Some neat tweaks and additions, but iOS 6 doesn't quite go far enough and Maps is currently very bad
Although it has a brand new version number, it’s fair to see that Apple’s new mobile operating system, iOS 6, is an evolution of the platform, rather than a completely different way of doing things. It’s similar in many ways to the recent OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion update for Macs, in that iOS 6 is designed to make more of iCloud and the integration of other Apple devices.
From a user interface perspective, very little has changed and the home screen with its static icons still looks the same. It’s a little disappointing and we’d have liked Apple to either add widgets or update its icons so that they display live information, such as the current weather. Still, the interface is at least still beautifully smooth and easy to use.
While the OS looks the same from the outside, there have been some changes underneath and to the apps that are bundled with it.
One of the biggest changes to the OS is that Google Maps has been dropped for Apple’s very own Maps app. Interface-wise it looks the same, but the underlying mapping data is provided by TomTom with Apple providing the search.
A lot has been written about how bad the new Maps is and, sadly, it is all true. Where as Google Maps effortlessly finds anything whether you type in a name, street address or postcode, Apple’s Maps struggles to find many things.
Part of the problem is that you have to be absolutely accurate, as Apple Maps doesn’t tolerate spelling mistakes in the same way that Google Maps does. Unfortunately, the problems go a lot deeper than this, though, with many places simply missing from the maps: there’s no Tottenham Court Road station for example.
Maps has lots of places missing and takes you to strange locations, such as Toronto for the Houses of Parliament
Maps also make some strange decisions. So, start typing in ‘Houses of Parliament’ and it pops up the auto-complete option of ‘Houses Parliament’. Select this and you’re taken to Toronto, rather than the Houses of Parliament in London. Long-since-shut businesses often pop up on the map, while still-open ones don’t even appear. There are far too many examples of how wrong Maps gets it, but you’re often reduced to typing in postcodes to get an accurate location.
Apple is encouraging people to report problems, while it updates the back-end. The advantage is that as the data you get is pulled from the internet, Maps is updated constantly without you having to download new a new app. Even so, Apple has a big job on its hands to approach the quality of Google Maps.
Turn-by-turn directions are actually pretty good
It’s not all bad news, though. Turn-by-turn navigation is actually very good. We like the way that you get a choice of three routes, with traffic plotted on the map, so you can pick the best one. Directions are clearly spoken by the Siri voice and we really like the way that the next turn indicator counts-down the Yards to the junction, so you know exactly where to turn.
For the locations that have it, 3D cities is neat way of exploring
We’re quite fond of 3D Cities, too, which lets you virtually fly-by a detailed model of a city, even rotating around buildings. Coverage is currently very limited (only central London in the UK is covered), but expect improvements over the coming months.
As it stands, though, the new Maps is actually a big step backwards from the old system and the underlying data and search just isn’t good enough.