When Apple unveiled the latest upgrades to its mobile operating system earlier this week, the Internet was all a-buzz with praise for its new Maps app. Instead of continuing to rely on its competitor Google for maps and directions, Apple decided to build an in-house mapping solution. Along the way, though, it dropped transit directions, and urban advocates are not at all happy with the change.
For tech watchers, Apple’s Map app is supposedly the “gem of iOS 6,” as David Pogue of The Times said. It will be visually stunning with complete driving directions. Transit, though, is out, and as a recent Gizmodo posts notes, it appears as though even station location markers have been dropped. “When building Maps, we looked around and realized the best transit apps for metros, for hiking, for biking, are coming from our developers,” Apple’s Scott Forstall said. “And so instead of trying to develop those ourselves, we are going to integrate and feature and promote your apps for transit right within the Maps app in iOS 6.”
It’s unclear right now exactly what Apple plans to do, but unless the company will allow app makers to craft plug-ins for its Map app, the solution won’t be as elegant as Google’s. Currently, iOS users can switch among transit, walking and driving directions with the tap of an icon, but under Apple’s future, iPhone and iPad users — and there are a ton of those, especially in urban areas — will have to add yet another transit application to their mix. Convenience suffers.
“This is a big step backwards for pedestrians and transit users, because it forces those people to first know they have to acquire a third party application, then find and install the best one, and finally perhaps pay for this support,” David Herron wote this week. “By contrast today’s iOS users have excellent pedestrian and public transit support in the Google Maps application.”
Transportation Nation too had a take on this issue:
That move seems out of step with the Apple ethos. Long ago when the company was rebuilding its brand as the hip cool computer for the next generation it heavily courted teens and college students, banking on winning over lifetime customers while they were young and still forming consumption habits. Considering how young people are driving less and taking transit more, launching the new Maps without this feature is a rare moment when Apple’s magic touch is slipping from the pulse of the cool kids. Some millennials even cited a preference for transit over driving so that they have more time to use smartphones.
To me, though, this decision transcends what the “cool kids” are doing. It’s about sacrificing something that encourages mass transit use and places it on equal footing with driving. I currently own a Droid phone and iPad. I appreciate how Google Maps features transit directions that do not require me to open a few different apps to find the best route. Apple will have to convince us that their new Maps can properly integrate a transit component or else this is step backwards for one of the nation’s largest smartphone developers.