If you’ve already heard enough about this, or just don’t care to hear a couple pages’ worth of venting right now, please avert your eyes now. Thank you.

…I’ve had a soft spot for Apple products for a long time, to the point where versions of them have for years appeared in my Young Wizards series as “the preferred devices of the Powers that Be”. (So everything that follows this should be read as “more in sorrow than in anger”, though there’s certainly some anger, make no mistake.) I worked with Apple computers myself in the ancient day (while not owning them) and recommended them wholeheartedly to friends. So it sometimes surprises my readership to find that until recently I’d never myself owned anything Apple-ish but an iPod.

A couple/few months ago this changed when the first serious Apple computing device came into the household, in the form of an iPad. We haven’t had it for very long (I say “we”, but the hard truth is that Peter hasn’t had much of a chance to get his hands on it) but I’ve been enjoying gradually learning its ways, and it makes my work a lot easier. It is peerless for e-reading purposes (especially using BlueFire Reader) and there’s nothing like it for proofreading prose: errors just seem to jump out for the catching.

And one of the great satisfactions of using the iPad, quite early on, was hitting “Maps” and having the house come up instantly, for we’re out in the middle of nowhere. And the pleasure hasn’t just been about finding my own place, but other places, in close detail. For both the working writer and the busy traveler, the Maps icon was a gateway to the most functional of joys. You could find your way in a strange place: you could work out where the nearest post office or cab rank was: you could read a map in the streets of a foreign city without instantly making yourself look like a tourist ready to be relieved of his or her valuables. (Easiest on the iPhone, of course, but there are ways to use the Pad less obviously for this too. Deep purses have their uses, and you could be looking for anything in there.) You could sit in a restaurant over a meal and scout around for interesting places to check out afterwards. Or you could just sit home and do research about the things your characters needed to be doing and seeing in a place you’d never been, moving easily between map view and street view as required.

…But not any more. If you’re alert to computing issues at all, you’ll surely have heard the noise over the last couple of days as regards what’s happened to Maps in the iPhone and iPad. There are explanations all over the place (here, for example) as to why Apple chose to make the change and so forth.

I don’t think this is a minor issue. Accurate and dependable GPS-friendly mapping to handheld and portable devices has become one of the most important reasons to have such a device in the first place. Jeez, if even Sherlock bloody Holmes needs such a thing to save his bacon sometimes, it should be an indicator of how vital such usage is for the rest of us mere mortals.

And what does iOS6 for the iPad and iPhone do with so vital a commodity? It throws out the best online mapping available, that of Google, and goes with a homebrew mapping application.

Baby. Bathwater. Especially since the Apple Maps facility is so not ready for prime time yet.

Once upon a time I knew that if I had both amnesia and the iPad, then Maps on the iPad could get me home. (Best memory of this: using Maps on the iPad in conjunction with the wonderful DB (German Rail) app, (yes, there’s an Android version too, we both have it on our HTC phones) which was given a start point somewhere in the middle of Germany and told “Get me home!” All by itself it got us as far as Dun Laoghaire Ferry Port and then threw its figurative hands in the air and said “All right, not even we can do anything with Irish Rail if they won’t run a rail link to a main ferry port, and they’ve made their bus schedule inaccessible to us, so  you’re on your own now.” But the Google Maps implementation in the Pad did the rest and found the best route back to the right spot on Unnamed Road Number 876,543. And all praise to Deutsche Bahn for whoever they got to build that app for them.) Anyway, once upon a time, the imagery was all clear, right down to a very close zoom, so close you could see not just our driveway but our backyard clothesline.

No chance of any more such happy homecomings, however. I don’t have a comparison shot of the previous view – I never thought I’d need it – but this is what our area looks like now:

The road in front of our house is gone. So are other minor roads in the area (and this is exactly the kind of help a traveler in these parts would seriously need). So is the house, as half the image (as you see) now renders it impossible to find due to poor quality. And what happened over to the left there? And why is the definition sharp again just half a mile away??

Now, yes, granted, this is rural Ireland, not exactly the most populated corner of the planet. But if you check the blog here, you’ll see that great cities have been affected the same way. The Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge has big problems. Freiburg in Breisgau, a vibrant and beautiful modern/medieval city in southwestern Germany, is now represented in places by postwar aerial imagery (take a look, you can see the bomb craters). Berlin has relocated itself to Antarctica Something really strange has happened to the Schuylkill Expressway in Philly near the Art Museum (which doesn’t look too well either) right next to it. Gothenburg, Sweden, is missing. Closer to home, Dublin Zoo has somehow relocated itself into the south city center, right on top of a hotel where we routinely stay: I’m half concerned that the next time we check in I should bring a whip and a chair in case of lions.  (Also, an area near Dundrum in County Dublin [now mostly famous for a high-end shopping center] has been labeled “Airfield” and the Irish Minister in Charge of Yelling at Apple has had to contact them to get it removed urgently before some iOS6-using pilot [of whom there are many] mistakes it for the military airport at Baldonnell and tries to land there. …Is it gone yet, BTW? I’m afraid to look.)

Apple. How did you let this application leave the house in such a state? What on Earth possessed you?!

Yes, I know about the bad blood between you and Google, about the Apple / Android divide, about your desire to put some distance between you. I understand that perfectly. But here, in this one spot, you should have just sucked it up and said All right, fine, we can cope with this until we have something not just better, but breathtakingly so.

…Too late now.

So many actions in life have unexpected results. Here’s my list of the local ones resulting from this whole business:

(a) I now bitterly regret ever having punched the Upgrade button. I will never regard an Apple OS upgrade the same way again. I should have been more suspicious to start with. Lesson learned.

(b)    The minute there’s a Google Maps app in the App Store? I’ll be all over that like a cheap suit and I will never touch the native Maps icon again. I won’t even look at it. (Probably I won’t be allowed to delete it, which is a shame, because for a long time, every time I see it, I’m going to growl.)

(c)    We will be buying a Samsung tablet at the earliest opportunity. Admittedly, we were already inclined this way for several reasons: (1) for ebook production, because nothing works to test an ebook version like the actual device it’s intended to run on: (b) Peter likes the Android OS better than he does Apple’s (“And now you see why,” says the annoyed voice from the next room):  and (3) the constant and sleazy-looking litigation over whether or not the Samsung looks too much like an iPad has put a bad taste in both our mouths. But this has pushed me right over the edge. Apple, your implementation of Google Maps may not work any more, but I know someone whose implementation will. If my experience is anything to go by, you are driving your customers straight into the arms of your competition. And the ripples from this are going to spread: the longer it goes on and the louder the ruckus gets, the more potential Apple customers are going to say “Nuh uh, don’t want one of those.”

(sigh) Okay, done ranting. But I wish I knew how they were going to fix this, because a function of the iPad that was important and useful to me (and apparently to a whole lot of other people) has been reduced to a heap of smoking rubble. It would be lovely if Apple would amend iOS6 to allow a user to opt in to Google Maps (or out of the Apple mapping application). But bearing in mind the rather controlling nature of Apple, this seems… at best unlikely.

Meanwhile… can anyone recommend a reliable way to roll back to iOS5? (Though I already have a horrible feeling about what the answer’s going to be.)






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