The biggest change in the new version of Apple's iPhone and iPad software is a new maps app. Google Maps, which has been there since 2007 and featured prominently in the first ads for the phone, is gone. Replacing it is an app designed by Apple, based on data from TomTom, Yelp and others. It's got 3D city feature that's dazzling, if not useful. And it comes with free turn-by-turn voice navigation, which iOS had been lacking. It could have been an improvement — Google and Apple had barely updated the old iOS maps app for years, and its counterpart on Android was much more powerful.
Instead, we got this:
There's already a Tumblr dedicated to cataloging how bad this app is. (It's far worse outside the US.)
Last night I laughed when a friend told me his iPhone with iOS 6 couldn't tell him how to get to the bar we were meeting at —a well-known place that any downtown dweller, or indeed Google, could easily have pointed him to. It was less funny when he was trying to find a way to get home — Apple's maps app doesn't have public transit information. (Google Maps does, for almost every major city.) Again, though, no big deal. Another friend sent him to the right train. But this, from FWD editor Matt Buchanan, isn't funny at all:
This is apparently not a unique problem:
Google Maps on the iPhone has been dependable since the start, and generally did what you expected it to. It wasn't always accurate, and it wouldn't have been wise to intentionally entrust your life to it, exactly. But over time, iPhone users — myself included — got comfortable doing just that, in countless small ways.
My iPhone, like almost any modern smartphone, could find out from Google where the nearest hospital is, or where the nearest train or bus home could pick me up. At the very least, it could help me find what I'm looking for in an unfamiliar area where aimless wandering might be unwise. A dark, isolated street doesn't feel so dark and isolated when you can see it from space, and know that the next train is three blocks away and leaves in five minutes.
Apple has fostered this feeling of safety for five years, and users weren't wrong to buy into it — the instant availability of GPS location and rich, searchable maps is a truly life-changing development, and something we'll soon forget was once impossible. To remove the app that provide both the feeling of safety and actual safety only to replace it with something that looks similar but in reality is far less able is like a trick – Apple is suggesting capabilities where there are none. It is giving iOS 6 users afalse sense of security.
Maps should come with a warning. Instead it comes with this:
Most people neither know nor care about why Google Maps is getting removed from their iPhones; it's a story about corporate politics, not users. It follows, though, that many of those same people have no reason to believe that the new app is substantially less capable. It has a different look and feel, sure, but it's still called "Maps" and it's obviously intended to fill the same role. But it is inferior in a fundamental way, and one that Apple likely won't be able to remedy for a long time.
They'll only realize how different it is after it fails.
Update: An Apple spokesperson tells AllThingsD: "Maps is a cloud-based solution and the more people use it, the better it will get." An acknowledgment, at least.