Wed, Nov 07, 2012 - Page 12 News List

Tech Review: Apple’s iOS 6 Maps

With the launch of its new operating system, iOS 6, Apple created its own built-in Maps app to replace Google Maps. Here’s why Taiwanese users will probably want to stick to Google Maps and other alternatives for now

By David Chen  /  Staff reporter

Maps+ gives back Google Maps to iPhone users.

Screenshots: David Chen, Taipei Times

If you use an iPhone or an iPad, you’ve probably heard that Apple’s new Maps app is a disaster.

That might be too strong of a word, but the new Maps is surprisingly bad, especially coming from Apple, which isn’t known for cutting corners.

With the release of the latest version of its mobile operating system, iOS 6, Apple ditched Google Maps for its own mapping system.

The result has been a half-baked app that produces less accurate results than Google Maps. After its release, the new Maps elicited such a strong backlash that Apple apologized and offered a list of alternatives for users to download from its App Store.

To be fair, there are a few nice things about the new Maps app. It loads faster, it has nice typography so the street names are easier to read, and the flyover feature, which provides photo-realistic 3D views of certain cities (not in Taiwan yet) is pretty neat. And the new Maps gets the job done just fine when you’re trying to get your bearings in an unfamiliar neighborhood. The app can pinpoint your location with no problem.

But a big, big problem arises when you actually try to search for places. The new Maps had trouble finding many major businesses and landmarks in Taiwan.

Crappy app

I was planning a trip to Taichung, and was trying to decide whether to take the High Speed Rail. On an iPad, I typed in “Taichung High Speed Rail,” and the result that appeared was the locale of the “Wu Jih Taiwan High Speed Rail Real Estate Agent Co. Ltd,” located in a rural area east of Taichung proper and far removed from where the station actually was — on the opposite side of the city.

I tried typing in Chinese, thinking this would yield a better result, but no dice. “台中高鐵站” (Taichung High Speed Rail Station) and “高鐵台中站” (High Speed Rail Taichung Station) did lead me to a Taiwan High Speed Rail station — but in Chiayi.

Changing the Maps settings to display only Chinese characters (which you can do by going to Settings/Maps and toggling “Always English” to off) didn’t work either.

Similarly inexplicable results showed up when I searched for other major buildings in Taipei. Searching for “Taipei 101” led me to several random offices near Fuxing South Road (復興南路) — and Taipei 101 is even listed on the map! Typing in the Chinese characters for the world’s second tallest building yielded yet another completely random location. I also tried to search for “Wanfang Hospital” (萬芳醫院), and got flung over to several locations with the same name in China — and then I realized one of the major municipal hospitals serving southern Taipei wasn’t even listed on Apple’s maps.

The list goes on and on. I encountered none of these problems when using the same places in Google Maps.

Again, it’s not that the new Maps is completely unusable.

Hit and Miss

I did get reasonably usable results when searching for specific addresses, but it can be hit or miss (see above photo). I found that especially in Taipei, Google is almost always more accurate, especially when it comes to mapping the city’s labyrinthine alleyways and lanes.

The same holds for getting driving and public transit directions — you’ll get better results on Google. One item high on my list of “things to improve” in Apple’s new Maps app: Draw out the MRT lines and their corresponding colors in Taipei. For now, you can only see the station names, but no indication of routes or train lines.

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