My take on iOS6 maps
With all the reports of how much iOS6 maps are worse than they were on iOS5, I though I’d share my experience with the new version, based on my usage from the last few days.
Let’s start with few words to put things in perspective. With iOS6, Apple has replaced Google maps with its own implementation. In typical Apple fashion, the new version is full of shine and animation. They also added other eye catching (read: selling) features of questionable service such as flyover. But the main feature for many of us has to be turn by turn directions.
As usual after any Apple product release, hardware or software, there are many complaints and criticisms on the web. For iOS6 maps, these are mainly complaints regarding accuracy and features missing compared to previous incarnations. In the past few days, I tested the new service to see how it would work for me. As a disclaimer, let me say that I live in a small European country. Further more, I live in a rural area. Consequently, areas I move in most were never covered as good as big cities. But I got good enough results with Google maps on iOS5 and earlier. I also didn’t expect much from iOS6; based on all bad reviews, there was even an option of the new maps being totaly unusable for areas such as mine.
Coverage, accuracy and offline performance
This weekend, we went to a town, aproximately 100km away to visit friends. I thought this would be wonderful opportunity to test turn by turn. At home, I entered the address and maps responded by offering me 3 routes. It even got the same amount of coverage of my village (~120 houses) as any other map. So far so good! Then we went to car and started our jurney. My next test was how good the maps work offline - another consequence of living in rural area is we don’t get 3G coverage (yet). So my cell phone contract doesn’t include data plan. This meant that practically the maps would have to run offline for the whole trip. While this was working with Google maps, it was passable at best - the way maps worked was they downloaded bitmap images from server, scaled to match various waypoints. This meant that larger spans were covered with less accurate bitmaps, while shorter ones with better ones. Consequently scaling was not working very well as you may imagine.
I was pleasantly surprised with iOS6 maps in this regard: the whole +100km of the trip was downloaded in vector form, including surrounding streets and buildings, so I could zoom in and out at my will! While I knew this particular road, I can imagine how this would come handy when zooming in on a complicated cross roads in an unknown area. Another thing I noticed was using turn by turn actually doesn’t require zooming in as it always runs at maximum detail.
I also gave new maps a spin in a short 6km drive to nearby town (with town we’re talking 4000 souls ;) It knew about all the roads and streets, even all the secondary ones. So again, it’s at least as good as Google maps are, if not better.
There’s no 3D buildings for my country and I also didn’t test POI, but I don’t care about that - what I want from maps is to bring me close to my desired destination. From then on, I can use road signs or simply ask for directions if I can’t find what I’m looking for. I can imagine more serious situations, for example medical emergencies, where this may play critical role. But then again, I don’t imagine myself entering data into maps in such situations - calling 911 would be far more natural response for most of us, and probably faster too.
I found Siri voice over in turn by turn directions adequate, however local geographical names pronounciation was terrible - it simply read the words as if they were written in English. I was listening to podcasts in the background (using Apple’s Podcasts app). I noticed that podcast volume was automatically faded prior voice over, but it didn’t stop - it continued to play in the background. Siri voice was also much louder than normal podcast volume (I was using normal volume setting, didn’t test with other options). I didn’t test with background music, but I imagine it’s the same. I guess this is bigger deal for podcasts, than it is for music, and it’s only small annoyance, but I’d like to see an option of stopping background music or podcast during voice over.
One area where iOS6 maps is not as good as Google maps is satellite view - in many cases, the images included clouds instead of actual terrain. I’m using standard view most of the time, so this is not a big issue for me. But I can imagine it becoming more annoying in some situations.
As explained above, I might not be most representative use case, but for me iOS6 maps are better than iOS5 implementation: while coverage and accuracy is as good as it was on any other navigation product I used, there are still areas where maps could improve, and I’m sure they will. But even as they are now, I find iOS6 maps better product for my use. And I really like far superior offline performance.