A closer look at Apple iOS 6 Maps and eight alternatives (comparison review)

A closer look at Apple iOS 6 Maps and eight alternatives (comparison review)

Summary: Apple's iOS 6 Maps works well for many people, but Tim Cook did issue an apology and offered up some alternatives. Let's take a closer look at Apple Maps and some of these available choices and don't forget to check out the 110+ screenshot gallery.

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Safari browser apps

Back when the original iPhone launched in 2007 there was no support for 3rd party apps and everything you wanted to do outside of what Apple provided was through the Safari web browser. Browser apps and optimization for the browser has come a long way and for some people accessing their favorite mapping service via the Safari browser may be perfectly acceptable. I still think for most people that iOS 6 Maps is more capable than these browser solutions, but if you live in an area with poor map data then you can try these out for free too.

Google Maps

Google may no longer have a dedicated iOS application (I understand this is being developed), but their web utility is quite good and even has an icon to add to your home screen that makes it seem like you have a Google Maps application on board. People seem to think Google Maps was awesome before iOS 6, but it was fairly limited and Google is able to provide much of the same functionality right from within the Safari web browser. 

You have an upper right drop down arrow that lets you sign in to your Google account and view all the places you have previously saved or starred. You can toggle layers for satellite view, traffic, and bike routes. Directions are supported for vehicles, buses, walking, and cycling. Similar to the iOS 5 navigation experience you do not get voice guided navigation, just a blue dot that moves on the map. There are zoom in and out buttons and pinch and zoom is also supported. 

Nokia Maps

Nokia Maps is powering the new map solution on Windows Phone 8 and iOS users can enjoy Nokia's maps as well via the Safari web browser. Like Google, you can login to your Nokia account and see all your favorites that you have setup through your Nokia account. One interesting aspect of Nokia Maps is that you can save an area of the map for offline usage, which is pretty incredible for a web-based application. Another very cool feature is support for audio directions!

You can view maps on your phone in map, satellite, public transport, and live traffic views. Layers include accidents, construction, congestion, and other traffic incidents. You can setup a route via automobile, walking, or public transit. The area of your turn is zoomed in right on the display and I almost swore I was using a real application and not even in the browser.

Bing Maps

The main thing I like about Bing Maps is that it uses nearly the full display of the iPhone 5. It is a very basic application with support for vehicle, transit, and walking directions, traffic status, and road, aerial, and bird's eye views. It is snappy and the directions appear to be accurate. I do like how you can slide the directions up or the map down to optimize the view of the directions.

There is capability to login to your Bing account so you can get previous search results and I found the search part pretty powerful. It is pretty clear to me though that the Bing Maps solution is the weakest of the three web-based methods I tested out. 

Summary and conclusion

As you can see, check out my full image gallery, there are plenty of options available for iOS 6 and iPhone 5 owners. I personally use iOS 6 Maps first, but also want to have an offline solution for those times when I do not have an available wireless connection. I am leaning towards CoPilot Live as my favorite dedicated application. Navigon is right up there as well, but is really quite pricey when you get a free solution on the iPhone 5. I am not a big fan of Waze and MotionX GPS Drive even though they have serious fans and am more of a traditional GPS navigation user. Scout is quick, easy, and offers some great additional functions like movie times and reviews.

I thought I would never use a Safari browser app because they would be too limiting and other 3rd party clients are much better. However, they are actually quite good and Nokia Maps is almost as good as a regular app with downloadable sections of maps and audio directions. Google Maps in the browser is also a solid choice, but Bing Maps is a bit too basic for my needs. I can see how a person could easily go for an all free solution of iOS 6 Maps and Nokia Maps on the iPhone 5.

Apple is already working to improve the map data and performance of Maps and I agree with my colleague, Jason Perlow, when he wrote that the iOS 6 Maps flap is just a mere speed bump and imagine in a couple of months this will be water under the bridge, much like Antennagate and other things that had people up in arms on the iPhone.

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Topics: Mobility, Apple, iPhone, Reviews, Smartphones

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16 comments
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  • Okay Matt, one question...

    5.0

    Can I make these map apps the default for iOS? If not, then it is gimped!
    slickjim
    • Nope, that is why I covered Apple Maps too

      Sorry, I cannot find a way in iOS to change the default mapping solution. You can copy and paste an address in to other GPS software and in some cases you do get the option to send the address to other software. As I mentioned, I find Apple Maps to be just fine in most cases.
      palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
      • well

        5.0

        I am not saying Apple Maps is good or bad but, the lack of ability to change the default apps in iOS is the number one reason why I will never again own an iOS device!
        slickjim
        • Sorry

          Get use to it, Android does the same thing.
          KBabcock75
  • Apple's iOS 6 Maps works well for many people

    That's not what I hear.
    bb_apptix
    • Try it out, it's free on iOS 6

      It's what I hear from regular users on a daily basis and what I personally experience too. I know we can believe everything we read or hear about, but the best method is to try it out for yourself, right?
      palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
  • My only problem with Maps 6.0 is...

    6.0

    The smaller roads (light grey) don't contrast enough with the background (light tan) to see easily when zoomed out. Other than that it seems accurate where I live.
    rynning
  • Mileage Calcs

    Had to update my mileage log the other day and used i6Maps to look up route distances. I'm in Southern California and so, other than Bay Area - LA antipathies (I kid), have fairly good expectations that the data would be good for me. Though we did hear stories and there was an apology.

    Here's what I think I noticed, the display and route calculations seemed faster, but, the switching of start and end points for new routes was noticeably snappier, as compared with the pre-iOS6 Maps. Some of this may be a perception of exceeding low expectations but a lot of it relates to vector graphics which I think means the cache may store more results as the data is more efficiently encoded.

    I'm not discounting others who have found the new Maps useless. Like essentially everything, it lies on a spectrum somewhere between sliced bread and utterly useless. Sliced bread, of course, is exactly as great as sliced bread.
    DannyO_0x98
  • CoPilot is my favorite

    8.0

    Like Matt, I have used CoPilot ever since I had a Win Mobile 5 device. Great software and much more accurate than other systems. I also like the option to load US regions rather than all the US as this does save space. Support for walking directions is great for getting around big cities on foot. Submitted map updates are quickly included in the free quarterly updates.
    mryanaz
  • Big step backwards on iPad

    4.0

    On the iPad, for me, there was a big loss of functionality.

    As a biker, I found the terrain maps very useful to understand what I was getting into for a particular route. The new map provides no terrain view and it is not offered by Google Maps either.

    I also am interested in exploring the routes - looking ahead at various turns. The old maps allowed me to tap any of the turns and it zoomed in to that point and I could zoom out to provide the detail I want. The new app shows the list but I tapping has no effect.

    I typically do not want turn by turn navigation and that seems to be my only choice.

    Finally the maps are so empty. Lots of stuff is missing in comparison with the data from Google maps. I used that a lot to find where places to shop or eat are as I am traveling.
    brianmnhanson
  • TomTom?

    6.0

    You didn't mention TomTom's iPhone app at all yet I've been using that for a long time and am quite happy with it. Is it no longer available or maybe just not yet available for iPhone 5? I've gotten recent updates to mine on my 4S.
    JoeFoerster
  • Regarding Maps and GPS

    6.0

    A map should be a graphical representation of a geographic area including vehicular byways and human communities. You don't need to be a cartographer to read a map, nor do you need a GPS or GPS function to get from point A to point B.

    The sole criterion of a map's quality should be accuracy.
    Iman Oldgeek
  • MapQuest - free with Turn by Turn voice

    5.0

    I am surprised that you did not mention MapQuest. I have used the mapquest app I think since my first 3GS iphone. It has had turn by turn voice navigation since the beginning too. And best of all, it is and always has been FREE!
    I tried Apple's maps with turn by turn, but I have gone back to MapQuest for the same reasons everyone looks elsewhere. Much more developed.
    smileyjared
    • Great suggestion, just tried it out

      I honestly thought Mapquest went the way of AOL and haven't used their service or even considered them for years. I did go and load it up on my iPhone 5 and while it doesn't yet have an update to support the full screen of the iPhone 5 it is actually a pretty nice piece of software. I like the FREE voice navigation and ease of toggling on and off the POI categories. Great find and suggestion, thanks.
      palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
  • Free Turn by Turn is a Norm Elsewhere.

    Funny how free things are emphasized in the iWorld. Normally anything from them is not free.

    What's this noise about turn-by-turn? I've always had turn by turn navigation from my old devices like Nokia and now Samsung Galaxy S2 (Android Gingerbread).

    I sometimes feel that Apple fans just make noise about things which are already available freely elsewhere.
    touchScreen
  • Clipclock

    CLIPCLOCK mobile app. is the best social hub with its new features. Lets discover and share the best video moments!!! Check it out... Here is the link: http://www.clipclock.com/download/4849
    Blue Outmost