Apple Maps: A Case of Style Over Substance?

Promising to be ‘the most beautiful, powerful mapping service ever’ Apple Maps is the app set to replace Google’s offering for iOS 6. In typical Cupertino fashion, the focus is on a clean user experience: vector-based images and high-resolution 3D views are the landmark features here. But is this a real match for Google Maps or merely a lazy attempt by Apple to shun their biggest rival?

Considerable Oversights

No alternative to Google’s Street View service will be available on Apple Maps. Flyover, limited to the iPhone 4S, iPad 2 and the new iPad, looks as if it will only provide photo-realistic images for major landmarks and central locations—not a substitution for Google’s wide coverage, then. To make matters potentially worse, Apple will be dependent on third-party developers for the public transport information which Google effortlessly supplies on the current iOS app. This means that the average Joe may have to install an additional app for the privilege of viewing bus stops or subway stations. It’s a similar story for traffic information, with Apple planning to rely on user-supplied data rather than obtaining the information themselves.

Fighting the Competition

It’s not just Google that Apple hopes to frighten with this latest software. Turn-by-turn navigation, only available on the iPhone 4S and the new iPad, will include spoken directions to rival not only Android’s built-in navigation app, but even services like TomTom’s software. In line with paid apps, Apple will offer automatic rerouting and an adjusted ETA if you go off-course. What’s more, the debatable triumph of Siri over Google Voice should make its inclusion in Apple Maps a welcome move. Siri’s voice command system should be more flexible and, with some luck, more entertaining than Google’s voice recognition software. Perhaps demands such as "take me somewhere nice" and even questions akin to "where is God?" will have some interesting results.

No Real Threat

Much of the speculation online sees Apple’s attempt at a mapping service as a downgrade from Google Maps for the following reasons. Beta images show bare streets devoid of much detail. As aforementioned, many users of older devices will not experience the best features. And lastly, the Street View data, which Google has spent many years compiling, will be scrapped. What Apple sees as a ‘re-imagined’ app could be described as a pointless exercise in the deconstruction and glitzy reassembly of the perfectly good, albeit utilitarian, Google Maps. Or else you could view it as an unimaginative change of name serving to reaffirm the Apple brand—as if it needed bolstering.

Boiled down to iOS vs. Android

Because Apple Maps is not available until fall with the release of iOS 6, we have yet to see if it can improve on what is already a solid default mapping app. We do know this, however, the ensuing Apple Maps vs. Google Maps battle is a microcosmic illustration of a user’s choice between an Android cell phone and an iPhone, or a PC and a Mac. While Apple Maps might lack the ‘granularity’ of its adversary, it is sure to provide a streamlined experience, fully integrated into the Apple universe of products. Along with pretentious labels for features like Flyover, which seem to have the power to create hype around old technology, it looks as though Apple is onto a winner. But, then again, why does it matter? Whichever app Apple chooses will be adopted by iPhone and iPad users out of convenience more than anything else, regardless of performance. Apple Maps is nothing Google will lose sleep over, especially as there’s no Mac equivalent in the offing.

Alyse is a marketing, photography, and tech addict who spends her time investigating the next generation of technology. When she is not brushing up on her art of the scientific know how in the world, you can find her contributing to or on Twitter @Alyse_1.

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