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New York Times Misunderstands Maps App Situation

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When I started reading James Stewart’s New York Times “Common Sense” column titled “Apple’s Maps and Jobs’s Shadow,” I thought in the first two paragraphs that he had captured the nuance of Apple in transition from Steve Jobs to Tim Cook, and correctly offered the context of its last 12 months of financial success and the challenges ahead that the firm faces. Then I hit the third paragraph and it all goes downhill from there.

Stewart confuses the Maps app, a software application, with the mapping data that underlies it and the algorithms for driving directions that Apple put in place. He apparently doesn’t fully understand that competitive mapping and navigation programs have been available since 2009. He also wedges in a years-old decision on electronic book pricing that Jobs was instrumental in putting into place, and makes that something for which Cook bears responsibility — or doesn’t bear responsibility. It’s not clear. (After its original appearance, Stewart’s article was updated in several places, only one of which is noted in a correction that’s appended. The updates make many arguments even muddier, and I’ve attempted to note them.)

To start with, Stewart writes, “Apple hasn’t fully explained its decision to replace Google’s maps with its proprietary mapping application…” Apple has always written the Maps app, from its first appearance, and Google provided the data. Apple changed its data and directions provider from Google to its own set of licensed sources, which includes firms like TomTom and Waze according to information in the app itself. He also seems to be saying that the replacement happened in the iPhone 5, not other iPhone models that can run iOS 6, although owners of earlier models may opt to stay put in iOS 5 and continue to use the older Maps app with Google data (for now). [Update: Stewart’s article was later changed to eliminate “its proprietary mapping application” and to add a reference to iOS 6.]

He continues, “Apple’s use of its own mapping technology in the iPhone appears to be a textbook case of what’s known as a tying arrangement, sometimes referred to as ‘bundling,’” and goes on to make the case that buying an iPhone 5 requires the use of the Maps app. If that were the case, it would have been a problem from the first day the iPhone were offered, when it didn’t allow any third-party apps at all. Buying a new iPhone 4 or 4S today would also include iOS 6 and the new Maps app, although those models could theoretically be downgraded to iOS 5. [Updates: The article was later modified to remove the specificity of the iPhone 5. A reader informs us in the comments that downgrading an iPhone 4 or 4S is nearly impossible.]

Stewart tries to tie this to the battle between Microsoft and Netscape (and other firms) from the late 1990s into the 2000s. Microsoft bundled its own Web browser “to the exclusion of Netscape,” he writes, but that statement and those that follow miss many nuanced points that counter his analogy from that many-year legal and public-relations fight.

First, Internet Explorer was designed to be integral to Windows (and became more so over time), and it used proprietary technologies like ActiveX that made it impossible for a third-party Web browser to provide the same experience. While the Maps app can’t be deleted from iOS, and is integrated with Siri and works from the lock screen, those aren’t giant advantages over other available apps.

Second, it was alleged that Microsoft modified Windows to make it harder for third parties to write Web browsers that could work as well as Internet Explorer, and denied technical resources and support to boot. Since the release of third-party developer tools for iOS, that hasn’t been the case for Apple. In general, Apple has worked with each release to give developers more access to previously Apple-only features, such as adding limited background tasks. (True, some apps have privileged positions in iOS, and Apple has at times rejected competitive apps from the App Store.)

Third, Stewart claims that the situation was resolved in a way that “Microsoft eventually agreed that Windows users could designate their own Web browsers,” which is completely incorrect. Solely in Europe, Microsoft had to provide a kind of “ballot” that allowed users to pick among many browsers to use. It was never forced to unbundle in the United States nor most of the world. [Update: The article was revised to remove this whole reference for the reason I cite, and a new specious argument was put in its place.]

What happened, in fact, is that third-party Web browsers improved to a point at which they competed on performance and quality, especially for rendering sites that were designed to conform with Web standards. Along the way, Microsoft did an enormous about-face, and has spent years bragging about (and proving) how standards-compliant Internet Explorer’s releases have become with each new version.

Since the introduction of third-party apps to iOS, Apple has never to my knowledge restricted the distribution of mapping software. There are a few dozen programs available, many from major standalone GPS makers, some free, some for a fee. The MapQuest app, from a division of AOL that competes with Google Maps, has been in the App Store for years, and is both free and a delight to use. I’ve reviewed over 15 of these navigation apps over the last three years, and several are better than both the current Maps and Google’s mapping program in the Android operating system. (Google also supports alternative maps apps in Android.)

Stewart points out that Maps has its problems, which it does. He wonders if Jobs would have apologized as quickly and profusely as Cook did for the quality of data behind the Maps app (not the app itself, which is lovely and works quite well). He apparently forgets Jobs’s behavior around MobileMe, as even veteran tech reporters have done, in which Jobs apologized in public and via email to users who emailed him, fired the head of the division, and took months to get everything back in order.

Stewart says of Jobs, “He was famously resistant to the idea [of apologizing] after complaints about the iPhone 4’s antenna.” That was a more complex situation. Jobs clearly felt that a marginal situation was blown up beyond all proportion, especially since most cell phones had similar problems, often documented in their manuals. While Jobs never said “sorry,” the company redesigned the antenna as early as the Verizon model of iPhone 4, gave away free bumpers and cases for a few months, and sold many millions of that model. The problem went away because it simply wasn’t a consistent problem for the vast majority of users, who would otherwise have returned the phone or avoided it because of word of mouth.

At this juncture in the column Stewart confuses who wrote the Maps app before the iPhone 5 release, is unaware that it is available to all iOS 6 users, and seemingly doesn’t incorporate the fact that other mapping apps have long been available. He notes that worldwide, iOS has a minority share of the smartphone market, and then finally points out that Cook suggested users try “alternatives,” without also mentioning that these are free and paid map programs that work just as well or better in iOS than the built-in offering. That was true before iOS 6, too.

Stewart next throws in the red herring of the iBookstore and pricing arrangements, quoting from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. But isn’t this an article about Tim Cook’s problems in guiding Apple forward after the masterful hand of Jobs? Regardless, Stewart also disregards the opinions of those that oppose the Department of Justice’s lawsuits and settlements against publishers, which includes booksellers. The opponents believe it will establish Amazon as the monopoly player in the ebook market, presumably setting up a new antitrust situation that the DOJ would later have to address.

An expert that Stewart quotes says, “Historically, Apple hasn’t been very sensitive to antitrust issues.” Historically, Apple hasn’t been confronted with monopoly situations, so it’s hard to know what these issues might be.

Stewart closes by praising Tim Cook for his Maps apology (but didn’t he critique that as anti-Jobs earlier?), and suggests the antitrust suit should be settled quickly. He veers again — is he using Maps data for writing? — and appears to demonstrate his ignorance of the ecosystem once more, suggesting Cook should make “Google’s and other map applications readily available to iPhone users” as a break from the past, when that’s the current state of the market (Google reportedly isn’t yet developing its own Maps app for iOS), and Apple has been highlighting alternatives in the App Store since Cook’s letter appeared.

This muddle of a column comes from a normally sober and sensible financial reporter whose work I admire. Conflating the Maps app and its data along with a lack of knowledge (or, say, even asking the New York Times’s technology reporters) of the history of competing apps and the current availability of the same spreads misinformation. There’s plenty to critique about Apple’s premature release of the Maps app. This column has nothing worthwhile to contribute.

 

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Comments about New York Times Misunderstands Maps App Situation

Mark H. Anbinder  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-10-05 17:39
I seem to recall, though haven't yet taken the time to dig up evidence, that Apple originally prohibited third-party app developers from offering turn-by-turn navigation. Obviously, that didn't last long.

Lots of good commentary hear, though, and an interesting tidbit that Waze data is incorporated into the new Maps. I hadn't heard that, but it could explain some of the more inane navigation errors.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-10-05 17:58
There was a sort of ban — it had to do with the frameworks necessary to make it happen, as I recall. To do turn-by-turn you have to guarantee a certain response time from the GPS via Core Location as well as a consistent frequency. To my recollection, 2009 was when all the GPS satnav programs appeared, as I reviewed like 14 of them late that year.
Nicholas Barnard  2012-10-05 18:54
Mark, Are you thinking that if app developers wanted to do turn by turn directions they had to bring their own map tiles? I never tracked it down, but I'd guess that this'd be a restriction from Google, that Apple just passed through.
James R Grinter  2012-10-06 05:36
That's what the real limitation was - I believe it was clarified in an update to the iOS terms and conditions after the restriction (and the framework) first appeared.
tgibbs  2012-10-07 08:56
Google did not allow the use of its data for turn-by-turn. The original iPhone of course did not have a GPS (it used cell tower and known wifi links to estimate its location) and did not have the precision for turn-by-turn apps--such apps appeared soon after the release of the gps-equipped iPhone 3gs
The 3G added GPS. The 3GS added a compass.
Brandon Cosby  2012-10-06 13:42
I think the more significant story surrounding the Maps app is the terrible state of journalism on technology from mainstream sources. The lack of understanding they show over these issues has created far more confusion for consumers than the Map data ever would.
Many of these journalist simply parrot complaints tht they've read elsewhere and show almost no research to back their claims. Some of them have posted screenshots showing a difference in street and POI detail without noting that many of the markers show on the new Maps app as you zoom closer to the area you are navigating.

They also overlook that the previous app was terrible at providing driving directions, only providing a summary list or GPS tracking that failed to show your next turn despite having your location and turn data. In this way (And many others) the new Maps app is far superior.

As a long time user of Waze, over 40,000 miles last year, I am happy with the new app and look forward to what it will become.
Joseph Mina  2012-10-06 13:19
I totally agree.

Stewarts piece is just another unfortunate footnote about the sorry state of today's investigative journalism. What used to be the realm of fact-checking and substantive reporting has morphed over the past 5 years into the realm of internet hits, unsupported sensationalism, and basic poor writing and story structure skills - something perfected over the years by the Enquirer, Star and other gossip rags. Good grief!
FreeRange  2012-10-06 21:53
Amen! One could hardly call this piece "investigative journalism". It is a totally hack piece that the NYT should be embarrassed for even running. And where was the editor for this piece? Even someone with limited knowledge of apple and the iphone would see the huge errors in this piece. There should in fact be a retraction it is so horrible.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-10-06 13:43
You make a good point - the old Maps app was pretty terrible for directions of any sort. I considered it actively dangerous to use while driving alone, since it was so bad. Hence, I always relied on Navigon, and used Maps only when I was trying to get an overview of an area before going there.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-10-06 13:47
I have a skewed view of Maps (not 3D), because its data is generally quite good in Seattle. It gets confused around the I-90/I-5 intersection, but otherwise gives me excellent directions.
James Bailey  2012-10-06 15:29
I've only used the turn-by-turn directions once. It was to go from Allston, MA to Boston's North End. That required working around several turns and one way streets and it was flawless. I was pretty impressed.

On the other hand, the town where I live, Maynard MA had several local businesses and restaurants located in Acton, the next town over. But it appears those mistakes have already been fixed. I suspect the issues are far worse outside of the US.
FreeRange  2012-10-06 21:51
Actually not necessarily! In China, the maps are actually far more accurate as they use one of only a handful of government authorized vendors for maps for their data.
Yet to see a problem in Sydney (Australia), or other parts of the state (NSW) that I've been to since iOS 6 came out.
Kinny Cheng  2012-10-06 15:38
Tell me about it!

Just last Tuesday, I nearly got in trouble from trying to make an exit on the left of the I-5 East, after exiting the I-90 South, when there was just me in the car. As a non-native of lovely downtown Seattle, it would've gotten messy otherwise…
Daniel Genser  2012-10-06 19:45
To be fair, that interchange was pretty bad in the old Maps app, too. (It's also a terrible highway design.)
LocoCoyote  2012-10-07 01:38
You nailed it! it is mostly hype-fed from poor journalism. It is the "Antennagate" fiasco al over again. Take a minor problem and blow it up to epic proportions.
James Bailey  2012-10-06 12:52
"Note that the iPhone 4S, with a slightly different antenna design, never received the same complaints, even though the redesign didn’t eliminate the so-called problem."

Hi Glenn. I think you are wrong on the antenna on the 4S. Apple made significant changes to the antenna design to eliminate the problem from the 4. They added a switchable dual antenna that is able to determine which antenna has the best signal.

I personally have not been able to block the signal on an iPhone 4S where it was trivially easy to do on an iPhone 4.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-10-06 12:58
I see your point. I stated that inelegantly. The iPhone 4S redesign was a technical improvement, but to my experience and knowledge, the problem wasn't experienced or recognizable to most iPhone 4 users. I'll rework that to be clearer.
tgibbs  2012-10-07 09:04
Covering the antenna on just about any phone will impair the signal, and even before the iPhone 4, many manufacturers offered suggestions on how to "hold the phone right." The true problem with the iPhone 4 was that there was a visual indicator I was also able to block the signal on my 3gs by holding it tightly near the bottom (the iPhone 4s moved the antenna to make it more awkward for the user to block it). It was not a problem in practice, because most people already knew instinctively that you shouldn't clutch your phone too tightly if you are in a marginal signal zone.
Charli  2012-10-06 14:00
So much wrong in that article, which is probably why Mr Stewart isn't allowing comments. He knows he'll be called out if he did.
Journalism in general seems to suffer from a need for horse races. This has been obvious in politics for a while, but it infects tech journalism, too.

Writers seem to default to tearing down the front runner and talking up whatever else is out there. Why would you need their advice if the choice was clear?

In fact, there is room for doing it better. My primary phone is Apple, but I also have a Nexus, because I can do things with it (mostly network-related) that Apple doesn't allow, and I don't want to jailbreak it.

I also have Navigon and a local public transport app installed on my iPhone. I rarely used maps.app before this whole mess. If you depend on mapping, didn't you already fix it? Sure, Navigon is not cheap, but there are others, and if you need it, well, your phone wasn't cheap, either.
Orenge  2012-10-06 16:36
I agree—sensationalism sells better than truth. But one little quibble: I’d say Navigon IS cheap! At least, the MyRegion edition, which is far more than I or most people need. (Especially when it goes on sale periodically.) It now has transit integrated too (for a low one-time cost).
David Buckley  2012-10-06 16:40
Glenn, excellent article in response to the really shoddily written, but for the beginning (as you point out) piece in the NYT. You should submit a version of this as a letter to the editor. Charli, does the author decide whether or not to allow comments? It may be an editorial call but they should be allowed in any event. Jamie, which local transport app do you like to use?

Navigate well, all.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-10-06 16:47
Note that they already added one correction to the article about Microsoft and Internet Explorer (not based on my complaint), which essentially eviscerates his long point on Microsoft/Netscape. The article makes even less sense now.
Bruce Klutchko  2012-10-06 19:13
This article is as well written and informative as the NY Times article is bad. Although I was very skeptical when I read the NY Times article the first time, I appreciate the clarity you've brought to this subject. BTW, here in New York City, the Maps app plus the Subway and Bus app provide far more functionality than the old iOS 5 Maps app.
You wrote: "Stewart confuses the Maps app, a software application, with the mapping data that underlies it and the algorithms for driving directions that Apple put in place."


No he doesn't. He's pretty consistent in talking about the "maps" and "software" but not the "App".
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-10-07 11:15
He starts out saying discussing "the decision to substitute Apple mapping software for rival Google’s", and throughout mixes up the app (always written by Apple) and data sources.

When he refers to the "software," he is never talking about the UI nor Apple having written it since iPhone OS 1.
The antenna problem was serious, faced by all and documented by Anandtech. Improvements were quietly introduced with the Verizon iPhone 4, then carried over to the 4S and then the 5. Under identical usage I have found the IPhone 4 AT&T to be a brick without a bumper and unreliable with-by contrast the 5 without a case has excellent signal and has never dropped a call. The antenna problem was far worse than the issue with the maps- on which point, owing to LTE speed, vectors and great UI design, when the data is correct, the new app makes the previous one feel like a piece of junk.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-10-06 22:42
I should phrase this differently, perhaps. For most people, this design issue didn't cause problems. Had it, sales would have suffered: phones would have been returned, new ones not purchased, etc. In practice, it wasn't significant unless you believe the market wouldn't respond to a phone that worked so poorly that people couldn't make reliable calls.
Your comment may be true except for the "faced by all" part. The iPhone 4 was the single most popular smartphone model when it came out, and it's still sold with the same antenna design today, so obviously "all" don't have a problem with it. Yes, signal reduces in certain grips, but it just wasn't an issue most of the time for most people and for those for whom it was there were cheap workarounds (bumpers, etc).

On the other hand, I think Maps is the same way. It's really a good app and the data isn't as bad as the popular press is making it out to be. It fails some people, but seems to work for most, most of the time. So the comparison to the antenna problem is perhaps apt. I don't think Jobs would have been as profuse in his apology, but I also don't think it matters... Jobs isn't here anymore, let's not bring him up for every one of these articles.
I don't think that commercial success is a good measure of quality: people also bought Windows licences and ABBA albums by the millions. But I agree with the re-wording: most people, myself included,used it mainly as an ultraportable computer, used a bumper or a case, tolerated dropped calls or terrible call quality etc - or lived in areas where signal quality is so good that the impact of this issue was negligible. In my experience (NYC/at&t-three different iphone 4 devices) if only the antenna had been improved between the 4 and the 4S, the upgrade would have been worth it. Using the 5 is a delight in that respect.
dannyo152  2012-10-07 10:59
ABBA is one of my favorite bands and operating system, music, and smartphones have different usage patterns, but I think Windows can illustrate why numbers of users does matter for this discussion. An os has one job, run the applications for productivity and recreation. Windows annoyances are tolerated and many are only noticed by power or multi-platform users. There was one modern Windows product that first adopters did regret, Vista, and it underperformed in degree and rapidity of installed base penetration. You're right, popularity is not proof of excellence, but it is a strong indicator of fitness to the consumer's requirements.
Tom Taj  2012-10-07 13:41
What is it about ABBA that causes people to lose their minds?
C Mason Taylor  2012-10-06 22:25
"(Buying a new iPhone 4 or 4S today would also include iOS 6 and the new Maps app, although those models could theoretically be downgraded to iOS 5.)"

A new iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S bought today could not be downgraded, theoretically or otherwise, to iOS 5. A used iPhone 4 could be downgraded, if you had previously jailbroken and saved your SHSH blobs. A used iPhone 4S could not, at least not for now.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-10-06 23:28
Thanks for the clarification. I did say "theoretically" (as I knew it wasn't straightforward); I didn't realize it was essentially impossible.

Once you upgrade to iOS 6 or purchase a new 4/4S with iOS 6 installed, there's simply no way to put iOS 5 on it? I honestly never tried, and I know Apple sometimes posted betas that mentioned the baseband code would be irreversibly updated.
C Mason Taylor  2012-10-06 23:58
The key here are what are called the 'SHSH blobs.'

Since iOS 4, Apple has blocked downgrading iOS devices. So as beta builds and upgrades are released, they'll have a limited "window" for issuing SHSH blobs, which for the purposes of this discussion, are basically restore tokens.

SHSH blobs are UDID-specific and iOS version-specific (4.3b1, 6.0 GM, etc). So your device has to be issued a SHSH blob for the build you want to place on it. Even if it IS issued during the window, Apple clears the SHSH blobs for old builds once the window has closed, so unless you've personally saved the particular blob you need to downgrade (which you can only do if you're jailbroken), you can't use it to downgrade anyway.

To make matters more complex, A5+ devices have additional security measures that makes saving SHSH blobs still not enough at this point to downgrade. The dev team may get past that someday (hence my hedging on the 4S).

But A4 and prior devices still can, IF you saved your blobs.
nakkypoo  2012-10-07 16:13
> Third, Stewart claims that the situation was resolved in a way that “Microsoft eventually agreed that Windows users could designate their own Web browsers,” which is completely incorrect. Solely in Europe, Microsoft had to provide a kind of “ballot” that allowed users to pick among many browsers to use.

Without reading the NYT article, I'll say this might be referring to the "Default Programs" control panel. This has existed since at least Windows XP that let's users choose, of all things, default programs for handling registered documents and protocols.

Whether this is your mistake or not, it's worth noting that Microsoft has provided this feature for more than a decade. Apple with iOS has not.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-10-07 17:05
He is not referring to that (nor am I). He was referring to the settlement in Europe that led to the inclusion of a selection to download a browser.

The Times article was later revised to remove and update this, and now it makes substantially less sense.

It is honest of you to admit you are critiquing an explanation without having read the context.
nakkypoo  2012-10-07 18:14
Having now read the NYT article... I'm really confused. It's like 6 or 8 authors' articles were combined into one, then, for some reason a few articles written in the late 90s were thrown in.

I think my criticism of the comparison to Windows still stands. For more than a decade Microsoft has allowed components to be replaced or removed. Apple hasn't, yet, made such a concession in iOS. But clearly the author of the NYT article really has no clue what he's talking about.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-10-07 19:21
I agree on the first. The extensive editing after its first publication certainly made it worse.

But I think you're reading it wrong about Windows because Stewart is referring to (and so am I) the Netscape/Microsoft battle at a point that Microsoft insisted Internet Explorer was integral and irremovable, and when it pushed ActiveX as a way to "break" the open Web. Not the case now, to be sure, nor for a decade really.
Derek Boldander  2012-10-08 15:33
Map data source aside, I think the following are frustrating regressions and I hope a well conceived alternative is in the works:
• Ability to switch modalities for a trip from driving, to walking, to transit. iOS 6 Maps requires you delete your trip and re-enter to change modalities.
• I found street view (not 3D view) to be very useful. Apparently Apple did as well since it has existed for quite a few years in previous versions of maps. To be able to actually see the front of a house or see a sign clearly labeled on a business is useful.
• Having pins drop directly on top of a business' actual building rather than a parking lot in a plaza is also missed.
• More detailed traffic conditions. The new lines that show up are nearly as legible to know where congestion is.

To Apple's credit, the new turn-by-turn direction interface is well done. I love the nuance of the screen automatically knowing when to turn on and off to give additional direction and for how long to stay on.
Jim Ratliff  2012-10-08 21:59
To me the biggest story here is: How could the NY Times have allowed such a stupid, ignorant, insipid, uninformed story to be "printed" on its front page?
John L  2012-10-09 12:35
How about stock manipulation?
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-10-09 14:42
The power even of the New York Times in the middle of a firestorm about mapping data in general combined with early sales figures for the iPhone 5 to move the stock reliably up or down is absent.

Ignoring the cynicism that the New York Times somehow could invest or hedge a single stock and commission a story and its timing to make that happen.

Or that an individual writer could predict the outcome of a single stock (or industry) based on an article he had written.
Joseph  2012-10-08 22:12
I actually think there are very big similarities to Internet Explorer. I can't actually switch which map program I want to use. You already listed a number of examples of things Apple won't let other maps programs do, and then you dismiss them as no big deal. Let me add another: Open a contact in Address Book and click on their address. Oh, I'm sorry, did you want to open that in your "default" map program, say Mapquest? Too bad, we won't let you have a default map app. Or web browser. Kind of reminds me of IE.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-10-09 10:18
It's true — Maps is better integrated. But recall that Internet Explorer both was tightly integrated and had capabilities that no other browser could match. I don't find the bar between Maps and other programs that severe at all. In TomTom, for instance, I can tap to select a contact entry in a couple of non-onerous steps.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-10-09 10:26
There isn't exact parity, to be sure, but although you can't access Navigon from within Contacts, for instance, you can access the systemwide contacts from within Navigon. So the difference is in how you perform the action, not in whether or not the action is possible (in other words, you don't have to maintain separate contacts in your mapping apps).
Jacqueline Monroe MacJuicyNews  2012-10-08 23:06
I Dont understand the big deal here. yes, apple did say that Maps was in Beta. But they made the mistake of touting it as a benefit when releasing the new iphone. But if people want to continue to use google maps all they have to do is visit the page in safari, click the share button and save it to home button. then you have essentially the same functionality. Also give the new maps app a chance to get more "smart". Siri was not perfect when released.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-10-08 23:15
Maps was not and is not advertised as being in beta.
Mac Carter  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2012-10-09 11:02
Good stuff! I hope Glenn has shared his excellent analysis with the author of this NY Times article.
Andrew Edsor  2012-10-09 13:09
Starting with Glenn's aside about 'antennagate', it was a real and unusual problem. Yes, all or most phones are affected by the capacitance of the hand but the iPhone 4 problem appeared to be caused by the conductivity of the hand. I suddenly found I was unable to send SMS from a position where I had never had a problem with my 3G, I tried again wearing a surgical glove. Signal restored. Removed glove, signal disappeared again.

I don't use my 4 for navigating as I have both a portable Garmin and a built-in sat nav in my car. I do access Maps from Contacts and that really reveals the very poor quality of the basic map data. However, it's had the advantage of leading me to other map apps. MapQuest is not available outside the US but the superb UK Ordnance Survey is amazingly free. However, as long as I'm unable to access the other mapping options from Contacts, the Maps app will be dead wood for me.