Review: Apple's maps app lets you follow the voice

By Anick Jesdanun

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Oct. 5 2012 3:50 p.m. MDT

— Besides public transit directions, Google offered options for avoiding tolls or highways while driving. It allowed me to choose continuous satellite images instead of animated maps, while Apple's app offered them only for route overviews, not for live navigation.

— While Siri's voice sounds much more human than the one Google used in its early mapping apps, Google now has a voice that makes Siri sound robotic by comparison. Google also was more sparing with words, which was good as long as I didn't get lost for lack of detail.

That said, Apple's map offers 3-D views. That may sound like a gimmick, but it presents the map in a way that mirrors what you're seeing through the windshield. On Apple's map, the direction you're going is on top in the regular view or toward the back in 3-D. Outside of big cities, Google often has north on top, which can be confusing when driving east or south.

Apple's maps are also more pleasant to view. Instructions such as "turn right onto Pearl St." are in white against a green background, similar to the signs you see on highways. Street names at intersections are in a green rectangle, similar to actual street signs at corners. Unlike Google's, Apple's app showed me the distance and time remaining and an estimated time of arrival all at once, though I would have appreciated larger text.

Apple's app was mostly dead-on in getting me to my destination. The one big miss was when it had a winery I was looking for about a half-mile east of its actual location. I went to another instead.

But Google has made mistakes, too. It told me to turn left to get to a lighthouse along the Straits of Mackinac connecting two Great Lakes, even as the road sign in front of me pointed to the right. Then again, Apple's app didn't even find that lighthouse in a search.

Both apps gave me other questionable directions, even though they got me there, which was what mattered most. At one point, Google had me on a curvy one-lane residential street with little visibility, even though a faster, safer road ran parallel to it. Apple's directions to a roadside tourist trap had me take an exit four miles to the south, only to return four miles north on smaller roads.

Bottom line is no app is perfect. After all the complaints about Apple's app, I downloaded a 99-cent iPhone app called MotionX GPS Drive. It got good reviews and offered more features than either Apple or Google. But it tried to lead me off the wrong exit in Ohio. Plus, all the extra features diverted my eyes to the settings menu when I should've been paying attention to trucks and, ahem, police cars around me.

One of my favorite scenes from "The Office" television show is when clueless boss Michael Scott drives into Lake Scranton because he was blindly following GPS directions.

There will be mistakes, but it beats driving in a new place with nothing. You just need to use your common sense.

Apple's app is far better than the one Google had when it first came out in late 2009. In apologizing for an app he says "fell short" of Apple's own expectations, CEO Tim Cook says the company will keep working to improve it.

It's true Apple's app falls short of what Google now offers for Android, but if all you have is an iPhone or an iPad, Apple's new app will get you there just fine.

Clinging to the old, voiceless app is like hanging on to your cassette tapes while the world has moved on to CDs and digital downloads. I can't imagine driving without hearing voices.

Anick Jesdanun, deputy technology and media editor for The Associated Press, can be reached at njesdanun(at)ap.org.

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