Apple’s(s AAPL) decision to part ways with Google(s GOOG) as a partner and build its own maps app is looking like a bit of a hasty decision right now. The first round of handpicked reviewers have gotten a chance to use the iPhone 5, and though all of them gush about the phone as a whole, the Maps app is the biggest complaint.
It was an unusual move for Apple to fix something that wasn’t broken — Google’s Maps app had shipped with the iPhone since the original model and was highly regarded by users. But Google, being the fierce competitor that it is, was holding back the valuable turn-by-turn directions feature from its iOS product while including it with the Android version of its app. Did Apple have to move away from Google Maps? Could the company have negotiated, paid Google more for turn-by-turn directions, or struck any other sort of compromise? That’s not clear. It’s possible Apple could have just decided it didn’t want to promote a competitor’s product on the iPhone.
But from the snippets of reviews included below, it looks like Apple’s Maps app needed more time and development before it was pushed live. The general consensus is that while they look better and have welcome additions that weren’t included with Google Maps, there are still some key features missing.
For Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal, Maps was the only negative he found in the iPhone 5:
The biggest drawback I found is the new Maps app. Apple has replaced Google Maps with a new maps app of its own. This app has one huge advantage over the iPhone version of Google Maps—it now offers free, voice-prompted, turn-by-turn navigation. … Apple’s navigation worked very well, with clear directions displayed as large green highway signs.
But the app is in other ways a step backward from the familiar Google app. For instance, while Apple’s maps feature a 3-D “Flyover” view of some central cities, they lack Google’s very useful ground-level photographic street views. And they also lack public-transit routing. Apple will instead link you to third-party transit apps.
MG Siegler of Techcrunch says they’re not terrible, but also admitted they’re inferior to Google’s offering:
No, I don’t think they’re as good as Google Maps, but they’re not bad by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve looked up local venues and found them all. I’ve looked up places overseas and found them too. I’ve played with the 3D stuff, which is pretty, but probably not all that useful day-to-day. And, of course, I’ve used directions. … A non-welcome subtraction is transit directions — as in, they no longer exist natively in the app. Instead, Apple is saying they will partner with other app makers on this, but none are live just yet so I couldn’t test it out. If you live in a city where public transportation is key, this sucks.
The CBC‘s Peter Nowak misses Google Maps:
The new [Maps] app is functional and includes transit stops, but these are incomplete. While there are plenty of streetcar stops marked in Toronto, for example, some subway stations are inexplicably missing. Real-time traffic data, for Toronto at least, is also almost non-existent. It also doesn’t include Google’s popular Street View, so you can’t swoop down to take a pedestrian-level view of locations.
The Daily Mail‘s Mark Prigg said Apple’s maps are easier to follow and have a cleaner look, but:
… there is one big omission for commuters – transport directions. Currently Apple points people towards third party apps for these, but it is something the firm will need to address in the future to compete with Google.
Engadget‘s Tim Stevens thinks Apple’s maps are fast and good-looking, but he too dings them for lack of public transit directions, among other things:
The biggest drawback is the unfortunate lack of public transportation directions. If you haven’t quite mastered New York City’s subway system, you won’t get any help from your iPhone 5. Curiously, the app offers to give you public transportation directions, but should you choose that option it pops you straight into the App Store with a search for “Routing Apps.” Right now, there are zero results.
It also lacks the detailed layering that you can apply in Google Maps and Google Navigation, showing you whatever you want to see. Maps will list some important POIs — mostly gas stations and convenience shops — but if you want to see all Mexican restaurants on your route you’ll have to dig deeper. Finally, while Maps does show traffic, we never saw it give a warning about traffic along a route currently being navigated. That’s important information for road trippers.