When Tim Cook apologized for the well-noted inferiority of Apple's iOS 6 Maps on Friday morning, he not only proved himself a more understanding CEO than his predecessor; he also became the latest in a long line of tech writers to suggest alternative iPhone mapping apps for users fed up with Apple's homebrew.
Yes, within Cook's apology is a list of apps (not unlike a list you might see on any number of technology sites, perhaps in slideshow form) that you might consider using, rather than the one his company and his employees make. Cook wrote:
While we’re improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their web app.
(Hey, if this whole "CEO of Apple" thing doesn't work out, then maybe Cook will be able to swing an internship at Gizmodo!)
Reading Cook's app suggestions, you might wonder: How viable is each solution here? Could any of these apps really prove a permanent replacement to your Maps app?
Luckily, all of the apps Cook lists are free, so you can try them out for yourself. For now, though, here's my take:
Google and Nokia Maps Web App
WHO'S IT FOR: Drivers, bicyclists, walkers and transit-takers, patient types, those prone to nostalgia and/or longing for what they can't have.
Let's just get this out of the way: Google Maps is probably the one that you want (hoo hoo hoo, honey) as it presents the most familiar experience and the best mapping data. The method that Cook describes above -- visiting maps.google.com in your browser and bookmarking the site on your homepage -- does indeed save Google Maps to your homescreen like an app; but, alas, it is not the robust substitute to Apple's Maps that you're pining for.
Yes, with the Google Maps web app, you do get back transit directions (hallelujah!) and accurate mapping data (double hallelujah!); unfortunately, you are losing spoken turn-by-turn directions, full-screen mode, a view of nearby points-of-interest and restaurants, and smooth scrolling and zooming. The design on the Google web app is also pretty rough, especially if you're trying to navigate: You can either look at your map, with a blue line on your route, or you can look at a bland list of directions, which do not automatically update as you move.
So: Great for finding a spot, but not-so-great for actually helping you get there.
Nokia Maps works similarly: Accurate maps and transit directions, but no spoken turn-by-turn directions. The design is a bit more handsome than Google's, though.
With both of these web apps, you are trading full-feature navigation for location accuracy. This is, presumably, why Google is rushing to get out an app of its own, which will certainly feature spoken turn-by-turn directions, smoother scrolling and more information about nearby restaurants and businesses on the map itself.
WHO'S IT FOR: Drivers, road trippers; no-nonsense, no-frills, function-over-form motorists.
You might not have thought about MapQuest since Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell concluded that Google Maps is the best for finding the "dopest route" to see Chronicles of Narnia, but the app is actually a worthy replacement for drivers looking for spoken turn-by-turn navigation on their iPhone. It's a fairly basic app -- you enter your address and you get a route, with an option to overlay traffic data -- and there is also a menu that surfaces restaurants, hotels, gas stations, and more in your area. Mostly, though, MapQuest is an effective, barebones GPS app with spoken navigation that's free and accurate. You're losing out on transit directions, however, and you can only get walking directions for distances under a mile; if you're using MapQuest, then, you better hope your Quest involves a car.
CORRECTION: MapQuest can deliver walking directions at any distance. It will only suggest walking directions if you enter a destination under one mile, but you can select walking directions from the menu for any distance.
(Full disclosure: MapQuest, like The Huffington Post, is owned by AOL).
WHO'S IT FOR: Drivers, road warriors, morning commuters; backseat drivers, Emoji fans, former Tamagotchi owners.
Waze is probably the oddball of this group, which you'll be able to tell as soon as you open it up for the first time. There are little icons and cartoons all over Waze's maps, each of which represent either a different cause of traffic in the area (speed trap, construction, accidents) or a fellow Waze user's location.
Waze is really an app for motorists with specific places to go who want to avoid traffic -- that is the stated purpose -- so Waze collects information from all of its users about what's happening on certain roads and why there are slowdowns. You can report incidents that are causing traffic on your route and also peek ahead at the incident reports of everyone else on your route that is using the app; you can even chat with any other Waze user and ask them how things look where they are, what traffic is like, which lanes are moving the quickest, etc. I wrote about Waze at length several months ago and found it a helpful tool for drivers who want an app that can help them avoid traffic at all costs.
Waze is probably best for those in large cities and towns where there are several other Waze users who are constantly reporting traffic. It also comes with voice turn-by-turn navigation and a function to find the cheapest gas station along your route (which, uh, iOS 6 Maps apparently has some trouble with). No transit or walking directions, however: This one is only for drivers.
WHO'S IT FOR: Drivers, transit-takers, walkers; design snobs.
Don't laugh: Bing Maps shares the clean design of the Windows Phone operating system, boasts smooth zooming, and offers driving, transit, and walking directions. You are losing out on spoken turn-by-turn directions, however, and Microsoft could do a better job automatically surfacing nearby points-of-interest; I also found that searching by street address was more accurate on MapQuest and Google Maps than it is on Bing. Still, though, Bing Maps offers directions in a larger, more legible font than you will find from competitive apps, and it's also baked into a Bing app that also offers a fully-fledged search engine.
For more alternatives to Apple's Maps, head to this new section in the iTunes Store which features 13 GPS apps hand-selected by Apple.
Also on HuffPost:
Google Maps For Android Was Getting Better Than The iOS Version
<a href="http://www.theverge.com/2012/9/25/3407614/apple-over-a-year-left-on-google-maps-contract-google-maps-ios-app">Chris Ziegler of The Verge</a> recently reported that Apple pulled out of its contract with Google over a year early, which would explain why Google didn't have a standalone maps app ready to go when iOS 6 launched without Google Maps. <a href="http://www.theverge.com/2012/9/25/3407614/apple-over-a-year-left-on-google-maps-contract-google-maps-ios-app">Ziegler posits</a> that Google Maps for Android had advanced too far ahead of the iOS version of Google Maps -- and Apple wasn't pleased. "Apple apparently felt that the older Google Maps-powered Maps in iOS were falling behind Android — particularly since they didn't have access to turn-by-turn navigation, which Google has shipped on Android phones for several years," <a href="http://www.theverge.com/2012/9/25/3407614/apple-over-a-year-left-on-google-maps-contract-google-maps-ios-app">he writes</a>.
Apple Didn't Like Google Calling The Shots
<a href="http://allthingsd.com/20120926/apple-google-maps-talks-crashed-over-voice-guided-directions/">AllThingsD's John Paczkowski</a> points to Google's unwillingness to share its spoken turn-by-turn navigation data as the source of the eventual break between Google and Apple on maps in iOS. <a href="<a href="http://allthingsd.com/20120926/apple-google-maps-talks-crashed-over-voice-guided-directions/">Writes Paczkowski</a>: <blockquote>Apple pushed Google hard to provide the data it needed to bring voice-guided navigation to iOS. But according to people familiar with Google’s thinking, the search giant, which had invested massive sums in creating that data and views it as a key feature of Android, wasn’t willing to simply hand it over to a competing platform.</blockquote> <a href="http://allthingsd.com/20120926/apple-google-maps-talks-crashed-over-voice-guided-directions/">Sources also told Paczkowski</a> that Google wanted more of a hand in iOS maps than Apple was willing to let the company have. "Google [...] asked for in-app branding. Apple declined. It suggested adding Google Latitude. Again, Apple declined," according to Paczkowski. "And these became major points of contention between the two companies, whose relationship was already deteriorating for a variety of other reasons, including Apple’s concern that Google was gathering too much user data from the app."
The Timing Was Ideal For Apple, Even If It Meant A Half-Baked App
Well-sourced Apple enthusiast <a href="http://daringfireball.net/2012/09/timing_of_apples_map_switch">John Gruber speculates</a> that Apple may have given itself the upper hand by terminating is partnership with Google a year early (instead of waiting until mid-2013 for it to expire). "Apple wasn’t going to wait to negotiate until their backs were to the wall with the currently-shipping version of iOS reliant on Google Maps when the old deal expired," <a href="http://daringfireball.net/2012/09/timing_of_apples_map_switch">Gruber argues</a>. It was in Apple's best interest, he writes, to release its own Maps app with a major iOS release, rather than waiting for the Google contract to expire while a new iOS release was still being prepped. Sure, Apple's Maps are being lampooned across the web; but at least Apple got what it wanted when it wanted it. Right? ...Right?
Apple Wanted The Best Maps App, And It Wanted It All For Itself
<a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2012/09/26/ios_6_maps_a_risky_strategy_for_apple_.html">Slate's Matthew Yglesias argues</a> that Apple dropped Google Maps in the hopes that Apple could one day offer a superior (and native) mapping service in iOS. For now, Apple is relying on its brand power to carry it through the rocky launch of its sub-par Maps app. With a little bit of luck, the company's loyal customer base will stick around long enough until Apple improves ist Maps. "[W]hat they [Apple] achieve by ending the relationship [with Google] early is a chance to some day—hopefully soon—have the very best maps experience in the world," <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2012/09/26/ios_6_maps_a_risky_strategy_for_apple_.html">writes Yglesias.</a> "Under iOS 5 they didn't have that, and as long as Apple depended on Google they were never going to have it."
Apple's Break May Have Made Life A Little Harder For Google
Although critics and users have panned the glitches in Maps' interactive Flyover feature, the 3D bird's-eye view option has also been called "<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/27/technology/personaltech/apples-new-maps-app-is-upgraded-but-full-of-snags-review.html?pagewanted=all">stunning</a>" and "<a href="http://news.cnet.com/8301-13579_3-57517404-37/apple-maps-in-ios-6-what-you-need-to-know-faq/">lovely</a>" (when it works properly). <a href="http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/25/google-working-on-maps-for-iphone-ipad/">The New York Times suggests</a> that, although Google has a years-long head start on mapping applications, the company has a lot of work to do before it can offer a 3D mapping option similar to what's available on Apple's mobile Maps app. <a href="http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/25/google-working-on-maps-for-iphone-ipad/">From the Times</a>: "Google has 3-D images in Google Earth, which is a separate app with a separate code base from Google Maps, so it would take some time to combine the two." It seems that Google's facing a steep, rocky road as it rolls toward it release of its Google Maps iOS app, <a href="http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/25/google-working-on-maps-for-iphone-ipad/">which the Times predicts will be ready at he end of 2012</a>.