iOS 6 maps explored

Apple has done away with Google Maps for its latest operating system iOS 6, and come up with its own offering. The result hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for Apple, with angry iPhone users taking to Twitter to voice their opinions about the change.

But can it really be all bad? We have had a decent play with the new maps app and have found plenty to dislike about it, but then there is a lot we enjoy. Let's look how it squares up.

Navigation

The main reason you want a good mapping app on your phone is simply to get from A to B. Previous generations of the iOS did a good job of providing a top-down street view with which to get around. As Android grew, so too did its maps app, resulting eventually in turn-by-turn navigation being included for free.

Apple has spent a long time playing catch-up and the result is now that in iOS 6 you get turn-by-turn directions included. The problem is that Apple has thrown out the Google maps to go with a number of partners including TomTom. Maps simply just aren’t as detailed as they used to be and this means that, while you might have turn-by-turn directions, the app may not even find the road you're trying to get too.

As for the actual navigation UI, it is very clear and simple to use. Enter an address, hit navigate and then everything will be spoken out for you. You can swipe left and right at the top of the screen to see what is coming up next. The big bright green notification at the top of the screen is very easy to read and stops you making any last-minute mistakes by missing a turning.

In fact we really like the navigation and layout of the app; it is much improved and is in keeping with the slightly more colourful look that all of iOS 6 has.

Search

Good navigation is no use if you can’t actually find the place you are trying to get to. Unfortunately here is where the new maps app runs into its biggest hurdle. Searching for a place often offers up entirely incorrect results.

Take Heathrow, for example, which seems to result in a series of shops. There is also no Google search to look up surrounding businesses - meaning you don’t get any of the intelligent search discovery.

There have even been reports of totally incorrect results. Luton, for example, appears now to be a seaside town. In practice though, especially in central London, the app came up with the right places and took us in the right direction.

But having towns entirely misplaced is pretty inexcusable, especially if you aren’t familiar with where you are going - say if you're abroad, for example.

Flyover and satellite

The first time you use Flyover, it is very impressive. Being able to view an entirely 3D rendered version of central London or downtown New York is great. You then realise very quickly that it is a data intensive app, as well as a serious battery hogger.

Without good 3G, 4G or a Wi-Fi connection, Flyover is going to look like a blurry mess for the most part. This is irritating, because the 3D view included in directions could be so much more awesome if buildings were loading up quickly in 3D also.

Again though Flyover is a bit of a double-edged sword. While you might be able to see buildings in 3D from above, you cannot go down to street level. Using Google Street View, the app allowed you to see shops, houses and cars in a road. Now you simply can’t. This can be incredibly irritating if you are trying to find a specific address or building.

The actual satellite pictures also suffer slightly. Some are entirely obscured by cloud cover, so you cannot see what's below them. Others are just too low resolution to be of any use. In the end it feels like Flyover is more fun than any real use, in the same way Google Earth is - a return to Street View and some higher-resolution satellite imagery might be better.

Traffic and transport

In busy cities, the maps app on a smartphone is at its most useful. It should, as the iPhone did previously, help you dodge nasty traffic jams or to work out your journey ahead, but iOS 6 maps does only half of that.

With Traffic, you get a fairly accurate red dotted line that shows whereabouts congestion is occurring, it even lists roadworks and other obstacles that might impede your journey. From a brief drive about, this did indeed seem to help. It spotted tiny bits of congestion and came up with alternative routes.

It isn’t hugely responsive though and, because of the new look of the app, the lines themselves are difficult to spot. More than once we drove into traffic simply because we didn’t see it being listed on the application.

As for public transport, well there isn’t any. No info on train lines, train times, delays or anything else. For this you're going to have to look to other apps. A bit of a glaring omission, if you ask us.

So should I update?

In the end, if you are after the latest and greatest from Apple, then you already have iOS 6 running on your phone, but if you are yet to update, then perhaps have a serious think about holding out until Apple improves maps if that is your main use for the phone besides getting email. Of course you will miss out on a number of other features though. Check out our Apple iOS 6 review to find out what they are. 

This said, it is actually quite a decent alternative to the £50 TomTom app and should, in theory, navigate you with from voice A to B. Just make sure to check where you are being taken beforehand. If you do risk it, chances are that Google’s maps app will be on the app store anytime soon anyway.

Furthermore, with so many complains and issues raised, Apple has said that it is working hard to address the issues raised by users: 

"We are excited to offer this service with innovative new features like Flyover, turn-by-turn navigation, and Siri integration. We launched this new map service knowing it is a major initiative and that we are just getting started with it. Maps is a cloud-based solution and the more people use it, the better it will get. We appreciate all of the customer feedback and are working hard to make the customer experience even better.”

Let us know what you think in the comments below:



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