iOS6 Maps

As many are aware, with iOS6, Apple favored their own mapping solution over Google’s. “The Amazing iOS 6 Maps” has been lampooned by many, and a Tumblr has been dedicated to some of its more obvious faults. Apple has even apologized.

Does it really deserve the hate some give it? The answer is, it depends on your needs. For example, the new map lacks a lot of functionality the original program had, such as directions via public transit. But it gains in other ways, such as turn-by-turn voice prompted navigation. It loses Street View, but it “gains” Flyover.

The other problem people have cited with the new Maps is simply, incorrect data. Objects in the vector map are not located where they are in the real world. Examples? What follows are some pictures I’ve taken with my sister’s iPad 3 of different places around Chicago.

Example 1: A Restaurant that’s closed

So here we have a restaurant, Moretti’s. Let’s touch that icon.

ios6-ipad3-maps_001

Touching the icon will bring up phone info, address, directions to/from, and the option to jump into the Reviews (powered by Yelp) and Photos.

ios6-ipad3-maps_002

But there’s a problem. This restaurant has been closed for over a year. So Apple’s maps are outdated. So… “OMG, Apple Maps are teh suck, Google Maps FTW!! “ ? .. not exactly. Google Maps had a lot of this incorrect data when it was first starting out too, and is still victim to incorrect information. Look again at the image above, do you see the “Report a Problem” button at the bottom right? Let’s activate that:

ios6-ipad3-maps_003ios6-ipad3-maps_004ios6-ipad3-maps_005

By reporting a problem, I have the ability to report that the place has closed down (or alternatively, I can tell Apple the Pin is at the incorrect location, I’ll show you an example of that below).

Example 2: Pin Name incorrect, location of pin Incorrect

Incorrect pin location is, by my experience, the most common problem with iOS 6 Maps. This is not surprising though, and this use to be (and still is) Google’s biggest issue as well. I think the reason is these mapping solutions use simple math and don’t take into account real world dynamics.

addresses

For example, if my block starts at 2700W, and my house is on the corner (it’s 2706 W) then the map program assumes, I think, that the end of the block’s address will be 2796 W, and that something located in the middle of this block should be 2752 (or something close to 275x). In reality, houses are usually numbered based on the home that came before, not where along the block it is.

Which leads to errors such as this one. Here you’ll see a gas station labeled as an Amoco (specifically iOS 6 says “Kedzie Bryn Mawr Amoco.” On the vector map, the gas station is located along pretty much in the “middle” of Kedzie. In the second image, I’m going to overlay the satellite view.

ios6-ipad3-maps_006

Here we have the satellite view, and as you may see, that blue dot representing the gas station is actually in a large parking lot for a high school, the gas station is actually just North of the blue dot, at the CORNER of Bryn Mawr and Kedzie.

ios6-ipad3-maps_007-arrows

So why did this happen? Well if you look up the address of this gas station (and it’s actually a Citgo, not an Amoco), the address is “5547 North Kedzie Avenue.” See that? The “47” probably tricks the vector map algorithm in Apple’s Maps to incorrectly place the pin along the “middle” of the 5500 N block of Kedzie since “47” is close to “50.” So then what I would expect is locations that are at the start of a block (something that’s 5502N) would be more or less accurately rendered on the vector map, but as you move down the block things will not be as accurate until you get to the next hundred block (the 5600), and then the process repeats.

Again, Google Maps use to make this mistake a lot too. How did Google fix this? Well they used a LOT of data, including their own street view imagery (Jonathan helpfully linked to an excellent article on this), but partially they also relied upon users sending back correcting data.

So let’s do this again in iOS6. I’m going to Report a Problem, and this time state that “Pin is at incorrect location.” ios6-ipad3-maps_008

Very helpfully, iOS6 will then overlay the satellite in a small pop box, and then I can drag that purple pin up to where the gas station actually is.ios6-ipad3-maps_009

I simply drag, and hit “send” and then Apple’s servers will note the correction and depending on how many people send in the correction or who is reviewing it at the other end, the pin may be moved. I actually sent this correction in approximately 2-3 weeks prior to this post and I just checked .. the pin location is still not corrected. But that’s fine, these things take time.

You might think, so what’s the big deal? The actual location was just further down the block. This is the best case scenario. It’s not uncommon for the pin to be extremely off from reality. I’ve created a small album with a few Starbucks locations, one in particular (on Lincoln street) is very off from the actual location. Included in the screen shots below are web-based Google Maps versions of the same place showing the Starbucks location at the correct spot.

Google has had multiple advantages in correcting all this data. First, they were first. Google has the advantage of time with their Maps. Second, their maps are everywhere. On any web browser, prior to iOS6 they were in all iPhones, iPod Touch and iPads, and then of course Android. Millions of Apple fans were using their iOS device to send back corrections to Google. To be honest I’m not sure how many of the reports were from iOS devices, perhaps most of the corrections come from web users who are sitting on a computer and kill time by fixing up their neighborhood on the map? Third, as Jonathan’s link can attest to, they use a LOT of different sources of data.

Apple is at a large disadvantage here, actually. Although they will have millions of users on iOS 6, it’s not clear how many will take the time to report these errors using their iOS device. Regardless, there is no web based version of the iOS 6 maps, so all corrections MUST come through an iOS device. Perhaps Apple will one day release this map for their computer products to access via OS X (unlikely, but possible), but that still restricts all corrections through an Apple device. Google has users around the world, using Android or the web constantly updating/correcting their maps. So although Apple’s maps will improve with time, my guess is Google’s maps will likely always maintain an advantage when it comes to being up to date.

Real World Use

My dad recently visited family out east, in Pennsylvania and Maryland. I fed the addresses to each home into his iPhone, and off he went. He’s very old school and hates to use any sort of GPS, but for this trip he wanted to see how good (or not) iOS 6 turn by turn was. To his surprise, he had virtually no issues. There was one home that was difficult for the phone to find (well, in truth it just wasn’t accurate), but otherwise all the other locations were more or less correct. He was disappointed that he could not see the time remaining and other information as he was navigating, but he definitely is glad he has Navigation software that’s built in (whereas with his iPhone 3GS his only option was to purchase a 3rd party software, or use some free version).

So, iOS 6 Maps work, they work just fine. There is a lot of inaccurate data that will get cleaned up over time, and as the data improves so will the program’s reputation. This is good for end users, because it means Google will try extra hard to impress with their mapping solution.

Apple’s going to be just fine

Congratulations Apple. I think it was a very wise move for Apple to move away from Google, even if their new solution isn’t quite as good (yet). Apple is also in the process of switching away from Samsung for their CPU production needs (over to TSMC). Apple’s designing it’s own chips. Apple is a force to be reckoned with.

And they still have the iPad Mini and a rumored new Apple TV to launch. Apple’s printing money.

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