back to all news

Six reasons travellers should be wary of Apple Maps in iOS 6

By John Walton     Filed under: iPhone, iPad, travel tech, iOS 6

Business travellers who rely heavily on the Maps app of their iPhone or iPad will find Apple's new iOS 6 Maps is more like a dead end.

Our hands-on testing indicates the new Maps app is inaccurate and inconsistent for search, location information and public transport -- and falls short even for absolute mapping basics like city centres and famous landmark hotels.

Here are some specific instances where iOS 6 Maps takes a wrong turn, and will make many travellers think twice before upgrading to iOS 6 or the iPhone 5.

Searching -- even at the level of major cities -- is broken

Searching for London brings you to the one in Canada, but only sometimes. 

One of those apocryphal travel anecdotes is being booked on flights to Melbourne, Florida in the USA, or London, Ontario in Canada rather than the must more significant cities and airports with the same name.

iOS 6 Maps does that too if you want London -- but intermittently, based on our trials. You'll need to type "London, UK" if you want the British city to come up every time.

Things get even worse once you start searching more specifically.

Location and search databases don't link up

One of the biggest problems with iOS 6 Maps is that the location data it uses (from Yelp, TomTom and others) is significantly less comprehensive than Google's. And even so, there are problems linking it up with search.

For example, I'm currently in Tokyo and couldn't get iOS 6 Maps to find the Park Hyatt (you know, the world-famous hotel from the movie Lost in Translation), even though it is specifically listed as a major hotel landmark on iOS 6 Maps, purple hotel symbol and everything:

The location database has the address and all the hotel's details -- even a satellite view and the phone number, which in Japan can be used to locate a building -- but the search function can't find it.

You can't find Tokyo Station -- one of the world's largest railway stations -- either.

Nor "Paddington Station" in London, where the Heathrow Express goes -- you're taken to Paddington Street, which is quite a distance away.

Airport locations are inaccurate, making navigation difficult

Still on the airport side of things, location pins are smack-dab in the middle of the airport. Which would be fine, except that passengers have to use terminals, which tend to be on the outside of the airport.

Melbourne is a prime example. Currently, Melbourne Airport has two location pins, with the default one off to the west of the airport terminal, so driving directions don't work.

Internationally, Frankfurt has the same problem:

Sydney Airport too sees issues. Only the domestic airport has a location in iOS 6, and if you search for "Sydney International Airport" Maps will direct you to the domestic side. "Sydney International Terminal" gets no results either.

We also noted that entering a three-letter airport code to find your way to that airport no longer works in a consistent, reliable manner. 

Beware when searching for Bangkok Airport in particular: iOS 6 Maps brings you to the old Don Mueang airport rather than the new one at Suvarnabhumi -- which is pretty inexcusable since they've had different three-letter codes for the past six years.

International maps are particularly bad, even in major cities

We know that many Australian Business Traveller readers rely on iPhone and iPad maps to navigate around overseas cities, even if their work phones are BlackBerry or Android devices.

Bad news here too.

London's Apple Maps centre pin (once you've found London: it's still not in Canada) is bizarrely to the west of Victoria Station. London has an official centre for mapping purposes: it's Trafalgar Square, a half-hour walk away.

Similarly, New York's "centre" pin is on East Houston St at 2nd Avenue in the East Village. No idea why.

Hong Kong's isn't even on Hong Kong Island -- it's in the wilderness of Kowloon's Kam Shan Country Park, despite the fact that there is an all-caps HONG KONG marker on Hong Kong Island.

In Beijing, there are no Chinese characters on streets, which makes navigation difficult.

Google Maps also translates Chinese words like "dajie" to "avenue", which is awkward if you're trying to point to something on a map. Some of the pinyin transliterations into Roman characters are also incorrect.

(Getting Chinese characters is an all-or-nothing game: your device's Settings can turn English off or on, but there's no useful hybrid version like there used to be.)  

The actual mapping is equally unhelpful in the Chinese capital: no subway lines (unlike Google Maps) and no prioritisation of major routes like the Second Ring Road or Chang'an Jie.

In economic powerhouse Chongqing -- one of the world's largest megacities -- the default centre pin is away from even the location where Apple Maps itself says the centre is.

If you're familiar with Chongqing, something will look wrong there: the entire Yangtze River, which runs in an enormous loop through the city's hills and is a key way to get your bearings, is missing from the maps.

And in Tokyo, while Google Maps displays key train routes and helpfully distinguishes private subway stations from JR line stations, iOS 6 Maps doesn't.

Public transport stations are missing, unranked and incomprehensible

If you're trying to get around using iOS 6 Maps, good luck to you. Station display is unusably inconsistent.

Take London. Not only are the mainline long-distance rail stations displayed in the same style as the Underground (Tube) stations, the stations randomly appear and disappear when you move the maps from side to side.

It's the same even in New York, and even worse when you zoom in and back out again.

Here, we've zoomed in and out on the financial district of Lower Manhattan. Starting level of zoom:

Zoom in, more stations appear.

Zoom out again: it's a different set of stations, in the original area, at the original level of zoom.

In many large cities, the multiple exits from sprawling underground train and subway stations need to be marked for a map to be useful. iOS 6 Maps fails here too, everywhere we looked.

BUT -- Maps is great if you're looking for an Apple Store!

The only way that iOS 6 Maps is an improvement is if you're looking for an Apple Store.

These are more prominently displayed than just about anything else in the cities where they appear.

So what are your options?

All up, Apple Maps for iOS 6 a significant step backwards for business travellers.

If being able to navigate is important to you in the near term, we'd recommend that you consider not upgrading to iOS 6 for now, despite the tempting business travel innovations in the new OS. (Consider keeping your iPhone 3GS/4/4S around too, even if you upgrade to an iPhone 5.)

We're comparing the various mapping options available to iOS 6 users to get around the problem until Apple fixes the many problems with Maps, and will bring that to you once we've picked some decent workarounds.

One quick fix is to add Google Maps onto your iDevice as a 'web app' – just follow our step-by-step guide.

If you have a favourite app, or a top hack for using Google Maps via Safari, drop us a comment below and we'll look into it.

For the very latest business travel news, follow us on Twitter: we're @AusBT.


About John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.


Have something to say? Post a comment now!

1 on 20/9/12 by Visitant

If you guys weren't so Apple-centric, you'd find that Nokia maps works flawlessly, even with airport codes. Of course it also includes free voice guided navigation, and public transport guidance for major cities.

On the other hand, you could just keep your Iphone, and take a UBD/Melways with you!

1 on 20/9/12 by here2go

Have to agree Tony.  Nokia Maps - powered by Navteq, which is the same set of maps used 80% of all GPS devices, and soon to be all WP8 phones, is brilliant.

I've had nothing but joy from it on my crummy old N8-00, and it even works out of mobile phone coverage if you preload the maps - which you can pre-download on wifi for free for a large number of countries around the world.  Much better value than a bog standard GPS.  Maps for my trip to Singapore and Europe sorted, and no mobile data needed.

2 on 20/9/12 by David

Tony, as great as Nokia Maps may well be (and I rate them as one of Windows Phone 8's secret weapons, as Nokia has extensive experience in mobile mapping), I hope you'll note that this is an article about the iPhone, iOS and Apple Maps. It's not a Apple vs Anybody Else piece.

1 on 20/9/12 by here2go

David, the industry is at a turning point.  While this article is geared towards those upgrading the OS on their iPhone, agreed, it will also be read by many people near the end of their contract, or already have an iPhone 5 with iOS6.  

Knowing the alternatives, which may even mean purchasing a cheapish Nokia featurephone for maps if travelling and driving OS, I think is important for the business traveller to consider.

1 on 20/9/12 by CL9

You make a great point.

2 on 20/9/12 by John

Speaking as someone very keen to see how the other players in the industry take advantage of Apple's maps stumble, I also think that the prime reason that the industry is at a turning point is because Apple has stumbled. Apple has been the gamechanger since the original iPhone, as that "phones before iPhone/phones after iPhone" meme shows.

Clearly, the iOS maps problem will not be solved quickly or easily, because it's not like people haven't been telling Apple that iOS 6 Maps is awful since the dev releases. But only since the GM releases have people been saying "...wait, actually, this is still awful". So, yes, expect to see information here on AusBT about sensible alternatives and workarounds. (I'm slightly unconvinced about a two phones, cheapish Nokia alternative compared with an iOS mapping app, in terms of portability, two-device pain and so on, but my mind is very much open.)

Now, if Nokia were to make the most of this and push out an iPod Touch-style wifi-enabled device with a fantastic camera -- the descendant of my much-loved N800! -- I'd be really interested. (I used Nokias exclusively from 1997-2007, until the iPhone 3G.) But all the hands-on time I've had with the existing Lumias really hasn't made me go "yes, please, I want this", despite my strong dislike for skeuomorphism and my bent for decent mobile photography.

3 on 20/9/12 by David

Absolutely, and we're definitely looking to ramp up our coverage of Android and Windows Phone 8.

2 on 20/9/12 by CL9

Ok, but we don't ever see articles on any other type of phone.

1 on 20/9/12 by David

You'll see more of that in the very near future. :)

3 on 20/9/12 by CL9

Good on ya for disproving the apple fanboys

1 on 20/9/12 by David

Fanboys? If we were fanboys we'd hardly have sledged Apple Maps and exposed its shortcomings!

1 on 20/9/12 by CL9

Ok, you're not all 'Fanboys' but have an objective soft place for bad-value iphones. :)

2 on 20/9/12 by altinomh

For those who want to downgrade the iOS6 to iOS 5 can check out the following link:

1 on 21/9/12 by Vi

What is point of buying iPhone 5 if you won't use latest iOS? For business users the new Passbook probably will be one of most usefull applications on new iPhone with iOS6, but the new Apple mapping software makes me worry and I am not sure I want to upgrade my phone right now.

3 on 20/9/12 by CL9

How come we see so much coverage of Apple's new software update and iPhone when there are other market leading smartphones that offer better features for business travellers?

1 on 20/9/12 by John

For the same reason that I have never seen an Android dock in a hotel, or a Windows Phone-enabled TV speaker system: people use iPhones, and to borrow a phrase from Mitt Romney, business travellers are people, my friend.

Business travellers use iPhones and iPads. Do a quick count the next time you're in a lounge, and see how many non-Apple tablets you spot, for example. I passed through Helsinki three times this summer and even there, in the heart of Nokia country, I heard more Marimba than Grande Valse.

And people carrying multiple devices will often have, say, a BlackBerry and an iPhone. I know which one I've always used for things like maps and web browsing.

Let's not forget, Apple is often a trailblazer for new technologies. Whatever you think of the patent litigation situation (and I think it's patently ridiculous, if you'll pardon the dreadful pun), it's pretty clear that there were phones, then the iPhone came along. Everyone's been running to catch up since, with innovation only really coming from things like the Galaxy Note (which I kind of covet even though it looks ridiculous) and the Lumias (because the iPhone skeuomorphs annoy me senseless). 

(I'll note here that I eschewed the iPhone until the 3G came along, since I liked my Nokia N95's camera too much.)

I'm really looking forward to Windows Phone 8, and there are a couple of interesting HTCs in the pipeline, and I bet Samsung will have some new stuff once they stop going "hey lawyers, is this too much like an iPhone?".

And I'm by no means enamoured of everything Apple does, as you just might have realised from this article. But like or dislike Apple, news of what they're doing is just about the most newsworthy mobile news out there, since it either directly affects you (iOS user) or will indirectly affect you (your next or next-next phone will incorporate some of the tech).

1 on 20/9/12 by here2go

I was at dinner with a large number of Big4 all carrying iPhones from down south (I do live in DRW) the other week, and when I said that WP8 was the best OS, as it was information centric, best interoperability for apps from phone, tablet to desktop, RFID to trim that bulging wallet down to size, and with the Lumia 920, has one of the best cameras, maps, they were shocked.  All they knew about was the fact that Nokia's share price dropped in a big way on 5 September.

These people who were consulting for the government had been lulled into a sense of security - they acknowledged because Apple said they had the best, they thought it.

Business Travellers need the best access to information for travelling, ranging from maps to the ability to chuck another SIM into their phone so they aren't pay OMG stupid pricing when roaming.  The iPhone5 and to a lesser extent other iPhones are looking decidedly less attractive from the persepctive of stovepiped data resulting inaverage quality mapping, ignoring the need to invest in new cables and adapters.

The whole point of the smartphone is to get you access to the best quality information in the fastest amount of time.  iOS is starting to look shaky from this perspective when compared with other options.  - Sent from my Mac.

2 on 20/9/12 by CL9

I know that this comment will be drowned in dislikes, like everyother anti-apple comment made on here, but I should be allowed to make my point.


Ok, your point does make sense, even though there are more android phones being used in Australia than ios, but that may be different for business travellers in particular. It seems hardly fair though that the only mobile device that is truly covered in Ausbt, which I love reading, is the Iphone. After all, the title of your homepage is ' Unbiased business travel news, revice and advice'.

I guess the main issue of the iPhone uprising that annoys me is that you get very little for what you are paying $800 for, considering the some of the most basic andriod smartphones (that cost $300)  are of a better standard and have more features than this. It seems ridiculous that you call all other smartphones 'Catching up to the iPhone' innovation wise. Totally untrue.

Why don't people understand that Apple's, and Samsung's to a lesser extent, ways of waiting a year or two to release 'The best iPhone ever' is so environmentally unfriendly, because you are literally paying another $800 for a device that has minor differences, as an example look at how many Ghz the iphone's processor has gone up after each release. All those heavy metals and oils that have gone into the production of something that isn't that different is awful.

As one of my favourite sayings goes: 2002: Bill gates indroduces the tablet PC- No one cares. 2010: Steve Jobs indroduces the Ipad. The world pisses itself like an excited dog.

1 on 21/9/12 by David

CL9: we're delighted that all readers can make their point, and I also hope you don't get down-voted for making it!

But I have to call you on the 2002 / 2010 tablet comparo.

I was a full-time tech journalist in 2002 (and actually, back as far as the early 90s, and before that as a freelancer when I was reviewing Windows 2.x, yikes!), and in 2002 I was editing Australian Personal Computer (APC) magazine, where we extensively covered the Microsoft tablet (I attended the launch, worked on betas etc).

I can assure you that in no way did the Microsoft's Windows XP-based tablet platform live up to any of the hype or expectations, and about the only thing it had in common with the iPad is the term 'tablet'.

This isn't just a Microsoft vs Apple thing. Anybody who has used both devices knows there is no way they can be compared – in hardware, OS, UI, usability, apps, ecosystem, they are chalk and cheese.

2 on 20/9/12 by David

One reason for this is that, quite honestly, both John and myself – like the majority of business travellers – use iPhones and iPads.

Now I'd love to cover Android and Windows Phone and even BlackBerry with equal depth – my background is as a tech journalist and mobile specialist, I even launched and edited a mobile magazine some years back so I'm very into the mobilespace.

But in order to do that, we'd have to do a LOT less of the many other articles which AusBT does so well (he said modestly!), so it comes down to making a choice as to where to focus our resources.

Cutting back on AusBT's highly-valued and highly-differentiating 'core' or primary content, which is where we've made our mark, to expand coverage of 'non-core' or 'secondary' content of traveltech – which is where Apple, Android, Windows and BlackBerry all sit – is not a smart business decision.

And right now, Apple is undeniably the low-hanging fruit (no pun intended) on the traveltech tree, so that's where I draw the line.

As mentioned earlier, I do intend to expand our coverage of other mobile platforms but that's going to have to happen without impacting on our core content. We're not going to try to recreate what CNet, Good Gear Guide etc already do so very well.

So yes, we'll be doing more on other platforms – but don't expect this to happen overnight because the solution is not an easy one.

4 on 20/9/12 by Robert

Yes I have a favourite app (for Melbourne), though admittedly I wrote it: iMelway.

Melway's are still the most detailed and up-to-date maps of Melbourne. What better way to take the Melway with you than on your phone?

5 on 21/9/12 by here2go

David et al.  Here's a link from My Nokia Blog that compares mapping solutions between Nokia, Google and iOS.  None are perfect, although I do believe Nokia Maps provides the best overall package for the Business Traveller.

For the avid skier who likes fantastic snow, or somebody trying to negotiate a deal in Japan - the omission of Japan from Nokia Maps is a problem, especially as WP8 is trying to capture the Japanese market.  However, I believe this may have more to do with the funky structure of Japanese street numbering, where houses are numbered in accordance with the order they were built, not their place in the street, which would seriously blow out the file size meaning that 3G/4G is the only serious way to go, or heaven forbid, PAPER!

6 on 21/9/12 by Clubsandwich

Actually...not even an improvement for finding Apple Stores!

Apple Maps locates (at the time of writing) the Apple Store in Sydney CBD on the wrong side of George Street.

7 on 21/9/12 by here2go

Apple Maps have even stuffed up the "General Governor" on Twitter :)(@gg_australia) LOL!

"That's the last time One uses Apple Maps. Typed in 'the lodge' and ended up at Mr Abbotts house. #awkward"

8 on 21/9/12 by Herb

Incidentally, "Chinatown" in the London map should be "Soho"

9 on 29/9/12 by TimothyNg

The pin for Hong Kong is actually correct. The city of Hong Kong is divided into three areas, namely Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and New Territories.

If you try to get directions to Hong Kong in Google Maps, the default pin for Hong Kong is also located in a country park in Kowloon (pretty much near the center of Hong Kong), but not on Hong Kong Island.

1 on 1/10/12 by John

I think you're adjusting for other people's value of "correct".  Geographic centres are pretty useless for actual people. And in the same way that searching for "New York" brings you to NYC and not New York State, a "Hong Kong" pin should bring you to somewhere around Central.

I can't check on iOS 5 maps now, obviously, but web Google Maps gives you the pink-shaded borders of Hong Kong SAR.


Related News Items


Australian business traveller newsletter

Get Updates as they happen, tailored to your preferences, right in your inbox


What topics interest you?