Regarding iOS 6 Maps and Apple handing off transit directions to apps

Before Apple unveiled the new iOS 6 Maps app at WWDC 2012, I wrote a post trying to help offset the hype and hopefully better set expectations. It seemed unlikely Apple could simply swap out Google maps data, add new features, and still keep all the original ones intact.

That's proven to be true. TomTom has replaced Google as Apple's primary map provider, but that means Google's Street View is gone. They've added free turn-by-turn navigation and put it in Street View's place, perhaps to distract people who might otherwise be frustrated by the omission.

But what about directions? That's been the source of some initial confusion, and a lot of debate. Driving and walking directions are still there, if less obviously placed behind a 90 degree turn button. Tap either tabs and you get exactly what you'd expect. Hit the public transit tab, however, and you get a list of apps that can supply that information.

No, I didn't type that incorrectly. In the iOS 6 beta there's no built-in transit directions.

Apple's view, elaborated on by SVP of iOS, Scott Forstall during the Keynote, is that developers have done such a tremendous job with public transit directions that Apple would rather hand off to them and not reinvent the data wheel.

That's great for developers but the opposite of great for users.

It's great for developers because Maps-compatible apps can be sold right from within the Apple Maps app (similar to how games can be sold right from within Game Center. That means more timely exposure for the developers -- users see the app when they need it and are more likely to buy it.

It's not so great for users because, instead of being presented with the timely data they need, they're presented with choices to make and steps to follow to eventually get to the data they need.

In an ideal iOS 6 Maps implementation, Apple would do what they usually do -- provide baseline functionality and let developers handle more advanced, more detailed, more niche requirements. iOS 6 Maps would include the same basic transit information as iOS 5 Maps did, and then offer additional content via the in-Maps App Store.

Apple usually places the needs of users ahead of the needs of developers, so this may simply be a case of Apple not being able to provide good enough transit data for numerous enough locations, forcing the absolute hand-off to apps. They could also still be working on it and have it ready for a future beta or in the Gold Master.

Otherwise the abdication of responsibility in an app as important as Maps is tough to understand, and is something Apple should consider re-visiting during the beta cycle, or in a future point revision like iOS 6.1.

Otherwise, if Google does indeed release a proper, Android-style Google Maps app in the App Store, it could prove to be a powerful alternative for those who want and need transit (and Street View) built-in.

Update: We received some screenshots highlighting the difference.

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

69 Comments
  • Oh my, I have a feeling Google will have the last laugh at this. TomTom is a good service, but Google has been investing a great deal more on maps for mobile platforms, including the excellent StreetView. I think Google will just bring turn-by-turn and 3D to iOS and smoother Apple Maps.
    Anyway, does anybody offers an offline map solution? That for me is more important than 3D or street view.
  • By 'offline' do you mean maps stored on-device? Sure there are apps with that. Navigon is one - I'm a very satisfied user. It's good on an iPhone - and rocks on an iPad.
  • Yes, that´s what I meant.
    I just wish Apple Apple or Google would come up with a solution like that. I use Sygic, which has its own maps, but it's a bit clunky and unwieldy.
  • Google does offline mapping for Android. You simply click the section you will need to view and it "pins it" for later use. t's awesome in areas you can't get cell service such as a subway or in a basement.
  • Having the right app means never having to mess with google :D
  • I think Google's presentation said, explicitly, that offline mapping options would be available on iOS, as well.
  • Irrelevant. I still won't use Google for nav, as I have Navigon for that. Like it. Very much.
  • Umm. Google is still far superior for current info and maps than Navigon.
  • No, it's not in my use. Google has always been behind on iOS. Always will be.
  • Agreed. IMO, the Navigon app has always been below average. From the outdated POI, the 3 minutes it takes to acquire your location, to the fact that now after Garmin bought it, it's even worse, etc.
    Regardless, I don't see the big deal about native turn by turn GPS apps (Apple OR Google); that's so 2009. There's tons of 3rd party apps that not only do the same thing but also preload the maps on your iPhone (in some cases): TomTom, Magellan, Sygic, Telenav (streams the data live but still a great app) and even Navigon, to name just a few. My point is, the iPhone has had this functionality for years now.
  • I like google's turn by turn on Android but the computerized voice is horrible. Navigon on IOS is a much better experience. I will be curious to see how Siri is to listen to....
  • Yep, TomTom. I've been using it for years on my 3G, 3GS & 4S all without a Data Plan, the ony drawback of course is that since it works "offline" and the maps are local it take close to 2GB's of storage. I love not having to having to pay extra for a data plan!
  • Sadly I think 2012 will be the turning point where android and samsung's offerings will finally surpass Apple...
  • Turning point for Samsung? You might be right. In North America, it is quite plausable people will start ditching Samsung for HTC or Motorola if Google has Motorla create a phone for them. Lots of people are getting terribly frustrated with Samsung. They've bought the Galaxy 1, lots of problems, Galaxy 2, still many problems, and with the launch of the Galaxy 3 that isn't quad core like in Asia and Europe, plus Samsung's horrible support and horrendous installed software including butchering Ice Cream Sandwich, I wouldnt be surprised people will look to another Android device besides Samsung. However, in order for them to do that, HTC has to get their head out of their arse and create removable memory like Samsung has.
  • Completely agree. I'm in a major city and sunk without Google's transit functionality. Have dev access and installed iOS 6 on an iPhone. The new Apple maps app looks cool in some ways but Google is currently leaps ahead even without turn-by-turn directions.
    Haven't installed iOS 6 on any other devices solely because of this issue. While were testing devices around the city we rely on Google's transit capability to get us back to where we need to be. This is the first time I can actually say I've begun entertaining the future use of an Android device.
  • iPhone users are too rich to take transit so they have no use for Google Transit.Streetview isn't necessary because iPhone users are too sophisticated to care how a neighbourhood looks like. BTW, I hope you can detect the sarcasm with this comment.
  • Hah! Well played, Sir!
  • The TomTom gps app is better alternative than updating to iOS 6. I still have directions from google interns of transit and more detailed routes for finding places with tomtom. Going to prolong my update if google maps isn't offered in AppStore.
  • Google transit directions never work for me anyway... I don't see the big deal
  • Me either, I was never able to lookup transit directions here in México. Hopefully this will push developers to create transit apps for third world countries
  • Wait what is Mexico a third world counrty? i was under the impression that it was 2nd world..
  • Yep. Contrary to popular belief, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd world as an identifier has nothing to do with anything other than the country's stance during the cold war. 1st world countries supported capitalism/NATO, 2nd world countries supported communism/Soviet Union, and 3rd world countries were neutral.
  • Yup. Mexico is a 3rd world country that's why it's so cheap and it's a dog-eat-dog society. However, most tourist dont realize that cuz all they care about is all you can drink booze at one price.
  • In Toronto it is the most accurate. That was the reason why I hold an iPhone. If google does not make a separate app for maps and offer the same services I'll buy a droid. Plus apple never gets it right the first time. They'll put out an unfinished but polished app and we'll have what we want in 3years. Plus we need something new iOS has gotten boring. I'm already looking into buying an alternative. Just not quite sure which one to pick.
  • Google transit directions are pretty reliable here on PVTA in western Massachusetts, and when I have to take multiple buses it's far easier to plan a trip than checking the schedule PDF's on PVTA's website.
  • They're pretty useless in NYC. It gives me the longer route than the one I'd typically take.
    IMO Google Maps is way too overhyped. Even Nokia is better at maps than Google.
  • Google transit has been useless everywhere in the UK that I have tried it. Apples approach is actually the most positive approach I could have asked for as there are some great apps in the app store however. My understanding was that a 'routing' app could have its data appear right within the maps app in which case I couldn't be happier.
    It may be different for US users but for the UK I'm really happy with this.
  • Google Maps Public transit/bike/pedestrian directions are pretty much mandatory to have in Chicago and Los Angeles - hardly what I'd call useless.
  • Forgot: the public transit and walking directions worked great during my vacation in Boston last year.
  • Google transit is pretty bad.
    For my trip to work it suggests catching the 81 bus from bus stop A, riding it stop B, walking .8 of a mile to stop C catching the 44 to stop D.
    Travel time 45 minutes.
    I ignore it and catch the 44 at stop A (google doesn't seem to know or care that the same bus it has me catch later stops here) and get off at stop C.
    Travel time 17 minutes.
  • Huge oversight on Apples part. I have no interest in having to go out of the native app to a third party app to get basic info that should have been a part of the native app. Really looking forward to Google's Map App. I'm hoping they include to turn by turn and 3D maps to devices that Apple left out. I think it would be ironic if Google ends up filling in the gaps for iOS users that Apple has decided to leave behind in iOS 6.
  • You won't have to go to a third party app. As long as developers use the provided API to their Apps, you pick the app you want to choose and it will be fully integrated into the Maps App.
    What Rene is talking about is that it is that it is a hassle because it is not setup out of the box and the odds are most users won't pull up the Maps App until they need it and if they need that feature they will have to go through the hassle of picking a 3rd party app, trust the reviews of the App and maybe have to pay for it before they get the information they want. That is a huge one time hassle, but once it is done you now have the service from the third party app being provided directly in the Map App via third party integration.
    Hell, if Google wanted to I am sure they could plug this hole very easily by using the APIs themselves and becoming an option. It would be free and be that trust the Google brand would hop on it before any other app offered.
  • Man, I should not write at 3AM… Anyway, Flag that comment if you can so it disappears.
    The Map App will feature third party integration. The Maps App will not force you into a third party App, but the service provided by the third party app, as long as it uses the APIs provided will be integrated into the Maps App Directly.
    Rene is describing the one time setup as a hassle for users because it is not there out of the box and ready for users like it has been for every iPhone to date. It has always been an out of the box experience to get going with the Native Apps and this marks the first transition from that ever.
    It also creates a hassle for new users because most users aren't going to go Maps App after starting the device for the first time, let alone those upgrading.
    Most users will only go to the Map App when a real world situation calls for it and that is when they will be first hit with this hassle of needing to pick a third party app that provides the service, which they have no way of testing and may even have to pay for. Once that is done, the hassle is over, but it is a lot of hassle to go through when you need real world information in a timely manor.
    It is a good change for the end user because it will over users a choice, so if one service is great in NYC, but crap in San Francisco, no one is forced to use one solution. They can try and find one that fits their needs.
    Google could also come in and make an app for their transit information, or use the APIs in a Google's Maps App that integrates that part of the service directly into the Maps App. People that trust the Google Brand, the experience and love the FREE price tag with Google will choose 9 times out of 10. It would be a great place for Google to on iOS.
    However, Apple could totally circumvent the hassle before it becomes a Hassle by
    A. Requiring users to setup the Maps App during on device setup of iOS 6
    B. After setup issue a pop-up letting users know that Maps needs to be configured for all features to work 100%… People will normally do something when prompted to do it.
    C. If a user has an App from the purchased history that use the APIs, Apple could integrate that service from the App on behalf of the user, but also remind the user in-App that they can change it. If there is more than one App in the purchased history, Apple could prompt the users to use one of those or find a new one.
  • So let me get this straight...when Android offers a choice of ways to do things, it is confusing, compared to the Apple way of deciding for the user.
    When Apple forces an extra choice on the user, it suddenly becomes a great thing?
  • i don't care what Android is offering, this isn't about Android. Why the hell are you hear bringing up Android and specifically replying to me?
    I hardly ever comment here and you going to come at me like I ever knocked Android for offering choice and competition.
    I have owned every Nexus device and every iPhone to date but the original from 2007. Android 4.0 is the best version of Android to date and I do enjoy the polish there is still somethings that I feel are lacking. Again that is how I feel about Android, I don't expect you, nor the world to feel the same way.
    So please step off me with the non-sense because you are no better then a damn troll.
  • This is not putting the needs of developers above the needs of users, which you correctly state they rarely do -- this is putting the needs of Apple above the needs of users, which they do far too often.
    Apple simply decided their corporate priorities were more important than the needs of their users needs -- that, in this case, sticking it to Google was worth sticking it to their own customers.
    Top developers are not going to be clamoring to make public transit apps because developers and users both know this is a sub-optimal solution, and it is only a matter of time before Apple brings it back into the Maps app.
  • Re: "Otherwise the abdication of responsibility in an app as important as Maps is tough to understand..."
    Of course, iOS 6 is still in beta. A lot can happen in 3 months. It's entirely possible that Apple simply didn't have their transit mapping solution together enough to demo and therefore removed it from the current beta.
  • If it simply wasn't ready, I don't think the SVP would have stated that they've looked around and decided that it's better for developers to do it. It may come in the future, but I doubt it will happen by the time iOS 6 is released.
  • Laziness on Apples part. That's just a lame excuse. No transit info because developers can do it better? IMO, the same can be said with turn by turn navigation. I'll stick to Waze until I go Android. Deuces Apple!
  • I suspect it's a case of Apple not being able to source enough transit data. It took Google years.
  • I would suspect that the transit data that's available to Google is also available to Apple. http://sf.streetsblog.org/2010/01/05/how-google-and-portlands-trimet-set...
  • I mean...it's right here! http://code.google.com/p/googletransitdatafeed/wiki/PublicFeeds
  • Or here if Apple is worried about clicking a Google link. http://www.gtfs-data-exchange.com/agencies/astable
  • DART in Dallas tx is lazy, and only uses googles services for transit. All of the apps in the app store for dart are a disgrace to developing. If I knew how, had the time and money to make an app, I would, but I can't. So basically unless google makes a map app, I'll HAVE to switch to android. And I don't wanna
  • Others may disagree but this is the first truly BIG mistake I've seen Apple MAKE in the 'iPhone Era.' If they weren't ready to unveil the public transit portion of their app or if they simply didn't have the data to do it, then they never should have ditched Google Maps, much less try to go head to head with what they do best. Because any way you spin it - no matter what their reasons were - the whole thing reeks of weakness. It makes Apple look like they don't know what they're doing without Steve, and whether that's true or not, perception is reality. Passing the buck to 3rd party developers, praying they can save your bacon - it just seems like Apple is quietly conceding that they aren't as good as Google when it comes to navigation. Again, whether that's true or not, perception is reality. I am a proud iPhone 4 user (who really doesn't want to switch) but even there's no way you can compare Apple Maps to Google Maps on Android - Android's implementation is better in every single way.
    -As a side note, for preparation and practice, I'm now using the Mobile Version of Google Maps in my iPhone's safari browser. It's not as easy to use as the dedicated app, but at least you've got all the Google transportation data (public, bike, pedestrian, etc). right there at your fingertips.
  • Will google maps be available as an app to download in ios6?
  • Agree
  • Apple is trading innovation for averice judging by this and the disposable rather than repairable/solid nature of its newest products
  • I just wonder if they ate going to keep the beta tag on the new maps when iOS 6 goes public like they have with Siri, just do they can use that excuse when it doesn't work right.
  • I find comparisons of this nature quite ironic. When Google Android doesn't offer a feature or function that Apple iOS has natively then Google is open source and developers are extending the functionality of the devices. When Apple iPhone doesn't offer a feature then Apple has "failed."
    Likewise, if Apple iOS offers a feature natively then Apple is a restricted, "walled garden" and Google Android "has offered that for years."
    Apple iOS Maps is a development platform. The capabilities of iOS Maps is limited only by a developers imagination and resources.
    Some of the comments are ridiculous.
  • "Some of the comments are ridiculous."
    And so is yours!
  • Can a developer plug functionality INSIDE the Maps app?
    No? Then it ain't a platform, it's a service. And one that Apple decided to make worse for its users to spite Google.
  • Apple is playing catch up now. They are tripping on the heels of their competitors just like blackberry did. That's why I ditched blackberry, and now considering ditching Apple. iOS these days is a better tablet OS rather that a smartphone OS.
  • "Huge oversight on Apples part. I have no interest in having to go out..."
    EXACTLY. Honestly Apple Maps, it's not really apps. And it's not really Apple's.
    Huh, what's in a name?
  • CORRECTION
    "Huge oversight on Apples part. I have no interest in having to go out...(of the app to download more apps)"
    EXACTLY. Honestly Apple Maps, it's not really maps. And it's not really Apple's.
    Huh, what's in a name?
    It's like buying a car with no wheels. Or engine. Or car doors.
    Apple Maps is a LEMON!
  • Gaining turn-by-turn navigation is a welcomed feature, but losing the slick pulsating blue ball that shows your current location is not. 3D flyovers are cool of you want to show off to your non-iPhone friends, but not at the expense of losing truly valueable features, such as transit schedules.
    The main problem for Apple is that the new Maps app can't simply good enough, it has to be considerably better then the current app; otherwise, consumers will be very upset, and we will have to endure countless articles about "Mapgate 2012".