Alex Goldmark is the senior producer of Note to Self, a storytelling show about how technology is changing society. Subscribe here to get Note to Self shows delivered right to your devices. Follow him on Twitter @alexgoldmark.
Apple Drops Transit from Maps App, Drawing Ire
Monday, June 18, 2012
Early adopting gadget lovers tend to love transit, but for once, they're feeling left behind by Apple.
The tech giant rolled out a slew of new products and features last Monday including a new operating system, iOS6, for iPhones and iPads. As part of that upgrade, a new Maps feature is being hailed as the centerpiece. New York Times technology critic David Pogue called Maps "the gem of iOS6."
There's a new voice activated Siri-centered driving directions feature, and walking directions remain. But when Apple revamped the mapping application from the ground up it left transit directions on the side of the road.
That has sparked cries from transit advocates and a petition campaign by WalkScore, the website that rates neighborhoods on how friendly they are to life without a car. WalkScore is calling for a social media campaign to pressure Apple to restore transit directions.
"We believe that having transit directions on your phone helps public transit work better for everyone, so we’re asking you to join us in requesting this feature from Apple," the WalkScore website reads.
Tech bloggers took note as well. TheNextWeb praised the upgrade, but still focused a post on the missing transit routing, lamenting how inconvenient it will be to ride to San Francisco without timetables integrated into a smartphone app: "This could mean that Apple will leave this functionality to third-party apps, but if that’s the case, we’re not sure when that will happen."
Subway and bus mapping became collateral damage in the fierce business competition between Apple and Google. Until this version of Apple's operating system, its products relied on licensing agreements with Google and other map providers. Now, as part of a broader effort to shed Google apps from iPhones and iPads, the Apple Maps app has been rebuilt, and it seems, transit directions weren't the top priority to include in this beta launch.
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 told The Takeaway their preference for transit over driving is so that they have more time to use smartphones!.
Apple didn't return calls for comment, so we don't know when or if transit will be added to Maps. The best we have to go on is speculation in from Apple watchers based on hints in the product announcement: PC World says transit directions may have to be third-party apps, not integrated into the Maps app itself. Gizmodo called that solution a "cop out." Apple Insider points out that release notes for iOS6 say third party apps "can now register as a routing app" if they offer turn-by-turn directions, and that will permit those easier more integrated access to Maps. It’s not clear what that means except iPhone users will have to download a program — like Google Maps — to get transit directions, the feature won’t come standard.
So when will transit directions come back to Apple products, it's cliché but true: we'll have to wait and see.