Apple iOS Maps: an opinion.

Having watched half of MacLand have a holy cow over the Apple Maps app in various iOS6 forums, I checked out the Mac Apps program earlier today. I have three different views on it:

(Note: this stands for the experience of one in the United States, looking at United States data and information. Elsewhere it seems the bad and ugly are MUCH GREATER and even seem to go out of their way to make themselves noticed.)

  • Good: The maps use vector graphics.
    Why this is good: You look at most digital map displays, they’re all bit-mapped boxes that expand up to a certain point, then are replaced by a map with streets redrawn in step with the scale. If you focus closer a bit quicker than you “should” or are in a place with slow access or bad reception you end up having large roads with fuzzy borders. What Apple is doing here is having a map that you can move in or out on without fuzzy roads or big empty spots outside where you were focused; instead you will be able to move in our out smoothly.
    And…? It’s pretty much a curio at this point; but it’s again symbolic of what Apple stands for: Thinking different. Instead of trying to change what by now has become the standard of digital maps (yellow background with varying widths of roads, locations and other bits of information on top – a standard started by MapQuest way back before Google jumped on the mapping wagon) they’re trying to make certain aspects of map usage smoother (changing views).
  • Bad: Quite a bit, actually. The maps are incomplete, if not woefully so.
    How bad can it be? Roads missing (or there if they’re not supposed to be), business sites misplaced (or wrongly placed), transit information badly missing, and just the level of detail that Google Maps has made us dependent on has suddenly disappeared. From what I’ve seen there’s the basic level of information, but the extra bits are missing as of right now.
  • Ugly: The 3D view is misbegotten. It can’t handle Bridges (it tends to drop them onto what it perceives as ground level, making for an ugly, bumpy-looking “road”) or Tall Buildings (squashes them and makes them look flatter than they are). As for the satellite images from which the “3D” views are made; there’s a lot of incomplete information being used for views, a bunch of cloudy views, a radical variety of photo sources (including black-and-white pictures) and lots of plain bad decisions on what shows up.

So: Why would Apple put out a half-assed effort like this?

My guess is that they had to do SOMETHING. With all the warring now going on between Apple and Google/Samsung, a lot of sharing that was going on between Apple and Google was stopped. Amongst the stuff no longer shared was YouTube and Google Maps – the first cut off by Google, the other cut off by Apple.

Apple allowed YouTube as there wasn’t much int he app store that did what YouTube did, but Maps was another story. Even if Apple Maps couldn’t do the job, there was MapQuest and Bing and a couple others. If there was nothing that did what Google did, there were enough companies out there doing maps well enough to make it.

So…hell be damned, iOS 6.0 was going without Google Maps…whether the people wanted or not…and whether the company wanted or not. It wouldn’t surprise me if Apple wanted another year or two to work out kinks in their mapping program but had to go with what they had.

And don’t be mistaken – using vectors for roads and stuff makes for a pleasing experience. Much smoother, makes translating between wide-scale and neighborhood scale effortless. Given time, and that technology could make Maps the app of choice when the choice is between Apple Maps and Google Maps.

WHEN. Not Now.