Tuesday, September 25, 2012, 01:09 pm PT (04:09 pm ET)
Inside iOS 6: What's wrong with Apple's new Maps
What's wrong with iOS 6 Maps: Flyover
The majority of bugs identified in the new iOS 6 Maps, due to the entertainment value in pointing them out, are oddities related to Flyover rendering errors, including bridges that appear to be melting into the earth (like at Hoover Dam, below) or half collapsed looking buildings. These are unlikely to actually cause problems for people who are looking up a location or directions in maps.
Flyover errors can be easily fixed by Apple. When Google launched Earth, it invited users to map out building models for it. Apple needs to identify and fix Flyover errors, and to extend Flyover models to more areas, but these are not serious bugs and certainly not a "downgrade" from iOS 5, which never offered a Flyover mode.
If you want to "revert" to the flat satellite imagery of Google's maps, just turn 3D off and the rippling bridges fall back into 2D photos. Outside of Flyover-ready areas, satellite images are the same flat pictures they were in iOS 5 when Google was supplying them. And Google supplies plenty of areas with low resolution images with mismatched color regions, making it particularly odd that bloggers are dutifully cataloging errors in the new Maps that have long been in the old Maps.
More critical are the errors in 2D maps of areas where roads or rivers are missing or have changed, or location errors where looking up an address drops you a pin in the wrong location. The accuracy of maps is greatly dependent upon the source material and when they were last updated.
In looking up Flyover images for the Presidio in San Francisco, I saw that Apple is using an outdated model of Doyle Drive (the 101 approach highway to the Golden Gate Bridge). Earlier this year, traffic on the old highway was routed to a new path and the old roadway is now being torn down.
In Flyover, it still looks like traffic is running on the old segment and that the new bridges and tunnels that replace it have not yet been finished.
If you switch to 2D mode however, the simplified route depicted is correct. There is no real world option to drive off the highway onto the old structure. Additionally, the replacement onramp connection between Lincoln Boulevard and 101 is not yet opened (you can see it under construction in Flyover), and is correctly not shown as a passible route on the map.
So again, Flyover images are likely to be as out of data at Google's own satellite imagery, but that doesn't mean that the more critical routing information is also wrong.
Being able to switch back and forth between the two views is just as useful as it was under Google's maps; it's just that Apple's iOS 6 Maps additionally allows you to see and navigate around the new 3D renderings of both standard and aerial images, too.
Thinking outside the US
Apple lists support for 2D Maps and satellite images in 181 countries, driving directions for 96, and turn by turn navigation for 56, with another nine scheduled to be added next month.
Flyover 3D buildings are limited to US cities outside of a few other places, live traffic is limited to 23 nations, local search is limited to 49, and business reviews and photos are limited to 15 countries.
In contrast, Google lists some level of maps for 209 countries, support for driving directions for 162, Street View images for 23 countries, business listings in 37, and live traffic in 22.
Those numbers aren't directly comparable because they're accounted for differently, and Apple also supplies limited street details for maps in some countries that it counts as supported.
There are islands I've personally navigated via Google's accurate map renderings (like Isla Mujeres off the coast of Cancun, Mexico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands) where there are only limited roads in iOS 6 Maps (and they don't line up with the land properly, as shown below).
Switching to satellite images isn't super helpful because they are very low resolution.
There are also apparently a lot of places in the UK where place names are particularly aggrieved, according to the BBC. In the other direction, blogger Anthony Drendel recently noted that Apple's new maps for China are "a huge improvement over Google Maps" in that country.
It shouldn't be surprising that Apple is prioritizing its iOS 6 Maps rollout to favor huge markets like the U.S. and China over remote islands, at least in its first few weeks on the market.
Additionally, as frequent travelers are aware, having nice looking maps doesn't mean you can necessarily look up addresses in foreign countries like you can at home.
Google Maps was helpful in trekking around in urban Cancun, but not very helpful in finding addresses there. In part, that's because addresses there (as in many places outside the U.S.) don't follow orderly numbers along a street name, but are instead a recipe that specifies an area, a neighborhood within it, and the block it's on.
I've also run into trouble navigating unfamiliar languages in Tel Aviv, Israel, where Google commonly responds to English queries with Hebrew and sometimes Arabic. In traveling in Japan this summer, I found that stating your default language in Google Maps doesn't stop it from rendering place names and streets in Kanji instead.
Revisiting these places in Apple's new Maps made it seem like I'd have an equally tough time in Mexico, perhaps an easier time in Israel, and somewhere in the middle in Japan, where Apple's Maps seem to never show street names in anything but Kanji, and could not correctly locate my hotels using their addresses in Japanese or in English (the incorrect pin, below, is a few blocks north).
At the same time, while I can't read enough Kanji to find my Sapporo hotel in Apple's iOS 6 Maps, it's responsiveness, 3D perspectives and additional 2D clarity and detail coverage when operating outside of data coverage would have been much more helpful than Google Maps when exploring the surrounding countryside, or when simply exploring around using GPS.
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