This post is adapted from one that first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News
by Larry Magid
Last week I wrote about the various stages of Apple product releases, ranging from the early rumors to the hype just before and after the product announcement to the inevitable letdown, nitpicking and faux scandals once consumers and bloggers discover that the new gadget is not perfect.
It didn’t take long for complaints to start rolling in about the new iPhone 5 and Apple’s new iOS 6 operating system. And once again, some relatively minor problems have been elevated to the level of a major national scandal with names like ScuffGate, MapGate or my favorite, NaviGate.
ScuffGate refers to scuff marks or scratches some users have encountered on the aluminum back, prompting Apple Senior Vice President Phil Schiller to point out in an email obtained by 9 to 5 Mac that “any aluminum product may scratch or chip with use, exposing its natural silver color.” I immediately bought a $29 case for my iPhone 5 to protect it against breaking and got scuff mark protection for no extra charge.
The biggest fracas is over Apple’s new mapping app, which affects not only iPhone 5 users but anyone who’s downloaded the new iOS 6 operating system that also runs on some earlier versions of the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. As expected, Apple removed Google maps and replaced it with its own app, which has been found to have some humorous flaws, such as designating New York’s Madison Square Garden as “green space” or identifying a farm as an airport. The app finds railway stations in Japan that aren’t even near rail lines. Tokyo’s main airport is labeled as a paper factory.
I’ve been using the mapping app for about a week. While I have my complaints, it isn’t all that terrible — at least based on my travels around the Bay Area. To its credit, it provides turn-by-turn directions, a feature that Google has long included in the Android version of Google maps but not on the iOS version that Apple used to offer. And like the old Google maps, it’s integrated with Siri, which is incredibly useful if you need to enter a location while you’re driving. Just tell Siri where you want to go and, if she’s online and if she understands you and knows where it is, she’ll get you there.
Those are big ifs. Siri is a cloud-based voice recognition system, so she needs a data connection and her servers need to be in working order, which isn’t always the case. But even if she’s online, she sometimes misunderstands me, which can result in her asking me to repeat myself or — worse — taking me to the wrong location.
Siri is actually a lot smarter than she used to be. With iOS 6 she knows about movie schedules and reviews, sports scores and restaurants. But Apple’s new mapping and navigation app isn’t nearly as smart as the Google app it replaced because it lacks Google’s vast database on businesses and other locations.
One of my complaints about Apple maps is that the text showing your time and distance to destination is much too small. I have to squint to read it, which is not so good while you’re driving. It’s also surprisingly unintuitive to use. I had to consult the manual that you can download by searching the Web or from Apple iBooks for the free.
Also, when you search for a point of interest, it shows them on a map, which isn’t nearly as easy as presenting them as a list.
One complaint about all the maps I’ve tested is that they don’t’ give you good information if you search for “hospital” or “emergency room.” My top hit for “hospital” on Google maps was a local drugstore, and on Apple maps it popped up a medical laboratory as its first hit. When I asked Siri to “take me to the nearest hospital, she directed me to an endocrine medical center.
On the positive side, Siri and Apple maps are pretty good at finding nearby restaurants. I don’t always agree with her, but if you ask Siri for “best nearby restaurants,” she’ll sort them by Yelp rating.
As for the iPhone 5 itself, I’m happy with mine, but it’s not as great as some of the early reviews suggest with words like “gem.” I like the larger screen and there is no question that high-speed LTE data is a plus, as long as you’re in an LTE area and don’t worry about having to pay extra for all that data you can now download even faster. I’ve had mixed results with battery life and wound up having to dim the screen and turn off Wi-Fi to get the through a day on one charge. As far as I can tell, battery life is about the same as on the iPhone 4s.
I consider the iPhone 5 to be an incremental improvement over the 4s. It’s a worthy upgrade, but nothing to get too excited about. I’m glad I bought one, but unlike a real gem, it will lose value over time and, a year from now, will be out-of-date.