a matter of when we’ll see it.

One place where Apple’s maps are demonstrably better than Google’s is China, where Apple was able to draw upon maps from a Chinese company. The drawback is that the maps aren’t integrated with those in the rest of the world. Anthony Drendel, AppleInsider, Wall Street Journal.

TUAW argues that Apple dumped Google because it wasn’t allowed to do turn-by-turn navigation with Google Maps. Engadget’s Brad Hill believes that the switch was “shrewd, inevitable and an indicator that Apple understands the true battle it wages.” See also AppleInsider’s detailed multipage review.

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.

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.

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.

Apple Replaces Google Maps on iOS

So last week Google held a press event outlining several upcoming features and innovations in Google Maps, including the ability to use maps offline on Android (i.e., without a network connection), some pretty impressive 3D imagery, and shrinking the Street View camera so that it’ll fit in a backpack. The event was widely seen as a way to grab some of the limelight prior to Apple’s announcement of its own built-in maps for iOS, which came today (more on which in a moment).

Continue reading “Apple Replaces Google Maps on iOS”

Apple to Abandon Google Maps in iOS 6?

There are rumours that for iOS 6, the next version of the operating system for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, Apple will replace Google Maps with an in-house mapping application with an impressive 3D mode; the app will apparently “blow your head off,” to quote John Paczkowski’s source. Much is being made of the 3D mapping possibilities, thanks to Apple’s acquisition of C3 Technologies. My interest, and my concern, is with the base mapping data. If this is going to be a flagship product, and signs point to that being the case, Apple can’t use OpenStreetMap (as it does with the iOS iPhoto app), at least not exclusively: it’s still not ready. It would be better, but not cheaper, if Apple used Navteq or Tele Atlas map data directly; when Google abandoned them for their own map data, Google Maps’ quality did not universally improve. (AppleInsider, Daring Fireball, TUAW.)