To recap; Apple dumped Google as its mapping provider in iOS 6 and rebuilt the Maps app from the ground up. Maps in iOS 6 now includes two key new features; turn-by-turn directions and vector-based mapping tiles (the images you see that represent the maps).
If you’re new to mapping apps, turn-by-turn directions is a feature that enables your iPhone to talk to you and direct you as you drive.
It’s super-handy, especially when paired to your car’s Bluetooth system. This feature effectively replaces all other turn-by-turn apps you may have on your iPhone, such as TomTom.
Vector-based maps means maps are clearer and easier to read – at all zoom levels. They are drawn as line art rather than downloaded from a server, and therefore scale better as you zoom in and out of the map.
But Apple’s Maps has come under harsh criticism from many users for displaying inaccurate data. Late last year, in fact, the Mildura Police issued a warning urging motorists to be careful when relying on the navigation system on Apple iPhones running iOS 6 after a number of drivers were directed off the beaten track.
In a media release Victoria police confirmed that “tests on the mapping system … lists Mildura in the middle of the Murray Sunset National Park, approximately 70km away from the actual location of Mildura.
“Police are extremely concerned as there is no water supply within the Park and temperatures can reach as high as 46 degrees, making this a potentially life threatening issue.”
Even the most loyal Apple supporter would agree that this was a nightmare PR situation for the company. But before Apple could do anything about it, Google came to its rescue and launched a native Google Maps app for iPhone shortly after.
Google Maps has all the features that Apple asked Google to provide; turn-by-turn directions, vector-based maps and Street View. The user interface is great, the app works well and it’s free to download. What more could users ask for?
While Apple is often lambasted for having a ‘closed’ ecosystem this story shows just how strong iOS is as a platform. When you’ve got a solid platform, third-party developers have the impetus and can afford to make the investment to develop serious applications because the opportunities for success are great.
Google Maps is one example of this but there are many more in iOS and Mac OS X.
Take ‘Calendering’ as an example. iCal on Mac OS X and iOS are pretty basic apps. In my experience they are buggy too. But that’s OK because the platform is rich enough that many developers have created their own Calendar apps.
In my case, on the Mac I use BusyCal 2 – a vastly superior app to iCal – and on my iPhone I use Fantastical – a beautifully efficient app that runs rings around its built-in competitor. And if you don’t like BusyCal 2 then there is a long list of alternative options to choose from.
I can make the same case for email clients: While I enjoy using Apple’s built-in Mail app, it has limitations, especially when working with Google Apps. But Sparrow developed beautiful iPhone and Mac apps that are much more functional than Apple’s native offerings.
Unfortunately, Google acquired Sparrow before it was able to release the iPad version of the app; but according to Google, we will
see some of the Sparrow technology in future releases of the Gmail iOS app.