San Francisco, CA (written by Roger Yu/USA Today) -- Who knew a map app could trigger so much brouhaha?
Apple removed the popular Google Maps from its iOS 6 mobile operating system released earlier this month and substituted its own map app. Apple's Maps, while containing some gee-whiz features such as voice-guided navigation and a 3-D Flyover feature, has been panned widely for its woefully incomplete maps and missing information.
On Friday, Apple CEO Tim Cook issued a public apology for the flaws. "We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better," he said in a letter to customers posted on Apple's web site.
The amount of backlash attests to the importance of a dependable map app in a smartphone, a mobile device whose value depends on its ability to get things done while its owners are on the move. Google could release an iPhone app in the future, and advises iPhone users in the meantime to use the browser to access its maps. One touch easily adds maps.google.com on the phone screen, and it works well enough, though it lacks voice navigation.
And other map developers -- who have long felt ignored by the virtual duopoly of Apple and Google -- now see a tiny crack in which they can try to win a bit of mindshare from disillusioned-by-Apple Maps fans willing to try something new.
"This market has gotten crowded recently. There are sort of these openings that come up," says Vijay Bangaru, vice president of product for Mapquest.
In his note to customers, Cook even suggested that customers turn to alternative maps service -- including Google, Bing, Waze and Mapquest.
Here is a look at some other phone map apps that include voice-guided navigation:
--Waze. It's a more-or-less-3-D map that stands out from the pack with comprehensive data submitted by users. With 25 million members worldwide, its crowd-generated information includes real-time traffic updates, accidents, police traps, estimates of commuting hours and even gas station locations -- all pointed out with cartoony icons that can be somewhat distracting.
Tapping into the phone's GPS sensor, Waze knows when and how fast you're driving, in itself a source of data that gets sent back to Waze for its traffic algorithm. While the car is moving, Waze also turns off the typing capability, but users can contribute traffic information by waving a hand over the phone and speaking to the app.
--Mapquest. The AOL-owned service has lost some luster through the years with the emergence of Google Maps. But it has been enhancing mobile features to win back customers, including adding voice navigation in 2010 and integrating more local points of interest directly on the map so users don't have flip to other guide apps such as Yelp.
Because turn-by-turn direction often can be confusing to follow without visible, distinct street signs, Mapquest has also added some context information. For example, it may instruct drivers to "turn right on Arapahoe street, near Safeway," says Bangaru.
--Skobbler. Using open-sourced map data called OpenStreetMap with 750,000 users contributing information, Skobbler sells a 99-cent app that appeals more to walkers, hikers and bikers, says co-founder Marcus Thielking.
Google Maps and other driver-oriented maps have tweaked and incorporated data that are relevant to drivers, such as road surface types, crossings, one-way streets and ramps. OpenStreetMap, which works like Wikipedia, is often missing such information, Thielking says.