And to make matters more complicated for those who don’t read or speak Chinese, iOS 6 Maps uses Tongyong Pinyin to romanize street names. Google Maps uses the international standard for romanizing Chinese, Hanyu Pinyin, which is used in China and in Taipei. It’s already hard enough for visitors and tourists to deal with unfamiliar names, and iOS 6 Maps isn’t going to help clear the confusion.
So, what to do if you’re longing for Google Maps on your iPhone or iPad? The simplest solution is to access Google Maps through Safari or whichever Web browser you use on your iDevice. You can create an icon shortcut on your iPhone or iPad’s home screen by visiting Google Maps in Safari, tapping the middle button with the arrow on the bottom and then tapping “Add to Home Screen.”
If you don’t like accessing Google Maps through the browser, there are a few third-party apps to choose from.
One alternative that looks promising at first glance is Maps+, a free map based on Google Maps. Maps+ looks very much like the old version of iOS Maps, with a slightly different interface. For me, it seemed like the perfect replacement — until, that is, after about a week, when the search function stopped working. As of press time, the company that makes Maps+, IZE, says in its support forums that the number of searches by its users have exceeded Google’s limits, which suggests that a lot of people have caught wind of the app. If the company can work out this kink, then Maps+ will be the closest thing you have to getting the old Maps back. (A suggestion: check the App Store reviews to see if the problem has been fixed; users have been posting updates.)
Microsoft’s free Bing app has been touted as a good alternative, but I wasn’t able to get the Maps function working properly on an iPhone 4. Waze is a free driving navigation app that has received high ratings in Apple’s App Store, but I wasn’t able to test it in time for publication of this article. And if you’d rather have a solution straight from the source, Google is supposedly working on a separate Maps app for iOS, due out at the end of the year.
Why did Apple ditch Google Maps? Popular speculation in the tech press says Apple wanted access to Google’s turn-by-turn voice navigation, which dictates directions to drivers. Google supposedly didn’t want to license this feature to Apple and keep it for its own Android operating system, which is in direct competition with iOS. So Apple decided to build it’s own app from scratch so it could include the voice feature.
But whatever the reason, Apple’s customers are the losers, at least in the short term. In one sense, it may be unfair to compare Apple’s Maps app to Google’s. Google has had a lot more time to accumulate more experience and mapping data and thus holds a considerable edge. But until it catches up, Apple really should be calling its new Maps app a “beta” product, just as it does with its voice-recognition software Siri.
An update: The search function in Maps+ is now working, which makes the app your best bet for getting a Google Maps app back on the iPhone.
Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Tongyong Pinyin was the official system for romanization of Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan. Hanyu Pinyin was adopted as the official romanization in 2009. The Taipei Times regrets the error.