Tag Archives: ios

Map Ado About Nothing

Navigation It’s amazing how much noise in mobile technology is created for issues that are at best marginal. For example, there was the iPhone 4 Antennagate. Honestly, my iPhone 4 didn’t give me any antenna problems, nor did my iPhone 4s. I really love my current Nexus 4 phone, but it actually does have problems dropping signal or weak signal. Sometimes it just won’t connect in a place where I know it should, and I have to reboot it. Of course, there is no Nexus 4 antennagate, though perhaps there should be.

So I thought I’d touch on another non-issue… maps in smartphone navigation. I haven’t done any comprehensive test of maps that you could call scientific, but I do know what my own experience is, and it somehow doesn’t match what the noise on the internet says. For the record, I have an android phone and table, and an iOS phone and tablet, so I can currently run checks that should be pretty good.

One thing that I’ve done frequently when I travel with colleagues from work is have us both run our mapping apps at the same time. In the past, I’ve had multiple occasions where the android device using Google maps got us to the wrong location, while the Apple device was correct. Bit caveat here – I normally use a paid app on the iPhone, either Navigon or Magellan. I happen to believe that with maps you get what you pay for, and my experience continues to support that. With that in mind, I really was comparing Google maps to paid maps.

And there’s the rub – if you’re used to old-fashioned web-base map applications with static routes and static turn-by-turn, then the Google map app is amazing. More still if you’ve been stuck in the tar pits and are using a paper map. The experience is so much better with Google, that the fans tend to overlook the comparison with serious GPS applications and devices, where Google maps looks mediocre at best. Don’t get me wrong, Google has a good track record of improving things they care about, and maps seems to be one of them, so it probably will get there. At the moment however, it takes a back seat to the traditional GPS big boys.

So Apple dumped Google map late last year for their own app, how has that worked out? Well there was a lot of noise about how horrible it was and how much money it would cost and how long it would take to fix them. As it turned out, many fixes were made much faster than the naysayers predicted. Surprise – Apple has deep pockets! Note that Apple still has a ways to go, especially against the afore-mentioned GPS big boys, but overall it’s not bad. Like Google, if Apple cares, they’ll fix the problems. If it’s a “marketing checkbox” for them, then it’ll never get fixed. I’d hope for the former, but since I almost always use 3rd party map apps and currently carry the Nexus 4 as my primary, it doesn’t really matter to me.

As far as the reason Apple changed, I’ll leave that as an exercise for the aspiring journalist, but a few possible reasons are:

a) Apple wants to screw us
b) Apple wants to screw Google
c) Apple wants to stop sending revenue in Google’s direction
d) Apple wanted to build voice turn-by-turn full app and Google license didn’t allow it

apple_maps_tomtom1apple_maps_tomtom2 A point to remember in this comparison is also that many people still don’t seem to know that TomTom supplies at least some of the map data behind Apple maps. Note from the picture on the left the TomTom name right above the “Drop Pin” button. On the right look for TomTom intellectual property in the last paragraph. Everyone loves TomTom, everyone hates Apple – what does that tell you about anti-fanboi-ism? The people at TomTom say that the data is fine, and the app has problems, and I suspect they’re correct. I suspect the overall question of accuracy is less troublesome than people make it out to be.

The question is how does it work out in real life usage. I have three examples I’d like to share. My first actual test was traveling to San Francisco for a conference. It was a quick trip, so I decided to use public transit and my feet. Yes, here Apple has a problem, they need public transit support. I was lucky, because I knew basically what I was doing to get from Airport to downtown. The maps came into play when I exited the subway and tried to find my hotel.

In the past, I’ve not been very happy with GPS when I’m on foot in a city. Out in the field they’re great, but when trapped between tall buildings and weak signal it’s tricky, plus nuances of direction and signal accuracy can be far more confusing. On this point Apple scored big for me. When you drill down to their 3D view, you can actually tell not just where you want to go, but where you actually are. Foot travel was a win for Apple. I do happen to enjoy Google’s street view, but I don’t find it useful for navigation.

Best Buy SLO location in Google maps on a Nexus 4
Best Buy SLO location in Google maps on a Nexus 4

The second experience was a recent trip to San Luis Obispo. At the hotel I found myself missing a wanted cable, (gotta have that HDMI cable so I can connect my table to the hotel TV) so I set out in search of the local Best Buy. It was my first trip carrying the Nexus 4, so I was using Google maps.

Best Buy SLO location in Apple maps in iOS 6 on an iPhone 5
Best Buy SLO location in Apple maps in iOS 6 on an iPhone 5

As you can see from the maps on either side, Google got it wrong, while Apple got it right. Unfortunately for me, I was only carrying the Nexus 4 at the time, and had to resort to stopping at a few stores to get directions. When I tried it on my iPhone later, you can see that it put me at the store front, rather than the middle of an empty field.

I know that this happens to Apple maps users as well, the point is that Google also suffers from it’s own share of inaccuracies. I will note that in this instance, I definitely like the better imagery of the Google maps, but accuracy has to come first. Imagery quality varies by locations, sometimes giving the nod to Google, and other times Apple.

Another situation happened to me on New Year’s Eve at the Pomona Valley Mining Co in Pomona, CA. I’ve driven past the place numerous times, as it sits on a hill above the freeway, but I’ve never actually been there and wasn’t sure how to approach it, so I took to the phone maps once again.

pomico_la_iphone4 The top picture, captured from my iPhone, shows a good route using Apple maps. Unfortunately, this was captured after-the-fact, having been misdirected by Google I was curious once again to see if the Apple maps had it right.

The bottom photo is where my Google maps on my Nexus 4 tried to send me. Note that it was correct up until the last, where it directed me for a final right turn, instead of a left and a quick-right. Lucky for me I stopped at the intersection with no traffic behind me and figured it out. pomico_la_nexus4_google

As a funny afterthought, I tried the same thing at home using Navigon on android and it got me to the same wrong place as Google maps, while Navigon on iOS just stopped at the road itself where Android was telling me to turn right, without telling me to turn left or right. This one surprised me, as I’ve had pretty good luck with Navigon. Magellan on iOS did the “right” thing by telling me to turn left. I’m not sure what maps sit behind Navigon on both platforms, but it would be interesting to know.

So there you have it, so far I’ve tried Apple maps three times against Google, and where I live and travel, Apple works out better than Google. What have your experiences with maps been? What app do you really love?

[Update 2016-03-11 It really depends where you live. In the Tysons Corner / McLean Virginia area Apple maps is horrible. In California it’s generally pretty good. Waze is really great in lots of areas – but mostly where there is heavy population density.]

Lies, Damn Lies, and Hardware Specs

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With the plethora of new mobile devices constantly coming out, consumers are bombarded with geek-speak on which ones are best. From the geeks perspective it’s all about the hardware specs. And geeks buy new things all the time just to keep up with the latest.

For everyone else, you buy something to fill some need or desire. If it does it the way you want, then good. If not, don’t buy, get rid of it, upgrade it, etc.

The funny thing about the geek method is that they mistakenly think they’re getting the best thing, because the numbers are there, and as we all know, numbers don’t lie! And there’s the rub – hardware specs are not an indication of system performance.

Luckily for much of the public they don’t fall for such nonsense. It’s like saying that one car is faster than the other simply based on how many cubic inches or centimeters the engine has. Such a number will tell you that one engine is bigger than the other, nothing else. What it doesn’t tell you is which vehicle is faster, which is stronger, which is more responsive, which has better mileage, or anything else useful in and of itself.

Add to this the fact the the market for computing devices has changed. It used to be common for people to have machines that were simply underpowered for their daily needs. That hasn’t been true for years now, most computers you can buy will do what you want them to today, and for the next couple of years or even longer.

A recent article in Wired says it well:

Processor speed, disk size and RAM matter a lot less in tablets or post-PC devices than they did in the classic PC era, when they were expensive and scarce. Design, good software, slick interactivity and good media availability matter more, because that’s what’s scarce today.”

Or as they put it in Information Week’s iPhone Vs Android: It’s The Sum, Not The Specs:

“Comparing individual specs between smartphones is like opening up the hood of a Ford Mustang and the hood of a BMW M3 and pointing out why one is better than the other based on its innards. The Mustang’s engine displacement alone doesn’t make the Mustang better than the M3, any more than the M3’s suspension alone doesn’t make the M3 better than the Mustang.”

Such comparisons blind one to the important issues about a particular product. Questions like “Will it do what I want?” and “How fast will it do what I want?” are more important than “What is it’s PassMark rating?” Some people DO need a faster device for what they are doing, others do not. Some devices will be fast at some things and slow at others. Knowing how they perform for your needs is what’s important.

This was all very much at play last week and Apple (AAPL) released a new iPhone which not only failed to have a new shape, but didn’t have the latest important specs as declared by the geekocracy.

This is a fine example because it’s real, tangible, and recent. Should you buy an iPhone? Should you upgrade? What’s different about the new one? The breakdown is fairly simple.

First, what the new iPhone 4S doesn’t have (the “disappointing” part)

  • A new number – iPhone 5. Does this really matter to consumers?
  • A new shape – again, so what. Unless the shape is a real problem for you, this is a non-issue.
  • Bigger screen – a minor bummer, would have been nice. But bigger screens also carry a cost in battery life and portability. I’m pretty much at the limit for what can fit comfortably in my pocket. Some would have you believe that bigger=better.
  • NFC – stores don’t have it yet, so I don’t need it yet. It’s an early-adopter thing.
  • LTE – AT&T (ATT) isn’t ready, so I don’t mind, especially since I happen to live and work in what should be a good area for HSPA+. For Verizon users this is a major letdown. For Sprint (S), well hey, WiMax iPhone wasn’t going to happen anyway. In either case, you need either a bigger phone or less stuff inside to accommodate it, not to mention lousy battery life. I’m not interested in LTE until I know I can get an unlimited plan for it, otherwise I’ll stick with what I have.

What the iPhone 4S does have:

  • Radically better camera, especially for low-light. If you were going to buy a new point-and-shoot camera, this might do the job.
  • Dual-core – not sure if any apps will actually be faster – maybe not necessary depending on what you do with your phone. This does included a better GPU – great for certain things, maybe not noticeable for others. If your phone is slow, this is a good upgrade. If your phone doesn’t seem slow, then don’t worry about it.
  • Faster network for some AT&T users – This isn’t 4G, it’s HSPA+ and it’s hard to say yet who this will affect. Obviously if you’re not on AT&T this is a worthless feature. If you’re in an area that gives you faster service, this might be a good thing. Again, it depends on whether you’re experiencing slower than desired network performance, like web pages loading slowly.
  • Cloud-syncing – if you have a lot of iTunes content like movies, music, etc. this is nifty. If not, it’s another non-feature.
  • Voice assistant – this appears to be interesting in the videos they show but it’s still considered a beta feature. Great fun for geeks, probably not ready for prime-time yet.
  • More storage space – up to 64 GB. If you’re out of space and you actually need more space this is great. As opposed to being out of space because you don’t delete things you don’t need. This is a classic spec example – some would automatically say it’s a better phone, but the reality is 64GB is going to cost more. If you are happily living with a 16GB phone, why would you upgrade to this? It makes no sense. (disclosure – I’m a space hog – I’m on the edge with my current 32GB phone. But at least I recognize that my personal usage model is abnormal.)

See how easy it is to break things down to real issues? Very few actual hardware specs involved, and no simple assumption that bigger is faster, or that bigger/faster is better.

Luckily the geeks influence is waning over the public at large. A recent article in Beatweek gives a great history and breakdown – give it a read.

A prime example of the waning influence is the ill-fated WebOS. From it’s inception, WebOS was something the geeks loved. I’ve read countless articles about it being better, most without any substance as to why it’s better for me. But it’s new and it smells better – everyone will love it. The rest of the world hated WebOS – and the geeks still love it.

As for me, I’m going to judge things on how they work for me. For those who are only interested in the numbers – good luck with that.

[Update 2011-10-11]
Some people have received their iPhone early and already spec reports are coming in. The funny thing – the A5 CPU on the iPhone 4S appears to be running at 800 MHz, but still outperforms other phones with “faster” processors.

Dropping a CPU’s core voltage, yields a greater-than-linear decrease in power consumption, making the marginal loss in clock speed a good choice.

[/Update]

[Update 2011-10-17]
This one was too funny to pass up. From SlashGear:

Siri was Apple’s middle-finger gesture to the hardware arms-race that epitomizes the Android smartphone market today. Don’t just make a phone that runs 1-percent faster, make one that actually works better with users’ needs.

[/Update]

Lies, Damn Lies, and Predictions

[Rant on]
Is it just me, or is anyone else bothered about all the rumors and predictions that seem to dominate the technology news stream? I would hazard a guess that more top articles in the technology space are gossip or guesswork than actual reporting.

Crystal Ball / Glaskugel

Part of this trend, perhaps the most annoying part, is the tendency to take the guesses of other people (predictions,forecasts,…) and report them as fact. Recent examples from the news:

“Sorry Android, iPad to Dominate Tablet Sales Until at Least 2014”

which should have read “Gartner has forecasted that the iPad will Dominate …”

Asia Pac app-gasm to hit five billion this year

meaning “Ovum analysts forecast that…” But the article even reads “The Asia Pac app market will hit 5 billion downloads by the end of the year with revenues from mobile phone apps poised to reach $US871 million.” It’s only several sentences later that you find that this is a prediction.

“Unemployment to stay above 10% in state through 2013”

which might mean “Government analysts are predicting that…”

Android To Beat iPhone in Download Stakes

This one uses weasel phrases like “Research points to” to avoid admitting it’s a prediction until the next paragraph. Such analysis may indeed turn out to be true, but it’s reported as if it’s already fact. Closer inspection usually reveals flaws in such predictions as well, for example in the app store battle, percentage growth rates are extrapolated as constants. Give that the Android marketplace is smaller than the Apple (AAPL) one, it has a lower numerical growth rate at times, but always a higher percentage growth rate. So if you project that rate as constant into the future you get monstrous numbers that are of course ridiculous. Numerical quantities of actual increase in apps on a regular basis are far more accurate. If you take those numbers, and look at their rate of increase, you can make a much more reasonable estimate of what will happen.

You see how easy it is to get confused in the details of these predictions, which frequently turn out to be wrong though that isn’t discussed as much. But to report such as fact is lunacy. If you get a chance read Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Are Next to Worthless, and You Can Do Better by Dan Gardner. It’s very interesting.

Most of these examples come from the mobile space, which at the moment may be worse due to Apple mania, but the problem is pervasive.

The second annoying one is another case of truly bad journalism. In the rush to be the first to report, endless nuances are gleaned from seemingly innocuous statements. The more ethical writers will explain that they’re making a leap of faith, but more often than not, the leap is taken as fact. For example the recent noise based on Al Gore saying that new iPhones are coming. Headlines read:

“Al Gore Lets Slip Secret IPhone Launch Details”, “Gore’s loose lips let new iPhones slip”, etc. What Gore said was “the new iPhones coming out next month”. Based on other rumors (that may or may not turn out to be true) that there will be two new iPhones coming next month, people construed Gore saying “iPhones” to mean two models. One could just as easily construe this to mean that a lot of iPhones will be sold. Maybe Gore just meant “You’re all going to have your iPhones”. Who can say? Sure, you can speculate and such nonsense, but you could just as easily throw a dart at a dartboard to get such accurate forecasting.

I understand the lure of reporting first, of being the first one to figure things out, or speculating about what may happen. The issue isn’t the speculation, but rather the attempt to pass speculation off as truth. As a reader, I tend to be critical in choosing who and what I read so that I have some chance of seeing the real trends. I look for realistic assessments, and try to understand the methodology. If it’s suspect, fine, but if it’s suspect and disguised, then I have a problem with that source. Open honest coverage is in everyone’s benefit.
[Rant off]