It's iPhone 5 review day, but it's also iOS 6 day. Almost every iPhone and iPad owner on the planet will practically DDoS Apple's servers trying to download the free iOS update later today. Now, there's a lot to like in iOS 6, but Apple Maps definitely isn't one of them, which most early iPhone 5 and iOS 6 reviews seem to have glossed over. It's rubbish, unfortunately, and here's why.
OK, so the first thing you notice about Apple Maps is that the map tiles themselves look different. Gone are Google's now-familiar colours and display, replaced with something that looks a lot like the Bing maps of old, just based on TomTom's map data. The map tiles are fine; I have no issues with them at all. They're fast to render, show the roads fine, and even the satellite view works as expected. But it's the small but incredibly important things that are just plain missing, and it's a massive issue.
I don't know about you, but I use maps when I'm lost or need to know how to get to somewhere. Yes I've used Google Maps in the past to spy on a friend's new house, check out an area and see if my car's been snapped from miles above the planet, but mostly it's to find where to go.
To that end, this is where Apple Maps falls flat on its face. For large parts of the UK, it just doesn't feature the public transport you need. Now, I'm not talking about public transport routing -- for that kind of thing I have dedicated apps that do it better -- I'm talking about actually showing train stations, tube stations, bus stops, and things like that on the map; kind of important if you don't know where the hell you're going.
The really strange thing is, some areas have some train and tube stations marked, but not others. For instance, in the famous Wimbledon, the Croydon tramlink stations are marked, for the most part, but Wimbledon mainline and tube station is totally missing, even though the tramlink goes through the main station, and even the rail lines themselves converge on the spot where the station should be on the map (see below). In other areas of London, some tube stations are marked, but others aren’t, and it's not like the tube stations are new. It's really quite strange, in fact, because why some are marked, as they should be, and some are missing assumed dead, I have no idea. Incomplete data makes for an incredibly frustrating and flat-out unhelpful experience.
It's not just public transport that Apple Maps totally fails on; it can't find businesses or places either. Yelp has apparently provided its database to Apple, but compared to Google Maps it's just poor. Searching for my local Center Parcs in Longleat, which is something rather big and bloody well should be in Apple's business database, Apple Maps protested that it, frankly, didn't exist. Combining missing places with incorrect listings, like Birmingham's Bullring being spelt "Bull Ring," it makes it really hard to find what you're looking for. Oh yeah, and Apple didn't bother to correct "Duncaster" either before launch (as you can see up top), which goes to show just how much it cares about the UK.
All of these features are, of course, available and working correctly on Google Maps, but interestingly Nokia Maps on a Windows Phone couldn't find Center Parcs either, which just goes to show that in the mapping battle, Google Maps is currently king.
Apple Maps isn't all bad -- its 3D buildings are pretty cool, and it looks nice, for a mapping app, but it's just not helpful. A mapping app is meant to help you out when you're in a pinch, not be dumb but pretty. I really hope this is a work in progress, for Apple, that'll quickly get updated on the backend to add these kinds of things, but I have a feeling the UK just isn't a priority for Apple. Who wants to bet that Apple Maps works perfectly fine in the US, with all the info you'd need? At least, that's the impression all the early reviews of the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 give.
I can only hope that Google releases a standalone Google Maps app for the iPhone pronto, because for the time being, I've resorted to using Google Maps in mobile Safari, and while it works, it's, well, painfully slow. Is it worth holding back on the upgrade for? If you use Maps a lot, I'd say yes. Help us out here Google, get your skates on and force Apple to let a dedicated Google Maps app through the App Store approval process, so we can all update without losing out big time.