Apple Maps stinks, iOS 6 leaks data: Should I get the iPhone 5?

CNET's Ask Maggie offers advice on whether or not to buy the new iPhone 5 given the poor reviews of Apple Maps. And what can users do to reduce their wireless data usage?

With all the news of Apple Maps' deficiencies and data leaks on iOS 6 devices, is the new iPhone 5 even worth it?

That's the question I try to answer in this edition of Ask Maggie. Apple has pulled the Google Maps app from its latest software, leaving the new iPhone 5 and other iOS devices to use its Apple Maps product, which many complain is inferior to Google Maps.

Also, Apple has issued an update to Verizon iPhone 5 smartphones that fixes a glitch in its Wi-Fi software. Instead of connecting to known Wi-Fi sites, consumers were really using data from their carrier plan.

One reader wants to know if he should still buy the iPhone 5 even though the Apple Maps has gotten such poor reviews. And another reader wants to know the best way to protect herself against the data leakage problem uncovered by some iPhone 5 and iOS 6 users.

Should I still get the iPhone 5 even though Apple Maps sucks?

Dear Maggie,
I really want to get the iPhone 5, but I'm troubled by the reports that Google Maps is not available on the device. I've heard that the Apple map service is just bad. I don't know what to do, because I really want the iPhone 5. But I don't want to have to live with a crappy map service. Is there any way to get the Google Maps as an app? Or are there alternative apps that are better than Apple's map service and as good as Google Maps? I'm just not sure if this one capability is enough to make me not buy the iPhone 5 and get something like the Samsung Galaxy S3. What do you think?

Thanks,
iPhone Envy

Dear iPhone Envy,
The answer to your first question is, "no." At this time the Google Maps app is not integrated into the iPhone iOS software anymore. And you cannot download an app from iTunes. That said, you can use the online Web app version of Google Maps, which accesses the service through the iPhone browser Safari.

Apple's Maps app on an iPhone 5.
Apple's Maps app on an iPhone 5. Sarah Tew/CNET

The Web app version will create a little Google Maps icon you can put on your home screen. So it can be accessed like a native app, but unfortunately, it doesn't act like the real Google Maps app. What this means is that certain features will be missing and even the features that are there may not behave like the native app.

My CNET Reviews colleague Scott Stein posted a story on one such feature yesterday . Previously, Google Street View couldn't be accessed via the Google Maps Web app on the iPhone. That feature has now been added. But it still doesn't behave like the native Google Maps App.

Here's a list of some of the limitations from Scott's piece:

  • Yes, you can move down city streets virtually for a little stroll...but it's choppy.
  • It's easy to look around, but Street View images are distorted.
  • You can't zoom in.
  • You can't just drop a pin.

There is no question that that Apple's move to use its own maps app instead of Google's has been a disappointment to many people. The biggest problem is missing or inaccurate data. Apple Maps uses location information from Yelp, which is less reliable than Google's own database. In Scott's review of the iPhone 5 he noted that searching for a coffee shop only turned up a Starbucks and not a different coffee shop across the street.

Another big loss is integrated transit information that you could get in Google Maps. There are third party apps you can use for this information, such as HopStop

and Embark (both are also free.) But CNET's Kent German and Josh Lowensohn note in their FAQ regarding the maps flap that using a third party app for transit means switching back and forth between the transit information and the Apple Maps app, which offers a map of the area. This makes it more difficult for people who need directions to and from transit stops. By contrast, transit information was integrated into Google Maps, which meant no switching back and forth.

The other big complaint about Apple Maps is that some of the information and location of things is simply wrong. Whether this is a problem for you will depend on where you live. Kent and Josh noted in their FAQ that CNET didn't see any major issues in either New York City or San Francisco. This makes sense, given these cities are two of the most well-mapped places on the plant. So depending on where you live, this could be really irksome. The Apple Map problems are particularly bad outside the U.S.

But that doesn't mean that Apple Maps is worthless. There are some very useful things have been added to the app that iPhone users didn't have previously. The most important is turn-by-turn directions. Previously, iPhone users had to rely on third-party apps for this features. Kent and Josh note in their FAQ that some of these apps are free, but the better ones cost money. Meanwhile, Google Android users get this feature for free on every Android handset. (I must admit it's always been one of my favorite things about a Google Android phone.)

Another newly added feature in iOS 6 for iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, and the new iPad, users is 3D views. And there is also a flyover feature that lets you feel like you're zooming over a city in a low-flying airplane. These features may not necessarily be that useful, but they do look cool.

You can also see reviews of points of interest directly on your map, which can be useful if you're looking for a nearby restaurant. (Of course, you can't be sure if the app is really giving you all the nearby options and if they're actually in the place that the app says they are.)

Apple has finally recognized that this is a significant problem. And the company's CEO Tim Cook issued an apology to customers and promised the Apple Maps app will get better . In the meantime, he suggested that iOS 6 users use a third party app to augment Apple Maps.

He suggested using Bing, MapQuest, or Waze maps apps. And he even said that users should check out the Google Maps Web App, and a mapping Web app from Nokia. The Nokia version works very much like Google. It's accessed through the Safari browser, but you can download a little icon to put on your home screen for easy access. Again, because these Web apps operate through the browser performance can be less than optimal.

There are also other third party alternatives. CNET's car tech editor Wayne Cunningham has put together a list of five free or mostly free navigation and mapping apps .

.

Now to answer your final question: should you go with another device, such as the Samsung Galaxy S3, because the iPhone 5 lacks Google Maps?

First, let me say that the Samsung Galaxy S3 is a great choice regardless of the maps issue. So if you like the bigger screen and the look and feel of the handset and the Android software, go for it. But I probably would not make the mapping feature alone my sole basis for not buying the iPhone 5 and instead buying the Samsung Galaxy S3. I asked Scott Stein this question too and here's what he had to say:

"If I really needed a solid mapping and navigation solution, because I needed it for my job. Like let's say I was a UPS driver or something, then I would go with an Android phone," he said. "Otherwise, I think Apple Maps is fine. The things it's missing are annoying. But I think they're going get to better. Or I think Google will offer a Google Maps app for the iPhone."

I tend to agree with Scott. It's clear that Apple Maps has some problems. And it is not as good or as accurate as Google Maps. But Apple has a heck of a lot of money. And they have a lot of smart people working for the company. So I think they will invest rather quickly in making improvements. I also think that there is a good possibility that Apple and Google could reach an agreement. And even though I don't think that Apple will integrate Google Maps into the software out of the box, Google could submit an app to the Apple App store, which users could download either for free or for a fee.

Kent and Josh noted in their FAQ that the fact that the YouTube app has recently gotten approval for the iTunes App Store is a good sign that Google Maps may follow a similar path. YouTube had also been integrated in the Apple iOS software since the first iPhone, but it was removed from iOS. (YouTube is owned by Google.)

That said, Apple's customer satisfaction has taken a bit of a hit after the upgrade to iOS 6. The mobile customer research firm On Device recently conducted a poll of nearly 16,000 iPhone owners in the U.S. The survey found that owner satisfaction dropped slightly compared with previous surveys conducted after software updates to iOS 4 and iOS5 were launched. Although the drop is small, OnDevice noted it's the first time they've seen any drop in customer satisfaction after the release of a software update for Apple mobile products.

Still, the map issues don't seem to have dampened enthusiasm for people buying the iPhone 5. Sales are solid and some people are still waiting three and four weeks for their devices.

My advice to you is to buy the iPhone 5 if you like everything else about the device. The maps issue will either be worked out or improved by Apple or there will eventually be a Google Maps app available for download. In the meantime, there are third party alternatives and work-arounds available. While this is not ideal, it's workable. But if there are other things bothering you about the iPhone 5, or you simply like Android and the Galaxy S3 better, then I say buy the Galaxy S3. The bottom line is that you will probably be happy with either one. They are both fantastic smartphones.

How can I conserve data and protect against overages from data leaks?

Dear Maggie,
I switched to Verizon from AT&T for the iPhone 5. This means I had to get one of those Family Share plans. I think I will be fine with the 1GB data I am getting, so long as I use Wi-Fi. But I am worried about the "data leakage" issues that I've read about. I don't want to go over my data usage! Has Verizon really fixed this issue? And what can I do to protect myself if this happens again?

Thanks,
Grace

Dear Grace,
Apple fixed the problem in a software update for iOS6. And Verizon issued a statement earlier this week stating that customers who experienced this issue would not be charged for these data overages.

AnchorFree

"Under certain circumstances, iPhone 5 may use Verizon cellular data while the phone is connected to a Wi-Fi network," said Verizon's Torod Neptune in a statement. "Apple has a fix that is being delivered to Verizon customers right on their iPhone 5. Verizon Wireless customers will not be charged for any unwarranted cellular data usage."

You should download the software update and then check your usage to make sure you don't see something out of the ordinary.

.

While you can't prevent a software glitch like this from happening again, you can download an app that will compress the data that do you use. This won't fix the problem of wrongly being charged for data usage. But an app that compresses data should help you stay within your data cap.

Apps, such as AnchorFree's HotSpot Shield, can help subscribers reduce their data usage to half. This means that if you typically use 4GB of data, you would likely use about 2GB of data. The amount of data each consumer saves can vary. It depends on what you do online. Right now, HotSpot Shield and other apps like it, such as Onavo only compress text and images. They do not yet compress video or audio, which can be the biggest data hogs.

That said, uploading pictures to Flikr or Facebook or viewing pictures on Instagram or any other social media site can gobble up a lot of data. Checking Twitter constantly or receiving updates from other apps can also be data intensive. All of this data can add up. Apps like HotSpot Shield and Onavo can compress this traffic and help you reduce data usage.

David Gorodyansky, CEO AnchorFree, said that when his app and others are able to compress video and audio, they will be able to reduce data usage even more.

"Now you can use about two times as much data and we're only compressing images and text," he said. "I think you could see a 300 percent improved if we could compress video."

This could save wireless subscribers a lot of money on their data plans. If a subscriber watches a lot of streaming video, he can blow through a monthly data plan within the first week of the month. Nailing down the video compression problem will help alleviate this problem.

AnchorFree and Onavo aren't the only companies offering a data compression app. XVision's DataMan and Webrich Software's My Data Usage Pro are similar solutions.

These apps all work in a similar way. And they provide you with details about your data usage. With HotSpot Shield you can get live usage information. And you can see which apps are using the most data. Onavo also allows you to set alerts so that if a certain app is hogging your data, you will get a message warning you.

HotSpot Shield also provides another feature as part of the app: secure Web browsing. Through its mobile VPN, it provides a temporary IP address and encrypts data so that users can browse safely on unsecured networks. This protects passwords, financial information and all other personal or sensitive data while using a public Wi-Fi hotspot. The company has offered secure Web browsing on laptops and desktop computers for years. More than 70 million computers use its software today.

The iOS mobile version of the software has been out for almost a year, and the Android version came out in May. Since then, the company says that it's been downloaded more than 1 million times on iOS and Google Android devices.

The bottom line here is that if you are on a capped data service, you should definitely download one of these free apps so that you can preserve and save as much data as you possibly. And if by chance there is another data leakage and if Verizon doesn't catch it, hopefully your data usage will still be below your cap since your data will be compressed. I'll keep an eye out for when any of these apps add video compression to their capabilities. When that happens, it will be a huge benefit to all data customers.

Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. The column now appears twice a week on CNET offering readers a double dosage of Ask Maggie's advice. If you have a question, I'd love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. You can also follow me on Facebook on my Ask Maggie page.

 

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