I lived near London, England for nearly two years. I now live roughly as near London, Ontario (yes, such a place exists) from my haunts in southeast Michigan. Apple Maps, Cupertino’s new substitute for Google Maps — which no longer exists on the iPhone as of iOS 6 — thinks the former is in fact the latter. Really, see for yourself.
That’s an embarrassing mixup, albeit, I’m assuming, an easily remedied one. When you confuse one of the largest cities in the world with one that’s only a few hundred thousand strong and located 3,600 miles on the other side of the pond, chances are you’re going to hear about it. A few tweaks and presto, fix-o. For all we know, it’s already done and we’re just waiting on the inevitable iOS 6 update, comin’ round the mountain any day now.
But word on the street is that the problems with Apple Maps extend much deeper, that in addition to getting the odd major city wrong, the app is riddled with shortcomings like out-of-date road information (more so than Google Maps), a tendency to evaluate destinations by their names, e.g. Madison Square Garden, an arena, is labeled a “green space” because of the word “garden” in its name and an occasional inability to find locations the app ought to know about at all.
Apple’s new map app is also missing Google’s Street View and public transportation maps, which those of us in tech-dom knew going in, but which won’t soften the blow for what I’m guessing amounts to a majority of buyers, who no doubt ordered or bought an iPhone 5 assuming Apple’s new Maps app would be at least as robust as Google’s.
Making this all a million times worse, of course: You can’t download a Google Maps app the way you can YouTube (another M.I.A. casualty of Apple’s iOS 6 update). According to a Guardian source, Google has a Maps app in the offing, pending Cupertino’s seal of approval, but The Loop’s usually reliable Jim Dalrymple reacted to this rumor with a resounding “nope.”
I can’t personally verify any of these flaws, because my wife’s iPhone 5 just arrived on Friday (my carrier upgrade date isn’t until early October) and I won’t be traveling anywhere of consequence for another week, but if you’re one of the afflicted, here’s a list of map app alternatives and workarounds to tide you over until either Apple rectifies these issues or Google releases (and Apple approves) a downloadable version of its iOS mapping tool.
Keep using Google Maps in iOS 5. Hey, it’s an option if you’re not buying an iPhone 5, and one I’m reading a lot of people vote for on iOS-related message boards or in story comments. Don’t upgrade to iOS 6. Just wait. There’s no rush, and frankly everything else in iOS 6 is incrementally better — the closest thing to a Siri-caliber shift this time was arguably Maps. Apple’s under worldwide pressure to make Maps better, and it will, you can count on that. With sympathy for iPhone 5 buyers, who’ll have to live with a bit of map-wonkiness or find alternatives (see below), those of us with older iPhones have the luxury of adopting a wait-and-see attitude.
Google Maps in a browser. The most obvious workaround, if you’re determined to use Google Maps, is to bring it up in your iPhone’s browser. It’s not as elegant as the standalone Google Maps app, constrained as it is by the browser’s framework, but it’ll get the job done in a pinch. If you want a shortcut so you don’t have to first launch the browser and type in the maps.google.com URL or hunt for its bookmark, you can “Add to Home Screen” from Safari’s menu. (Sadly, Google’s own Chrome for iOS browser doesn’t support adding a shortcut, or at least I can’t see how to.)
Bing. While you can just as easily access Bing Maps in your phone’s browser, Microsoft has a standalone Bing app for iOS (free, of course) that includes a top-menu-level Maps option and the option to find locations using Bing’s search box, get map-based to-from directions and access public transit information.
Waze. Forget workarounds for a moment, Waze is just a cool idea all its own: Free, crowdsourced mapping, so you can get person-on-the-scene traffic updates, information about traffic jams, accidents, road hazards, gas prices, speed traps and more based on the number of people using the app in your area. Of course that means it also has the downsides of crowdsourced data: inaccuracies, accidental or otherwise, and a dearth of information if not enough people are using it. Worried about people driving solo updating Waze by typing on their phones while driving? The app includes a voice command option that’ll let you report traffic and navigate from one point to another.
TomTom. To be honest, I rarely used Google Maps on my iPhone 4, pre-iOS 6. For short hikes where I needed to jot down an address and get the lay of the land, sure, but mostly I depend on TomTom to get from point to point or locate endpoints like hotels, restaurants, gas stations, bookstores, etc. TomTom has it idiosyncrasies — what GPS app doesn’t? — but in my experience, it’s at least as reliable as my dash-mounted Garmin (and you get map updates automatically, without having to drag in your unit, connect it to your computer with a USB cable, then run a proprietary check-and-sync utility). The only downside: It’ll set you back $40 for the base TomTom app, plus $3 per month or $20 for 12 months to access traffic reports.
That’s my list. It’s also a fraction of what’s available on the App Store, so let me know which map apps you prefer (or just don’t like about my picks) below.