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The iPhone 5, iOS 6 and Apple Maps

September 22nd, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Can't even find their own stores

I know this topic has been discussed to death lately, but I thought I’d put all my thoughts in one place, once and for all.

Apple released the iPhone 5 (6th Generation iPhone…) yesterday to much enthusiasm from the typical fans and a big yawn from the rest of the world. Let me first say that Apple should have either gone with simply calling it “The New iPhone” like they did with the iPad (3rd Generation) or they should have just skipped up to the iPhone 6. After all, it is the 6th iPhone and it runs iOS 6. It just makes sense to me.

Future iPhone Lineup Announced In AdvanceWhile the phone looks impressive, and has some decent specs, it’s definitely nothing unique and it’s not really that exciting. I’ll give Apple the styling, and the size. If I were buying a phone on its physical appearance alone, I would buy an iPhone 5 hands down. But phones have become replacement PCs and the iPhone doesn’t hold up anymore. Sure its got a new, bigger screen, but there are already a lot of phones that are still bigger. Sure it has a 720p front facing video camera, but the Samsung Galaxy S III does too and the HTC 8X will have a 1080p front camera. Changing the old Apple adapter makes sense, but I have to take points off for a non-standard plug. Every other smart phone in the world from Blackberries to Android to Windows Phone all have settled on MicroUSB. No removable battery or ability to add an SD card will always keep me from an iPhone. Finally, I feel not including NFC was a big miss for Apple. They have the power to really push the NFC revolution that is coming, and they missed their chance. I suppose they had to leave something for the iPhone 6 right?

Along with the new iPhone came iOS 6, which is also available as an upgrade for iPhone 4S users. iOS 6 brought with it a whole slew of new features… oh wait, no it didn’t. The new mobile OS looks and feels just like every previous iOS version with row after cluttered row of icons. With Microsoft making a big push next month with Windows Phone 8 and it’s metro smart tiles, the iOS home screen looks old and inefficient. With the exception of going into the notification center, you can’t see anything of interest on your home screen save a small red circle and a number indicating unread messages. Everything is at least an app press away. Windows Phone 8 on the other hand provides the exact opposite user experience. In WP8, your content IS the home screen, where smart tiles dynamically update to display the latest, and most relevant information to you. Everything from your latest email, to the weather, stocks and even your friend’s recent tweet, can all be viewed without having to open any apps. Android too offers a plethora of widgets, and allow users to fully customize their phone’s appearance to their liking. Android also has a very strong and diverse community that creates completely custom user interfaces and offers more choices that you thought were possible. Compared to all this, iOS 6 feels old and stale; like a simple rehash of a formula that has worked in the past and has no motivation to change.

The London Underground Saving lost iOS 6 UsersiOS also brings Passbook, an app that sounded very promising until Apple mucked it up. Without NFC passbook can be little more than a holder for your bar codes, so you can pass your phone to the cashier instead of letting him or her scan your shoppers card. For those who are uninitiated, NFC or Near-Field Communications, allows your phone to pass information to other devices in a limited proximity. Samsung uses it to pass photos and videos between Galaxy S III phones, but it’s most promising use is in mobile payments. Imagine that instead of having to swipe your credit card, you could just select it on your phone, and “swipe” your phone past a small sensor to pay. Passbook also falls short on its confusing execution. When you launch the app, there are no options, or anything to click on, save a link to download some additional apps in the app store. Instead of being able to add any card you wanted, you are limited to only apps published by particular stores and companies. Then, to access that card, you launch the app for that card, you can’t find it in the Passbook app. So why is the passbook app there? I have no idea.

iOS 6 does bring a few improvements, namely a better Siri, and improved iTunes. Facebook integration, and Panoramic Photos are things Android users would laugh about, since they’ve had that forever. iOS 6’s biggest change though, comes from its new Apple Maps. They’ve done away with Google, and are attempting to penetrate the market.

That's not StockholmWhy Apple wanted to oust Google Maps is obvious, as their relationship with the big G has grown considerably more distant and hostile. Android is ever eroding the iPhone market-share, and continues to outsell its iOS counterpart. Apple first ditched the YouTube app, which they let grow old and stale. It was quickly replaced by a far superior alternative from Google. But with Maps, Apple is taking the competition head-on, completely replacing Google Maps with their own half-baked option. Only, it’s not an option. If you upgrade to iOS 6 you must use Apple Maps and cannot recover the Google Maps you had before. Apple’s forte into the mapping world so far has started with a huge stumble and I’m curious to see if they can fix this.

Apple Maps is just plain bad. They partnered with one of the worst companies out there (Tom-Tom) and gave up the clear leader (Google). The new maps gives poor, and often wrong directions, and lacks the detail and accuracy that Google Maps provides. In fact, there’s a whole blog dedicated to how poor the new maps are, and it’s already got a ton of errors. Most of the problems with Apple maps stem from its attempt to make a full 3D Earth, which ends up mangling and melting buildings and roads. It also has areas where the satellite imagery is very obviously cut together, or where clouds obscure whole cities. A major problem is that the Maps contain incorrect information everywhere. European cities are listed in the middle of nowhere, or even use old names that don’t match the road signs. On top of that, the turn-by-turn directions are often inefficient or simply don’t bring you to the right place. Finally, Apple so far has got a LOT of information wrong on their maps, and all of this combines to produce a pretty much unusable product.

The Worst Way to get to LII tried navigating from Central Connecticut to my house on Long Island. Apple’s Maps offered up three routes to choose from, all of them, sending me over a slow ferry that costs $54 (plus $15 per passenger) and strongly favors reservations otherwise, you may be waiting a while. It also only runs from 6am to 9pm. Google maps on the other hand, sends me down I-95, or even better, I-84, which is the actual, fastest route to take. Apple’s Maps gives me no option to select another route, it seems it’s the ferry or bust! Even in short distances, Apple’s Maps suggested a weird, back roads route that had pointless turns and would take 22 minutes, compared to Google’s straight forward, highway route that took 15.

It is going to take something just short of a miracle to fix Apple’s Map woes, and I’d like to explain why, and to do that I’ll tell you about Google. Google’s been working on their maps for over 6 years, and it really shows. Their maps weren’t always the defacto standard, but they have worked hard to get there, and here’s how they did it. Google is, at its core, a search engine, and a very good one at that. Every day, Google has thousands of servers hard at work scouring millions of webpages, and logging what they find. Google uses this wealth of knowledge to populate their maps. Stores are added automatically, and updated as soon as their website is. They also pull data from crowd sources like Yelp, Trip Advisor, Zagats, etc. Google’s secret weapon however, is Street view. Street view does far more than just give you the ability to see and navigate from the ground. As the Google cars canvas a neighborhood, the images they take are analyzed for every detail. Street signs are read, Store banners are marked, and all of this data goes into Google Maps. Apple doesn’t have access to any of this, and neither does anyone else. Apple has tried to partner with other companies to provide data, but there is a reason Google dropped them all in 2009 and provides it all in-house. Google also has a map maker, which allows anyone to update their maps. I myself have wasted hours tracing the pathways around Lehigh University in the map maker. All of my changes were reviewed and approved, and if you look at Lehigh today from your computer or your smart phone, you’ll see the pathways that I PUT THERE. Apple will never be able to compete with that.

One area that Apple can stand to copy from Google though is in traffic calculation. Ever wonder how Google knows the amount of traffic on your town’s main street? Google very wisely uses data from phones running their Maps software, to determine the flow of traffic. Whenever you drive in your car, that phone in your pocket is telling Google if you are in traffic. Apple can easily mimic this by pulling data from all of their iOS 6 devices. I’m hopeful that the loss of many iPhone users doesn’t detract from Google’s traffic services, but I have a feeling we won’t notice it.

So to sum it all up, the iPhone 5 is sexy but disappointing, iOS 6 is old and boring, and Apple Maps are horrible and will be very hard to fix. Lets hope that Google releases its own Maps app for iOS 6 to save all those lost Apple fans, but not before some of them see the light and switch to a better smart phone OS. For now, if you’ve got iOS 6, you can always bookmark the Google Maps webpage, and try to make due with that.

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