As you may have heard, people aren’t happy with the Maps app in iOS6. I think the problems I have with it are a little different from the standard map glitches.
There are data problems, to be sure, but I expect those to be fixed reasonably quickly, as people start to use the app and Apple can collect problems and fix them. (BTW, instead of just complaining, report data problems. Every pin on the map has a “Report Issue” button.)
Most of my problems are a little deeper. The old maps app was a showcase - when I wanted to show people what the Retina iPad was really capable of, I pulled out the maps. It could display tons of data on the screen with razor sharp text (even almost too small to read but still legible), and scrolling and zooming was nearly instantaneous. On wifi or LTE, it never took more than a second or two to fill in all of the tiles on the screen in hybrid mode.
That snappiness is simply gone. The overall performance of the app has dropped precipitously, and it now often takes 5-6 seconds for the tiles to draw after each move. It looks like there’s significantly less local caching going on, and I see a lot more of the holodeck placeholder background. I get that they’re doing more, but Apple has historically been on the side of doing less better, and I think a poor tradeoff has been made here. (Update: I think the performance issues only apply to using the hybrid view. Even on the iPhone 4S, the standard view is fairly snappy. But I use hybrid view the most, and poor responsiveness kills the illusion that you’re handling a real object.)
On top of that, the app shows a lot less data on the screen at each zoom level. Before, there were a great deal of landmarks pictured at even moderate zoom, enabling _reading the map_. Now, if you don’t know a much more precise location of what you’re looking for, you’re lost and relegated to search. Here’s before and after. Notice how few streets and avenues are labeled in the new version (bottom), and how Central Park has no internal landmarks other than the obvious large bodies of water. This is largely useless to someone who doesn’t already know how to get around.
(Click through to see the full resolution image)
I want my Retina apps to take advantage of the display to show me not just beautiful pictures and crisp text, but LOTS of it. I want information density. I can’t see the argument that the old maps app had too much information displayed on the screen at once, and if you can, then what I want is a slider to show more or fewer labels.
There are other more minor usability oversights, like the fact that it’s impossible to switch from driving to walking directions without completely backing out and starting your directions search again, and there’s no evident easy way to re-orient the map to north-is-up once you spin it. That stuff I can live with, but I’m very sad that they’ve taken a glorious impressive showcase map and turned it into something lesser.
Let me be clear - I think we owe a big thanks to Apple’s map team for the hard work in making this effort - better competition and less being beholden to any one provider of this data is always a good thing in the long run, and I believe them when they say it’ll get better. But at the moment, the product isn’t there yet, and it’s disappointing that we needed to take a few steps back to get here. This is a product that people use and depend on with great regularity, and having it work three months from now doesn’t help if it won’t do what you need now. It certainly hasn’t held me off from upgrading to iOS 6 (which seems like a massive improvement in every other way), and it’s not a good reason to flee the entirety of iOS. I just hope this formerly outstanding product which is now merely very good gets restored to its former shine, and soon. I mean - let’s put this in perspective - it’s an incredibly detailed map of the entire world that you get to carry around in your pocket basically for free with your phone that you were going to buy anyway. That’s pretty special.