We're looking for a granite shop in a city along the eastern part of San Francisco Bay, so I plug the address into the Apple Maps app on my iPhone 4 that's running iOS 6. (I'm navigating, not driving.) The directions look right, and off we go. The interface is a bit awkward, so as we take the freeway exit and get into the complicated part of the directions I zoom in. But the screen jumps to a different stage in the directions. I scroll back, find the screen with the directions for our current location, and follow them. We end up heading in the opposite direction of the store, having been sent to the wrong exit (east instead of west).
Welcome to iOS 6's Maps app, which Apple heralded in June as one of the cornerstone improvements in iOS 6 that was released last week. This is a minor example of the app's shortcomings, and of course every navigation system has flaws or confusing directions. After all, highways and roads are not always laid out simply.
[ See also Robert X. Cringley's satirical guide to iOS 6's "Mapocalypse." | Take InfoWorld's tour of iOS 6's top 16 new features, and learn how to keep iOS 6 from jacking up your phone bill. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights with the Mobilize newsletter. ]
But reports are coming in worldwide about errors in Maps, some as severe as entire cities missing or placed in the ocean. The Maps app simply isn't ready for use. And Apple knew this before it released iOS 6, as developers had complained for months during the beta-testing cycle about the app's problems.
No wonder Android users are having so much fun proclaiming that you should flag down anyone you see with an iPhone 5 and ask if they need directions.
But it's not just the iPhone 5: iOS 6 runs on the iPhone 3G S, 4, 4S, and 5, as well as the iPad 2 and 3. So all those devices get the new Apple Maps when upgraded to iOS 6 -- and lose Google's Maps in the process. Also, note that the iPhone 3G S, iPhone 4, and iPad 2 don't support Maps' voice-based navigation, relying on screens you must page through as you travel which makes it useless for drivers and confusing for pilots. That feels to me like Apple is trying to force users to newer devices through artificial limitations in its core apps.
How to keep yourself from getting lost
For the short term, I recommend you not use Apple Maps. You can use Google's website (maps.google.com). But in my weekend tests I found that, in the Bay Area at least, it didn't reliably load maps or directions over 3G connections -- inconsistent connectivity is the Achilles heel of all cloud services. (My carrier is Verizon, which on average has the most reliable coverage in this part of the United States.) Plus, it doesn't support voice navigation and can be awkward to use.
A better option is the free Waze app, which provides voice navigation on any iOS device -- unlike Apple's Maps -- and has a nice user interface. It does require a live Internet connection, though, so you can't count on it everywhere you go. Despite reports last week, Google says it has not developed an iOS version of its Maps app for Apple's approval, so a version of Google Maps isn't in the cards right now. That's too bad, as such an app could provide the same kind of voice navigation that Android users have long enjoyed from Google Maps but that iOS users were denied in their version.