App of the Week: Apple Maps Replacement Edition

Developers:
Lumatic – Lumatic Inc.

Waze – Waze Inc

Compatible with:
iPhone
iPad
iPod Touch

Requires:
Lumatic – iOs 5.0 or later

Waze – iOs 4.0 or later

Price:
Free

Available here for Waze and here for Lumatic

I don’t like to use the words resounding, embarrassing failure to describe something unless I have to. For one thing, it’s just not that nice and, for another, I like to maintain the integrity of such a phrase, so when it is used you can really appreciate the effect. With that in mind I won’t use it for the new Apple Maps app, but I just wanted you to know that the thought did cross my mind, so you have an idea what we’re dealing with.

Instead I’ll describe the new “Google Map Killer” as a crushing disappointment. Mostly because some features show such promise (the Yelp integration and some of the layout is nice), while other aspects of the app are shamefully bad (just look at some of these screenshots, or this head to head with Google Maps). What’s worse is, Apple has effectively blackballed Google Maps from iO6, and therefore the new iPhone 5. While there are ways of getting around this problem, it is a joke that the superior Google Maps isn’t an easy option as it should be.

Until Apple Maps gets its act together then, you are going to need some replacement apps for map and navigation needs. In fact, to replace the functions and features of Google Maps, without paying a service fee for some of the full fledged navigation apps, you’ll actually need a couple of apps to make up the difference.

The first App I recommend then would be the free Lumatic City Maps. While somewhat limited in scope (it only covers 24 major cities and is mainly for public transportation, not driving) if you do live in an area that support it, it’s a must have. Lumatic handily keeps track of all public transportation options with nice, real world photos, and both transport time estimates and schedules of bus and subway arrival times. The best feature of this app is actually a tie. I can’t decide between the way that selecting a business will automatically provide Yelp, Foursquare, Facebook, and Wikipedia information, or how when providing directions, the app will actually reference locations in the area. For instance, it may say make a left turn passing the Starbucks on your right. It feels like a very organic way of providing directions and nicely highlights why this is such a fun and practical app if you live in an area that supports it.

If you don’t, or if you need driving directions, you are going to have to look elsewhere. Luckily there is another free app called Waze that admirably handles those duties. A popular app for a while now, Waze has honed itself into a fine tuned navigation assistant that also features some fantastic layouts and graphics. It’s turn by turn directions are competitive with any app out there, and its location search feature is not only comprehensive, but actually outshines some of the other major apps, especially Apple Maps, in terms of results and information. The integrated social features also allow drivers to communicate updates with each other, and the latest version even shows the price of the gas stations around you so you can choose the cheapest option. Even better, Waze provides gas discounts to certain stations along the way.

I was really hoping that Apple Maps would be as great as Apple was hyping it up to be, so I would have an easy selection this week. While I haven’t given up hope it may one day be worthy, in the meantime I wouldn’t recommend relying on it for any practical purposes. Luckily, you won’t have to navigate your world, or the app market, blindly, thanks to the combined efforts of Waze and Lumatic Maps, my apps of the week.

  

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The Future of Apple: Steve Jobs, Siri, and the iPhone 4S

The Future of Apple.

It may seem late in the year to take a look back on the death of Steve Jobs and the legacy he left behind. We’re more than a month out at this point, which even to me feels more like a year, but I think this is a good time for it. The iPhone 4S is now sweeping across the world, faster than most expected, bringing us one of those strange and uniquely Apple experiences, Siri. A lot of people thought the iPhone 4S was the wrong product to launch after Jobs stepped down from his position at the helm. To me, though, the iPhone 4S was maybe the last brilliant move from Jobs, with Siri giving us a look at the new Apple.

This won’t be a shining eulogy to Jobs as the greatest technological mind of our time. That’s not really my place and frankly, I don’t think it’s very accurate. My only point here is that Jobs left the world as he lived in it – carefully and intentionally.

The iPhone 4S was definitely a disappointing announcement for a lot of people. We had been hearing about the iPhone 5 for long enough that, in the light of Steve’s retirement, it seemed inevitable the iPhone 5 was the announcement to make. With Jobs gone, Apple needed to send a message that it was still plowing ahead, right? That it would be at the forefront of technology, always pushing to deliver the next great thing, right?

No. That has never been Apple. Apple has never been first to market. That’s not what Apple does. Apple is not about being the first anything on the market. Apple is about being the most complete experience on the market. When the iPod first launched there were dozens of MP3 players to compete with. The difference, of course, was iconic design and a simplified interface. It was simply better than the alternatives. The iPhone was no different, and please, let’s remember what the iPhone was like when it originally launched. You know, before the App Store. The product has definitely come a long way – Apple’s market cap is a testament to that – but when it launched it was simply a cleaner, more stylized, more complete way of doing things.

It’s also important to remember how Apple launches a product. It does so regardless of hype. It does so without even considering our expectations. Apple releases products when they are ready and that’s a big part of the company’s success. The iPad was a success at launch because it was a complete product. It wasn’t something pushed to market just to have a tablet. The iPad was actually late to the tablet game, but it has since gone on to define that segment of the market.

This is the Apple the world knows and loves. It is methodical. It is plodding. It is sometimes downright slow. But it is also beautiful and well-crafted and damn fun to use. In the wake of Steve Jobs’ death, that’s the Apple I hoped to see. When Apple starts pumping products out faster than you can buy them, then Apple is no longer Apple. The iPhone 4S is a quintessential Jobs-era product. It is an improvement on an already functioning piece of technology. It is beautiful. It is damn fun to use. It is only slightly more powerful than its predecessor but it’s still selling millions of units.

The truly weird part of Apple’s iPhone 4S announcement was Siri, a new digital assistant that launched as a beta. While Siri seems great when it works, it certainly doesn’t work well all the time. That’s the difference between Jobs’ Apple and Tim Cook’s Apple. I won’t say that Jobs wouldn’t release Siri in its current form. He might have. But if I had to make a bet, I’d say this was Cook’s call.

That’s not to say I think Tim Cook can’t keep Apple on top of the tech world. He will. If anything, the iPhone 4S proves that. It’s a conservative play from a traditionally conservative company, even under new leadership. It’s exactly the kind of product Jobs would launch with just a taste of something new. This is the future of Apple – solid products with just a taste of something new.

  

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