In Defense of Apple’s Awesome Maps App [Opinion]



Apple’s Maps app is a bomb. A stinker. A sign of the company’s impending doom at the hands of Tim Cook, the CEO who replaced the irreplaceable Steve Jobs.

Landmarks are in the wrong place. Roads are missing. The 3D Flyover view looks like a collapsed sponge cake. There are no directions for buses, bikes or pedestrians. Entire cities are marked as hospitals, the Golden Gate Bridge is in the wrong place, and even Apple’s own retail stores can’t be found. It’s such an embarrasment, Tim Cook apologized for its suckiness.

But if you live in San Francisco, the Maps app rocks. I’ve been using Maps for weeks and I’ve fallen in love with it. I use it even if I’m *not* using it, just to watch the gorgeous 3D display unfold as I’m driving around.

Apple’s Maps app is by far the best maps sofware around. Tim Cook is a wussy. You’d love Maps too — if you lived in a geography where it works.

I know there’s a lot of places Maps doesn’t work. New England for example. It’s unusable around Boston, according to our own John Brownlee, Cult of Mac’s deputy editor.

But here in Bay Area, it’s absolutely awesome.

The 3D turn-by-turn directions, for example, are a joy. It’s a blast to watch the 3D vector renderings of the city as I drive around. I have my iPhone 5 mounted just below the windshield. It’s totally Blade Runner to watch the virtual city on the iPhone mirror the real city in front of me.

In addition, turn-by-turn is great on the iPhone 5 in portrait mode. Aligned vertically, the new iPhone’s longer screen is perfect for turn-by-turn. You can see what’s coming well in advance. No more surprise turns or last-minute freeway exits.

The performance is phenomenal. Because Maps is vector based, maps are much quicker to download and draw than Google’s tile-based approach. I’ve frequently been frustrated by missing tiles in Google Maps, or having to wait forever to get enough data to zoom in or out. This doesn’t happen in Apple’s Maps. Zooming and panning is quick and fluid.

There have been lots of complaints about the paucity of points of interest. But in SF, there are all the restaurants, bars, coffee shops, museums and gas stations you could possibly want. Even my neighbor’s obscure little auto upholstery businesses, which he runs out his garage, is listed.

3D Flyover

The 3D Flyover is nothing short of astonishing. I’ve spent hours — literally hours — exploring my home city, as well as London, Los Angeles and New York in glorious photo-realistic 3D.

3D flyover allows you rotate, pan and zoom through the city as if it was modeled on a high-powered workstation, not your iPhone. It uses footage taken by airplanes flying over the city, run through technology originally developed for missile-guidance systems from Swedish defense contractor Saab AB. The result is a weird blend of computer model and birds-eye photography — and it must be seen to be believed.

Here’s a video explaining how the 3D flyover views are obtained:

It’s crazy how much detail the technology captures. My neighborhood is picture perfect in every detail and from every angle, including directly above. You can peer right into my back yard, which can’t be seen from the street, and my neighbor’s too. It’s almost an invasion of privacy.

Here’s a shot of where I live: San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood.

Here’s the same view in Google Earth, which I used to think was pretty extraordinary. But it looks hopelessly primitive in comparison. Buildings are lumpy and ill-defined; and there’s nothing like the same level of detail. In Apple’s Flyover, I can see the pipework on the back of our house. In Google Earth, the house is a squidgy blob.

Flyover is a digital dollhouse on the scale of an entire city. It’s mind-boggling. The dollhouse effect in accentuated by the complete absence of people in the flyovers. Whereas Google Maps’ Street View shows people with their faces blurred, there’s not a soul in Apple’s flyovers. It’s like the Rapture. However, there are ghosts of people and vehicles, which suggests that Flyover edits out moving objects. People move, the buildings don’t.

I don’t think Tim Cook has anything to apologize for, especially when you compare Apple’s Maps to the alternatives. Cook recommend unhappy users check out Mapquest or Waze while Apple gets it act together. Waze is solid, but its interface is horrible. It’s ugly to the point of unusable. In Mapquest, search doesn’t work. Look for “Chase Field” and you get banks or businesses with “Chase” or “Field” in the name, but not Phoenix’s downtown ballpark. This doesn’t happen with Google Maps or Apple’s Maps. It just works.

Google Maps is the gold standard, but I’ve always had problems with the actual directions it provides. I’ve often been mystified by some of the routes Google Maps suggests. Several times it’s been flat out wrong. Not so with Apple Maps. The routes are rational.

Of course, I used Google Maps for years and I’ve only been using Apple Maps for a few weeks, but so far, the routes it suggests make sense. It also does a good job of providing alternative routes. The big hole is routing for pedestrians, bikes and public transit. These work well in Google’s Maps. But it’s early days yet for Apple’s Maps. Let’s hope they get added in the future.

And then there’s aesthetics. Apple’s Maps is just gorgeous. The colors, the textures, the fonts. I’m not much of a design snob, but Maps brings it out in me. I can barely look at Google Maps anymore. I used to like its bare utilty, but now it’s just ugly.

All in all I’ve really fallen for Apple’s Maps. I love it. I wish it worked just as well where you live.

  • Sander Strijbos

    Have been using it on and off and I cannot find any faults with it. Directions are accurate, locations: all of them at the right place. Maybe it’s because I am from the Netherlands and Tomtom (a Dutch company) provided lots of the maps, so we might have a head start. So far, so good on the Maps front for me.

  • TheMadTurtle

    I love the new maps app! I’ve used it on my 4S to get from Northern, IN to Detroit, MI and back.

  • John Lehmkuhl

    Here in Portland Oregon, the downtown area has 3D information – 95% of the area doesn’t. I like the App, it has worked to take me places correctly but we’re not used to situations like this coming up where Apple releases 1/2 baked applications. Siri is still in beta and now this?? I hope they get a little more serious about covering their bases before releasing something that is going to be relied on all over the world… I’m SO happy you get to see your place in 3D – most of us don’t.

  • troopersam

    I tried Apple Maps turn-by-turn yesterday for the first time, and it was very accurate for the route I took. The interface is great for driving, easy to see even on an iPhone size screen, and the directions given over speaker are loud enough to actually hear in a moving car. I see myself using it quite a bit in the future.

    That being said, Disney Hall is still a melted mess. :)

  • coolman1081

    It’s not a big deal to me as my iOS device is a 2nd Gen iPad. But from what I’ve seen of Apple Maps so far, it’s pretty awesome. The flyover isn’t amazing in my closest major city, Portland Oregon, and my hometown of Forest Grove is completely flat. But, in cities like Chicago, it looks amazing. It makes me want to get an iPhone, and if it wasn’t for Verizon’s absurd data fees I would.

  • anth

    Erm, it’s bloody brilliant! And it’s free
    FFS I’m new here, I thought it was an apple forum, but clearly you lot despise everything post jobs apple do

    Oh well, maybe I’ll piss off back to macrumours

  • lkahney

    I’m glad to see from the comments here that others are having a ppositive experience too. I forgot mention it in the post, but 90% of iPhone 5 users said they had no problem with maps, according to a ChangeWave survey:

  • wpcrumbley

    First I would like to say I absolutely love apple products. But the maps is just for entertainment purposes. Everyone is criticizing the maps for the wrong reason. Yes they get things in the wrong place sometimes, but so does google. Yes some of the buildings look messed up, but so does google. Yes when you search for coffee it can’t find all of them. But I dislike google but this is where google maps is WAY better. ALOT of the time when you are using apple navigation unless you are looking at the screen you don’t know what to do. There have been at least 5 times that I have witnessed that you are suppose to turn right and it shows it but doesn’t say it. And since apple touts you can turn off screen and it will wake up when it needs to, that is a major issue. And every other issue will get better with more people using it, but I don’t think this issue is an easy fix.

  • MostlyPenguins

    I have been using apple maps on my 4s in Memphis, TN and I have had NO PROBLEMS, also BETTER directions than the google maps and I get turn by turn. Why have so many people blamed Apple when they rolled this out after asking and being denied turn-by-turn from google? Im loving apple maps and expect it to get better and better.

  • rsalermo

    I just returned from a 4 day trip to Orlando, Florida. The maps app worked flawless. I had only one issue with a Benihana restuarant location, which I’ve experienced with the Navigon app as well ($49.00). So far, it hasn’t failed me in Miami, Orlando, Los Angeles. I’m heading to Denver next and will try it there also.

  • Fiercehairdo

    Great that the maps work well for you Leander in your area. But a map that is accurate to one or two cities and inaccurate to places further afield is no use whatsoever. I’m in east London, UK and it is fairly accurate for streets but utterly useless for businesses and local services. And outside of London it’s just a joke. Lack of street view a huge drawback. The 3D views are impressive and much better than I thought they’d be. But even in a major city like London there are huge gaps in the coverage (nothing north of Oxford Street). The satellite imagery is too dark and poor quality. Also, on the standard view streets are rendered very small and very few street names are displayed unless one zooms right in. It has the promise of being a great app but is way off that at the moment and on a ‘mission-critical’ app like a maps app it is unacceptable that Apple yanks the functioning app away and replaces it with a sub-standard, beta app. It smacks of hubris. And we the paying, loyal customers lose out in the meantime.

    BTW, the video does not appear to show how 3D maps are created, it just says ‘3D data extracted’, well I knew they extracted 3D data! What I want to know is HOW they extract it? The video gives no clue…

    (Sorry to moan so much but…on a side note, why does your comments section not play well with an iPad? For a mac focused site you’d think that’d be a basic requirement. Instead it behaves in a very buggy way and doesn’t allow easy input, copy/paste often doesn’t function, text input behaves unexpectedly…)

  • Henrydmc

    I’ve been using it in Washington, D.C. It performs very well. I honestly can say that I haven’t had any issues with it. Though I wish there was an option for public transportation and pedestrian. But other than that, it’s flawless. The turn by turn is always right on, and the locations are also pinpointed on the exact location.

  • sleeper_23

    Yesterday I was really close to kill myself with my car following Apple’s maps.

  • larod

    Really???! They just have 5 million miles ahead of them. The whole point of a map app is… uh… represent points on a map accurately and 5% accurate is just such an abysmal failure on their part. The service was just not ready for release, is at least two years behind google maps and is just a total waste of time and money on their part. Love the iPhone but wow I miss Google maps so bad, the web app is slow and even then is a hundred times better than Maps.

  • ex_spy_guy

    Dallas and San Diego are also great cities for Apple Maps.

    Check this out:;D9D51980-81CC-400A-A43E-F6CC0B3EC40A

    People think I’m going fanboy when I tell them google maps sucks in comparison….then I show them I’ve done the research.

  • grahamd711

    I live in NYC and I 100% disagree with almost every part that you have championed the IOS maps. Not only do transit directions not even exist, but the driving and walking directions are simply wrong. Sure it may be good in SF where they have no doubt more information than any other city. On google maps I can search for an obscure restaurant or location and not even put in the address but simply “thai tribeca”. I do the same search on IOS maps and it brings me to Australia? WOWWW exceptional use of technology…. apple maps cannot even figure out that I am in NYC so clearly would not be wanting to go to dinner in Australia. Why not perfect the technology before you release it (and then give more credit to your rival in google by making them look good). Some opinion..

  • evanaetor

    I’ve used it in Seattle, New York, Kansas City, Houston and Austin. I haven’t had any problems with it, and I love the turn by turn and flyover. I miss the street view and mass transit. The third party mass transit apps it refers to need some work.

    People are always over critical of Apple because they are the best and charge the most for their products.

  • Chris Hunter

    Turn by turn is awesome when it knows where it is going. Everytime I do a search for something in my local area it simply can not find it.

    I drove from my house to Seattle, which is a 40 minute drive. The turn by turn was amazingly on the money. However I had to use my wife’s phone to look up the address to where I was going so I could type it in. My old android phone and surprising enough google maps would find said place every time.

    Turn by turn perfect, finding anyplace horrid and honestly the biggest flaw with IOS 6 period.

    I stood in front of Wal-Mart by my house and did a search. It gave me directions to Wal-Mart, but the one 35 minutes away. Home Depot as well. Sure I’ve added both of these locations several times and I guess its supposed to take longer than a month for them to be added.

  • Boris Terekidi

    I live in Toronto and I think iOS Maps are awesome. Turn by turn works great, the streets are there and the flyover in downtown is awesome. Now they need to take it more north (northern part of Toronto). Overall thought – i love it.

  • nthnm

    I notice no difference in Vancouver, Canada. I wouldn’t consider myself an intensive user though.

  • Kurt Bauer

    Works great in Vegas, and Henderson Nv. Too many people like to talk crap but its getting even better every day.

  • tedcranmore

    Couple of huge improvements that aren’t talked about enough….using siri to interact with maps and data efficiency. I love saying “take me to Craig’s house” and boom I’m getting turn by turn with such ease. The other thing I’ve loved when visiting the us is the data efficiency of the vector maps. As data roaming out of country is so stupidly expensive, I turn on data roaming only when I need maps, which when traveling is often! The new maps are so much better with data that I’ve experience big savings on my trips. Much appreciated feature.

  • Alicantemacman

    It works perfectly in the Elche and Alicante areas of Spain

  • Allan Cook

    I’ve used Maps for a month now all over Texas. It hasn’t steered me wrong yet.

  • crateish

    I’ve been using Apple Maps in and around the Philadelphia area since the iPhone 5 launch with zero problems. The maps are beautiful and easy to follow. The apology was Tim’s first mistake.

  • ewesewes

    Application-wise & UI-wise: iOS 6 Maps is superior than any other
    Data-wise: simply FAIL
    Search-wise: cannot beat Google on this thing

  • bsoudi

    One feature there’s little talk about is traffic. It is absolutely unusable on Maps. It is a must have feature for me around Chicago. On the old Maps, it was briliant that when you left your destination, you pull up maps and the color scheme (red-yellow-green) determined my route. With iOS maps traffic is relegated to massive, totally useless red-dashed caterpillar.

    I’m so glad that people like spending “spent hours — literally hours — exploring my home city, as well as London, Los Angeles and New York in glorious photo-realistic 3D.” But if you can’t use it to get around, it’s just a half-complete gimmick.

  • ozymandias

    Sorry but Apple Maps in iOS 6 couldn’t find Starbucks when I tried. For crying out loud, if that doesn’t speak to the pathetic state of their maps, I don’t know what does.

  • nthnm

    The driving directions work perfectly in and around Vancouver, Canada. Though it does tell me to do a lot of U Turns which may or may not be illegal in certain areas. I haven’t really used any of the features of Maps in iOS6

  • tubcol

    I recently returned from a trip to Barcelona, Spain. In the narrow streets, where GPS is limited, the accelerometer and Maps worked their duo of magic to keep me on track. Both Metro and Walking directions were accurate and optimal. I want a navigation app to get me where I need to be. The fancy 3D stuff is nice, but ultimately less important.

  • duncanfurg13

    Also in Apple’s defense, it really isn’t Apple’s fault. If you tap the little ‘page’ flip thing while using Maps, like you were going to change the map design from Hybrid to Satellite, you can clearly see that it says ‘Data from TOMTOM, others. >’. So, does this change anything? I think it does. It isn’t Apple’s fault, it is Tomtom’s (and others).

  • Manuhk

    I live in Hong Kong ans Apple’s Mapping app is here completely and utterly unusable. The coastline is wong (it has been reclaimed more than 10 years ago), government building are on wrong locations, businesses and districs apparently don’t exist. A search for a restaurant in Wanchai (district on Hong Kong Island) produced a result about 1.500km away im Nanjing (Wanchai Steakhouse Nanjing). Any route search gives us dirctions only by car, apparently when we want to go to one of the 200+ outlaying islands we can drive straight through water. The location of the Apple store is (of course) correct, just that the area aroung it has been reclaimed 10+ years ago and is now a part of a busy street system has apparently not been nosticed by Apple, thus they thing they have a harbour view from the shop, when they actually look at a busy traffic junktion.
    Country parks and mountains where single handedly moved around to positions that were obviously more pleasing to Apple and the Airport Express does not exist (Disney World does, so they really know their priorities), for me Apple Maps is just a very bad joke!

  • cozylummox

    I live in NYC. I agree 100% with what was championed in this article. I get very accurate driving and walking directions. I love turn by turn, and yeah, Transit is gone, but I use iTrans NYC, and between the two, always know where I’m going.

  • Adam

    Fanboy alert! :D Google Maps are great, directions always were proper for me, not so with poor Apple Maps…