Six reasons travellers should be wary of Apple Maps in iOS 6

By John Walton, September 20 2012

Business travellers who rely heavily on the Maps app of their iPhone or iPad will find Apple's new iOS 6 Maps is more like a dead end.

Our hands-on testing indicates the new Maps app is inaccurate and inconsistent for search, location information and public transport -- and falls short even for absolute mapping basics like city centres and famous landmark hotels.

Here are some specific instances where iOS 6 Maps takes a wrong turn, and will make many travellers think twice before upgrading to iOS 6 or the iPhone 5.

Searching -- even at the level of major cities -- is broken

Searching for London brings you to the one in Canada, but only sometimes. 

One of those apocryphal travel anecdotes is being booked on flights to Melbourne, Florida in the USA, or London, Ontario in Canada rather than the must more significant cities and airports with the same name.

iOS 6 Maps does that too if you want London -- but intermittently, based on our trials. You'll need to type "London, UK" if you want the British city to come up every time.

Things get even worse once you start searching more specifically.

Location and search databases don't link up

One of the biggest problems with iOS 6 Maps is that the location data it uses (from Yelp, TomTom and others) is significantly less comprehensive than Google's. And even so, there are problems linking it up with search.

For example, I'm currently in Tokyo and couldn't get iOS 6 Maps to find the Park Hyatt (you know, the world-famous hotel from the movie Lost in Translation), even though it is specifically listed as a major hotel landmark on iOS 6 Maps, purple hotel symbol and everything:

The location database has the address and all the hotel's details -- even a satellite view and the phone number, which in Japan can be used to locate a building -- but the search function can't find it.

You can't find Tokyo Station -- one of the world's largest railway stations -- either.

Nor "Paddington Station" in London, where the Heathrow Express goes -- you're taken to Paddington Street, which is quite a distance away.

Airport locations are inaccurate, making navigation difficult

Still on the airport side of things, location pins are smack-dab in the middle of the airport. Which would be fine, except that passengers have to use terminals, which tend to be on the outside of the airport.

Melbourne is a prime example. Currently, Melbourne Airport has two location pins, with the default one off to the west of the airport terminal, so driving directions don't work.

Internationally, Frankfurt has the same problem:

Sydney Airport too sees issues. Only the domestic airport has a location in iOS 6, and if you search for "Sydney International Airport" Maps will direct you to the domestic side. "Sydney International Terminal" gets no results either.

We also noted that entering a three-letter airport code to find your way to that airport no longer works in a consistent, reliable manner. 

Beware when searching for Bangkok Airport in particular: iOS 6 Maps brings you to the old Don Mueang airport rather than the new one at Suvarnabhumi -- which is pretty inexcusable since they've had different three-letter codes for the past six years.

International maps are particularly bad, even in major cities

We know that many Australian Business Traveller readers rely on iPhone and iPad maps to navigate around overseas cities, even if their work phones are BlackBerry or Android devices.

Bad news here too.

London's Apple Maps centre pin (once you've found London: it's still not in Canada) is bizarrely to the west of Victoria Station. London has an official centre for mapping purposes: it's Trafalgar Square, a half-hour walk away.

Similarly, New York's "centre" pin is on East Houston St at 2nd Avenue in the East Village. No idea why.

Hong Kong's isn't even on Hong Kong Island -- it's in the wilderness of Kowloon's Kam Shan Country Park, despite the fact that there is an all-caps HONG KONG marker on Hong Kong Island.

In Beijing, there are no Chinese characters on streets, which makes navigation difficult.

Google Maps also translates Chinese words like "dajie" to "avenue", which is awkward if you're trying to point to something on a map. Some of the pinyin transliterations into Roman characters are also incorrect.

(Getting Chinese characters is an all-or-nothing game: your device's Settings can turn English off or on, but there's no useful hybrid version like there used to be.)  

The actual mapping is equally unhelpful in the Chinese capital: no subway lines (unlike Google Maps) and no prioritisation of major routes like the Second Ring Road or Chang'an Jie.

In economic powerhouse Chongqing -- one of the world's largest megacities -- the default centre pin is away from even the location where Apple Maps itself says the centre is.

If you're familiar with Chongqing, something will look wrong there: the entire Yangtze River, which runs in an enormous loop through the city's hills and is a key way to get your bearings, is missing from the maps.

And in Tokyo, while Google Maps displays key train routes and helpfully distinguishes private subway stations from JR line stations, iOS 6 Maps doesn't.

Public transport stations are missing, unranked and incomprehensible

If you're trying to get around using iOS 6 Maps, good luck to you. Station display is unusably inconsistent.

Take London. Not only are the mainline long-distance rail stations displayed in the same style as the Underground (Tube) stations, the stations randomly appear and disappear when you move the maps from side to side.

It's the same even in New York, and even worse when you zoom in and back out again.

Here, we've zoomed in and out on the financial district of Lower Manhattan. Starting level of zoom:

Zoom in, more stations appear.

Zoom out again: it's a different set of stations, in the original area, at the original level of zoom.

In many large cities, the multiple exits from sprawling underground train and subway stations need to be marked for a map to be useful. iOS 6 Maps fails here too, everywhere we looked.

BUT -- Maps is great if you're looking for an Apple Store!

The only way that iOS 6 Maps is an improvement is if you're looking for an Apple Store.

These are more prominently displayed than just about anything else in the cities where they appear.

So what are your options?

All up, Apple Maps for iOS 6 a significant step backwards for business travellers.

If being able to navigate is important to you in the near term, we'd recommend that you consider not upgrading to iOS 6 for now, despite the tempting business travel innovations in the new OS. (Consider keeping your iPhone 3GS/4/4S around too, even if you upgrade to an iPhone 5.)

We're comparing the various mapping options available to iOS 6 users to get around the problem until Apple fixes the many problems with Maps, and will bring that to you once we've picked some decent workarounds.

One quick fix is to add Google Maps onto your iDevice as a 'web app' – just follow our step-by-step guide.

If you have a favourite app, or a top hack for using Google Maps via Safari, drop us a comment below and we'll look into it.

For the very latest business travel news, follow us on Twitter: we're @AusBT.

John Walton
John Walton

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

Visitant

Visitant

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Sep 2012

Total posts 1

If you guys weren't so Apple-centric, you'd find that Nokia maps works flawlessly, even with airport codes. Of course it also includes free voice guided navigation, and public transport guidance for major cities.

On the other hand, you could just keep your Iphone, and take a UBD/Melways with you!

here2go

here2go

Qantas

10 Sep 2011

Total posts 162

Have to agree Tony.  Nokia Maps - powered by Navteq, which is the same set of maps used 80% of all GPS devices, and soon to be all WP8 phones, is brilliant.

I've had nothing but joy from it on my crummy old N8-00, and it even works out of mobile phone coverage if you preload the maps - which you can pre-download on wifi for free for a large number of countries around the world.  Much better value than a bog standard GPS.  Maps for my trip to Singapore and Europe sorted, and no mobile data needed.

David

David

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2322

Tony, as great as Nokia Maps may well be (and I rate them as one of Windows Phone 8's secret weapons, as Nokia has extensive experience in mobile mapping), I hope you'll note that this is an article about the iPhone, iOS and Apple Maps. It's not a Apple vs Anybody Else piece.

CL9

CL9

22 Mar 2012

Total posts 200

Good on ya for disproving the apple fanboys

altinomh

altinomh

20 Sep 2012

Total posts 1

For those who want to downgrade the iOS6 to iOS 5 can check out the following link:

https://discussions.apple.com/message/19620810#19620810

Vi

Vi

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 4

What is point of buying iPhone 5 if you won't use latest iOS? For business users the new Passbook probably will be one of most usefull applications on new iPhone with iOS6, but the new Apple mapping software makes me worry and I am not sure I want to upgrade my phone right now.

CL9

CL9

22 Mar 2012

Total posts 200

How come we see so much coverage of Apple's new software update and iPhone when there are other market leading smartphones that offer better features for business travellers?

John Walton

John Walton

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 673

For the same reason that I have never seen an Android dock in a hotel, or a Windows Phone-enabled TV speaker system: people use iPhones, and to borrow a phrase from Mitt Romney, business travellers are people, my friend.

Business travellers use iPhones and iPads. Do a quick count the next time you're in a lounge, and see how many non-Apple tablets you spot, for example. I passed through Helsinki three times this summer and even there, in the heart of Nokia country, I heard more Marimba than Grande Valse.

And people carrying multiple devices will often have, say, a BlackBerry and an iPhone. I know which one I've always used for things like maps and web browsing.

Let's not forget, Apple is often a trailblazer for new technologies. Whatever you think of the patent litigation situation (and I think it's patently ridiculous, if you'll pardon the dreadful pun), it's pretty clear that there were phones, then the iPhone came along. Everyone's been running to catch up since, with innovation only really coming from things like the Galaxy Note (which I kind of covet even though it looks ridiculous) and the Lumias (because the iPhone skeuomorphs annoy me senseless). 

(I'll note here that I eschewed the iPhone until the 3G came along, since I liked my Nokia N95's camera too much.)

I'm really looking forward to Windows Phone 8, and there are a couple of interesting HTCs in the pipeline, and I bet Samsung will have some new stuff once they stop going "hey lawyers, is this too much like an iPhone?".

And I'm by no means enamoured of everything Apple does, as you just might have realised from this article. But like or dislike Apple, news of what they're doing is just about the most newsworthy mobile news out there, since it either directly affects you (iOS user) or will indirectly affect you (your next or next-next phone will incorporate some of the tech).

David

David

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2322

One reason for this is that, quite honestly, both John and myself – like the majority of business travellers – use iPhones and iPads.

Now I'd love to cover Android and Windows Phone and even BlackBerry with equal depth – my background is as a tech journalist and mobile specialist, I even launched and edited a mobile magazine some years back so I'm very into the mobilespace.

But in order to do that, we'd have to do a LOT less of the many other articles which AusBT does so well (he said modestly!), so it comes down to making a choice as to where to focus our resources.

Cutting back on AusBT's highly-valued and highly-differentiating 'core' or primary content, which is where we've made our mark, to expand coverage of 'non-core' or 'secondary' content of traveltech – which is where Apple, Android, Windows and BlackBerry all sit – is not a smart business decision.

And right now, Apple is undeniably the low-hanging fruit (no pun intended) on the traveltech tree, so that's where I draw the line.

As mentioned earlier, I do intend to expand our coverage of other mobile platforms but that's going to have to happen without impacting on our core content. We're not going to try to recreate what CNet, Good Gear Guide etc already do so very well.

So yes, we'll be doing more on other platforms – but don't expect this to happen overnight because the solution is not an easy one.

Robert Stainsby

Robert Stainsby

20 Sep 2012

Total posts 1

Yes I have a favourite app (for Melbourne), though admittedly I wrote it: iMelway.

Melway's are still the most detailed and up-to-date maps of Melbourne. What better way to take the Melway with you than on your phone?

here2go

here2go

Qantas

10 Sep 2011

Total posts 162

David et al.  Here's a link from My Nokia Blog that compares mapping solutions between Nokia, Google and iOS.  None are perfect, although I do believe Nokia Maps provides the best overall package for the Business Traveller.

http://mynokiablog.com/2012/09/20/visualized-nokia-maps-vs-the-competition/

For the avid skier who likes fantastic snow, or somebody trying to negotiate a deal in Japan - the omission of Japan from Nokia Maps is a problem, especially as WP8 is trying to capture the Japanese market.  However, I believe this may have more to do with the funky structure of Japanese street numbering, where houses are numbered in accordance with the order they were built, not their place in the street, which would seriously blow out the file size meaning that 3G/4G is the only serious way to go, or heaven forbid, PAPER!

Clubsandwich

Clubsandwich

21 Sep 2012

Total posts 1

Actually...not even an improvement for finding Apple Stores!

Apple Maps locates (at the time of writing) the Apple Store in Sydney CBD on the wrong side of George Street.

Vi

Vi

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 4

here2go

here2go

Qantas

10 Sep 2011

Total posts 162

Apple Maps have even stuffed up the "General Governor" on Twitter :)(@gg_australia)  http://bit.ly/SHh4Uv LOL!

"That's the last time One uses Apple Maps. Typed in 'the lodge' and ended up at Mr Abbotts house. #awkward"

herbgold

herbgold

21 Sep 2012

Total posts 1

Incidentally, "Chinatown" in the London map should be "Soho"

TimothyNg

TimothyNg

29 Sep 2012

Total posts 1

The pin for Hong Kong is actually correct. The city of Hong Kong is divided into three areas, namely Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and New Territories.

If you try to get directions to Hong Kong in Google Maps, the default pin for Hong Kong is also located in a country park in Kowloon (pretty much near the center of Hong Kong), but not on Hong Kong Island.

John Walton

John Walton

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 673

I think you're adjusting for other people's value of "correct".  Geographic centres are pretty useless for actual people. And in the same way that searching for "New York" brings you to NYC and not New York State, a "Hong Kong" pin should bring you to somewhere around Central.

I can't check on iOS 5 maps now, obviously, but web Google Maps gives you the pink-shaded borders of Hong Kong SAR.


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