Apple on Wednesday made iOS 6 available to those with a recent iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad, and the mobile operating system's most notable feature--a new Apple-powered Maps app--is being met with scorn. Having reached the end of a five-year contract with Google, which supplied map data for the iOS Maps app, Apple made its redesigned Maps app a marquee feature in iOS 6.
"Beautifully designed from the ground up (and the sky down), Maps changes the way you see the world," Apple declares on its website. Prominent observers of the company and some users are seeing red.
Anil Dash, a respected blogger and director of technology incubator Expert Labs, slams Apple's new Maps app as being inferior to the Google-powered Maps app in iOS 5 and earlier. "When you buy an iOS 6 device, you get a worse experience for search and no ability to get transit directions out of the box, both of which are significant downgrades from iOS 5," he wrote in a lengthy blog post on Wednesday. Dash goes on to argue that Maps represents a fork in the road for Apple, one that could herald a shift from focusing on user experience and customer benefits to using its platform dominance to keep competitors at a disadvantage.
Dash's criticism might be easier to dismiss were it not for the fact that Daring Fireball writer John Gruber, whose articulate praise for Apple over many years has made him a company favourite, more or less agrees with Dash's verdict.
"[T]he new Maps is going to be the biggest problem with iOS 6," Gruber wrote in response to Dash's post on Wednesday. After suggesting that Google may share some of the responsibility for ending the Maps contract--without noting that Apple's purchase of three map technology companies since 2009 foretold the contract's end--he concludes, "Anil is right about the bottom line though: the maps experience in iOS 6 is a downgrade."
All Things D's Walt Mossberg, whose recent reviews of Apple products have been largely positive, also sees the new Maps app as "the biggest drawback" of iOS 6.
It's not just the pundits that are quibbling with the way Apple has redrawn Maps. Users of iOS devices are already taking to Apple's forum to complain. And these are not just the inevitable complaints based on aesthetic preference that surface following any product design change; they claim that Maps is inaccurate and unreliable--problems no map can endure for long if people actually use it. "I know the reasons why Apple wanted to move from Google Maps but to release something that is just not fit for [the] purpose is beyond me," complained one user posting under the name "prayme." "I have bought many Apple products over the years, iPods, iMac, MacBook, [etc.] and this change to Maps has left me very angry."
Apologists for Apple argue that Maps will only get better over time, as Apple refines its service and obtains more accurate map data. But Apple customers may not want to wait that long, particularly if Google decides to release a map app of its own. In the meantime, there's always maps.google.com, via mobile browser.