iOS 6 Maps might be hazardous to your health

I had the occasion to experience first-hand how much iOS 6 Maps is broken, and will not rely on it again for at least a year.

To make a long story short, my wife was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia last Wednesday evening – in retrospect, in between the mess the local economy turned in to and this, I probably shouldn’t have used this title that early in the month.

Prognosis is good, the kids are OK (though they miss their mom) and I’m undergoing another course of antibiotics to make sure I don’t go under – our health system, or at least the private bits of it, works smoothly enough to make you forget you’re in a third world country and, in general, seems to be fairly more civilised than, say, the US’ – but this is the kind of personal incident that drives home how much you rely on smartphones (and their built-in apps) for everything these days.

In the meantime, I’ve established to my extreme and utter dissatisfaction that it is now effectively impossible to find well-established, damned important points of interest with iOS 6 Maps. And that it is, indirectly at least, rather hazardous to your health.

The contrast is striking – a few weeks ago, I had to get my knee looked at twice (once on vacation, and again when I came back), and I had no trouble firing up Maps, typing “Clinic” or “Pharmacy” and actually being able to find something.

And we’re not talking about sophisticated stuff here – in a couple of instances, I actually had the addresses as backup, but I never actually needed to use them as search terms. They’d pop up obligingly along with phone numbers and directions (transit or otherwise), utterly smoothly, no matter where I was.

Google has mapped out Portugal to an extent where you’ll find most things without any hassles, and they’re not the only ones (I happen to know a fair bit about that…)

Yesterday, after updating to iOS 6, the clinic where I had scheduled an X-ray was no longer there.

Well, actually it was – in Google Maps, Nokia Maps and even Bing Maps. I looked it up to check the phone number (it’s within walking distance of my office), but the upgrade nuked it, as well as (it seems) most other places I’d be interested in finding in this particular context.

It also deprived us of any sort of traffic information whatsoever (a fact my out-of-town colleagues remarked upon, since they’d be using it for nigh on a year now), public transit information (which was spotty but worked), and just about every good restaurant I could name.

I didn’t think much of it then, since I had plenty other things in my mind.

Today (Saturday), after paying another visit to the doctor, I went through the insanely frustrating experiment of trying to find a 24h pharmacy using iOS 6 maps alone1 – prescription in hand, in the middle of town. Just me and my old 3GS.

Maps was worse than useless - it returned anything but pharmacies (pharmaceutical company offices, drugstores, cosmetics, all sorts of useless junk), and I eventually had to fire up the Google Maps webapp (incidentally, bookmark that and Nokia Maps mobile as soon as you possibly can) to actually find one.

It couldn’t find the embassy across the street. Or the subway station around the corner. I could go on and on, but by now, you surely get the gist of things.

I eventually caved in and installed TMN Drive when I got home, which I’d avoided so far because I don’t actually drive and don’t like its car-oriented UI (full disclosure: I work for Portugal Telecom. I also know where most of the mapping data came from - and it’s wicked good).

Now, I’m sure Apple has great things in store for the future.

But I’m also pretty sure that they’ve got an irritatingly high-horse first-world view of how people use maps (as if we all drove around everywhere or wasted time looking at 3D views all day long), and that they botched this one up in what I can only term an epic fashion.

As much as I love their hardware and the rest of their software, this is the kind of thing that seriously annoys people2 – in real life.

And yes, Google took years to get where they are now - I remember when Blackberry Maps was better, was actually a product manager for location services (dealing with Nokia/NAVTEQ, Garmin,and setting up a pretty big deal with TomTom), and I know maps are damned hard to do properly.

I just didn’t expect Apple to fail this badly the first time around.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to check Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Nokia Lumia 900 prices again. I have to seriously consider my options, and either of them are half the cost of an iPhone 5.

Plus I seriously need to get some rest.

  1. Incidentally, if you’re visiting Portugal and are baffled by the way pharmacies work here, there’s a free, ad-sponsored app that will lookup the POIs from the Pharmacies’ Association and display them for you. It’s a little clunky (it tends to reload the whole dataset and deal rather poorly with zooming when you’re trying to find one at street level), but it works and is available in the US store. Ironically, I was given the link yesterday and only remembered it when I was already at the pharmacy itself. Also, there’s a website with the same info that has a working mobile view. ↩︎

  2. Regardless of their parting ways with Google and whatnot, there is an unwritten commandment in technology that roughly states thou shalt not royally fuck up common use cases of your product↩︎