I don’t think we’d ever have seen anything like Apple CEO Tim Cook’s letter of apology to his customers in the past. In this extraordinary letter, Cook tells Apple’s customers he’s sorry that the Maps app for iOS 6 didn’t work out as well as it should have.
Then Cook did something even more striking–he recommended that iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch customers download mapping applications such as Microsoft Bing, MapQuest or Waze. He also told users that they could go back to using Google Maps, or they could choose the highly regarded Nokia maps.
I don’t think Steve Jobs would ever have recommended either Microsoft or Google regardless of the reason. But this is yet one more indication that Apple has moved on since Jobs’ death. Cook, unlike the CEOs of many technology companies, appears to have accepted responsibility for a major failing on the part of Apple. For this, Cook is to be commended.
So now the question is, “just how good are the mapping apps that Cook recommended?” Will they get you where you’re going? To find out, I downloaded the apps on the list, and I checked out the Web pages of the mapping sites. The good news? They all work. To find out how well they work, I plotted directions from my office in Fairfax County, Va., to the National Press Club in Washington, DC, a trip I’ve been making for years. I used a third-generation iPad running iOS 6.
Microsoft’s Bing, which was first on Cook’s list, is really a search engine with a mapping function. It’s a lot like Google Maps in this respect. Bing Maps is up-to-date with current changes to the highways around Washington, DC, accurately reflected. When I plotted the trip to the Press Club, Bing Maps gave me exactly the same directions as my automotive navigation system, which uses Navteq maps. Bing shows you the route marked on a map of the area, with each step in the directions above the maps. As you scroll sideways through the directions, Bing moves the map so that you can see the details–a very nice touch.
Of course, Bing is also a very nice search engine, and the mapping function is closely integrated, so if you’re looking up something like Hoover Dam, you’ll first see the search results, including a huge library of photos, then you can get a map of the area which shows, among other things that the bridge over the Colorado River is intact, which is something that the Apple Maps app didn’t show. Even when Apple fixes the Maps app, I think I’ll keep Bing on my iPad.
Pretty much everyone knows MapQuest from the days when it was one of the first online mapping sites available. Now, MapQuest is available for the iPhone, and with the 2X button in the lower right corner, the screen expands to be more useful on an iPad. The images aren’t nearly as clear as the maps designed for the iPad in the first place, because all you’re doing is blowing up a map to twice its original size.
Unfortunately, getting the app to find the National Press Club proved to be too much for MapQuest. I suppose it’s the fact that the club moved several times since it was founded, and only fairly recently–in 1927–did it reach its current location. I was able to locate it indirectly because MapQuest was able to find the liquor store on the first floor of the building. Even Apple Maps, as flawed as it is, was able to locate the Press Club accurately.
Waze is quite different from other mapping apps you’re likely to encounter. First of all, it’s closely tied in to social media, so you can use it to automatically Tweet while driving, and you can link it to Facebook. Second, the content of Waze is crowd-sourced. So things like traffic updates happen in real time as other users report them. It’s a great way to find traffic tie-ups.
Waze also ties into a long list of search engines, so if it doesn’t find what you want on the first try, you can try, try again. In my test, Waze was able to locate the National Press Club, and provide directions. However, the directions were strange in the way they were presented. While you got told to turn right or left at the appropriate locations, the names of most streets aren’t given. In an area as complex with traffic as bad as Washington, this could be problematic.
As I mentioned, Apple Maps was able to locate the National Press Club, and it was able to provide an accurate route to get there.
The two Web-based navigation options are both quite good. You’re certainly familiar with Google Maps since that’s what was on the iPhone and iPad originally. These days Google Maps includes transit, walking and biking directions in addition to driving directions when you use the Website. Nokia Maps is known for accurate maps, and Nokia owns Navteq, which provides the mapping data for the vast majority of GPS units in service. Nokia includes walking and limited transit information on Nokia Maps.
So there are alternatives that work and some that work only with difficulty. But at least you won’t find yourself unable to navigate from place to place. If I had to choose, Bing would get my vote for mapping, at least until Apple fixes its Map app.