Observers of the company saw it coming: Apple was going to push Google out of its mobile operating system every which way it could.
People saw Siri as a replacement for Google’s search -- so much so that a tech blog parody made fun of the topic reemerging every few months.
If there was a playbook stashed away in Apple’s headquarters titled “Steps to get rid of Google’s influence in iOS," it would go something like this:
- Introduce Bing in iOS 4, actually mention it in a keynote.
- In iOS 5 on the iPhone 4S, roll out voice-activated search some people might actually use over typing into a search bar.
- In iOS 6, overhaul Maps app using different (not Google’s) mapping services.
Apple’s on step three right now, with its forthcoming Maps app coming out in the fall.
An outdated map crumpled in my pocket
When Apple introduced it at the WWDC keynote Monday, there were the requisite “oohs” and ”aahs” that are par for the course when Scott Forstall and the gang demo exciting new features in iOS 6.
Sure, 3D maps and turn-by-turn directions are a neat thing. However, from a navigation perspective, the feature-completeness of iOS 6 isn‘t quite where it should be.
Transit directions are essentially gutted from the app; instead, Apple is hedging its bets on developers coming up with applications to do the work that it couldn‘t get done in time for fall‘s software update.
Maintaining transit feeds and keeping it up-to-date for hundreds of cities was presumably too difficult to attempt for this first release, so they decided to outsource it to third-party apps.
Relying on transit app makers is a difficult bet to make. Take MBTA’s page for map applications for example. For one, not one of them does actual, bona fide routing information (as far as I can tell -- shoot me a note if I’m wrong). Secondly, a good majority of these apps are paid apps.
Plus, Google’s Maps mobile site is garbage for transit directions compared with the native iOS 5 experience. The silver lining, however, is that it‘ll give accurate and reliable results for free.
This, decidedly, does not feel like a play in the Apple playbook: willfully taking out a piece of something that was fully functional in the operating system in the first place.
Look at iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 owners: they will get new maps, but none of the "benefits" like 3D maps and turn-by-turn directions. If they’re not up-to-date on Apple news, they’ll probably be frustrated when presented with a prompt to download an app from the App Store instead of using its app, for seemingly no reason at all.
They’re all different names for the same place
At the end of the day, Apple really hasn’t made the mapping option better, just different (if it’s accurate, driving directions, will arguably be better).
When I wrote my review of the Lumia 900 by Nokia, I lamented that the the Nokia Transit app didn‘t go far enough. When iOS 6 launches, the native option will be lightyears behind Nokia’s app.
If transit directions weren’t ready to go, why not release this as a Maps beta alongside the regular, Google-powered application, with private APIs to hook into Siri? Apple has been more willing to do this, with Siri being touted as a beta feature.
Maybe Apple has the data and it’s voting in favor of the most used option, and will deliver a transit routing feature on par with iOS 5 (or, who knows, better) in iOS 7, but that’s a year and a half out from now.
This time, shunning Google might not have been the best choice right now.