Apple’s iPhone Update Leaves Out Google’s Maps
Millions of iPhone customers may soon find themselves losing touch with an old friend: Google’s maps.
On Wednesday, Apple released a software update for the iPhone that, among other changes, replaces the Google maps that have been on the phone since 2007 with Apple’s own maps. So far the feedback from reviewers and early adopters of the new software is that it is attractive but suffers from holes and glitches.
For example, some have found that searches for an in-town destination can pull up an entirely different city, and there is no built-in information about public transportation.
Apple’s previous versions of iOS, its mobile software system, included a Maps app that was made by Apple but powered by Google’s mapping service. In iOS 6, the latest version, Apple has replaced the old app with a new version that uses mapping data collected or purchased by Apple itself.
The company has been preparing for this change for a while as Google, with its Android software for phones, has come to be more of a competitor than a partner. Over the last three years, Apple has acquired three mapping companies.
On the bright side, the new Apple-powered Maps app includes some features that were not in the old version, like spoken turn-by-turn directions and Flyover, a feature that shows 3-D models of buildings in major cities.
The colors in the Apple maps sparkle a bit more; zooming and panning is faster. Yelp , a popular review site for businesses and restaurants, supplies data for location searches. And iPhone users can ask Siri, the voice-powered assistant, to tell them how to get somewhere.
But because Apple is relatively new to mapping, it has a lot more work to do before its service is as robust as Google’s.
Anil Dash, a New York-based entrepreneur, was critical of Apple and its maps on his blog, writing that Apple had “used their platform dominance to privilege their own app over a competitor’s offering, even though it’s a worse experience for users.” He complained that a search for “Bloomberg” failed to turn up the company’s headquarters, and one for an address on Lexington Avenue pulled up a street in Brooklyn, even when “NY, NY” was specified.
Trenton Fuller, an iPhone and iPad owner and a computer systems administrator in Louisville, Ky., said he liked the look of the Apple maps but found similar problems.
Mr. Fuller said he did a search for Heine Brothers, a popular coffee shop in Louisville, but substituted “Bros.” The map service could not find the shop until he typed its name in precisely. Google Maps, in contrast, was able to find it, even with spelling variations. And the Apple service came up with an inaccurate street address for Mr. Fuller’s office.
“Not being able to find businesses or points of interest without spelling a name 100 percent perfectly could cause some grief,” Mr. Fuller said. “That problem combined with inaccurate street addresses could be superfrustrating.”
Despite the problems, Mr. Fuller said he did not regret his decision to order the new iPhone 5, which will come with the new software installed when it is released on Friday.
For public transit schedules, Apple gives the option for customers to tap on a tab inside the Maps app and download a third-party transit app for their city, though the quality of these may vary.
Google could build its own maps app for Apple devices and submit it to Apple for approval. It declined to say whether it would do so. Brian McClendon, vice president for engineering for maps at Google, would say only that the company wanted to make its maps available to everyone.
All iPhone users will continue to be able to reach Google’s mapping service through a mobile Web browser, a method that is somewhat clunky compared with an app. (The Google site prompts users to create a Google Maps icon that resides alongside app icons on the iPhone.) Users who choose not to upgrade to the new Apple operating system or buy a new iPhone will be able to keep using Google’s maps, and there is no indication that either Google or Apple will stop providing that service.
As more people use Apple’s maps, the company will learn how to improve them. There are 400 million devices running iOS, so it may only be a small matter of time before millions of people have the new maps. Over the next year or two, Apple’s maps should become as good as Google’s for most people, said Scott Rafer, chief executive of Lumatic, a company that has developed a transit app for iPhones.
“What no one’s talking about is map usage is a lot more important than any of this crazy software” that Google’s maps may have, Mr. Rafer said.
Google executives, though they will not talk directly about Apple’s maps, are reminding people that Google is coming to the fight with years of expertise, and a lot of data of its own.
Google, which has offered maps since 2005, has taken photos of streetsin 3,000 cities for its Street View service, photos that help it ensure the accuracy of its maps. And it has information about one million transit stops around the world, including things like photos of the inside of Tokyo subway stations and directions on which exit to use.
“It takes a long time and effort to figure out how to do this right,” Mr. McClendon said. “Experience is important.”
On the same day that Apple released iOS 6, Google introduced some small updates to its Android maps, like the ability to see a list of places that a user had previously searched for on his computer.
Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Gartner, said Apple was clearly not the market leader in maps, lagging both Google and Nokia. But Mr. Gartenberg said he did not think most consumers would be bothered by what was missing in Apple’s maps and that, on the whole, they would be more pleased by the addition of turn-by-turn navigation.
“The granularity of how good mapping is on one platform versus another doesn’t seem like it’s going to matter a lot to consumers,” he said.