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Using Apple Maps in New Zealand after shaky start

Apple Maps got off to a shaky start when it launched in September 2012. To say there were errors is putting it mildly. At the time chief executive, Tim Cook made a public apology.

Back then I tested Apple Maps by driving from one end of Auckland’s North Shore to the other.

While all the streets and locations I searched for were in the right places, I found the turn-by-turn directions were badly flawed. Although the software instructed me to make, what appeared at first sight, logical moves, on three occasions on the journey the software wanted me to make illegal right-hand turns.

More than a year has passed.

On Friday I used Apple Maps to navigate as I moved around Auckland from appointment to appointment. This time there were no illegal turns. That problem seems fixed.

I’m not sure the direction plotting is as good as with Google Maps. On one journey from my home on the North Shore to Mount Eden Apple Maps directed me via Queen Street. It’s not that wacky a route, but according to the calculations show on the map, it’s three minutes and 200 metres longer than the route offered by Google Maps.

It took me through more traffic lights.

Oddly, neither of the two alternatives shown by Apple Maps were the same as Google Maps’ two routes. Given that this week’s project is to live entirely using Apple technology, I followed Apple’s advice.

Apple Maps and iCloud

There’s a button at the top of Apple Maps on OS X that allows you to send directions to various destinations including an iCloud link to your iPhone or iPad. I chose the iPhone and within seconds the map and details were ready to go.

Although I rarely need to use GPS, I normally turn to the Nokia Drive app on my Lumia 920. Maps show up clearly on the phone’s big, bright screen and the turn-by-turn directions are easy to hear. The iPhone did a worse job in both these departments.

Much of the time the iPhone 5S screen is more than adequate. It’s just a fraction too small for quick glances while driving and, frankly, squinting at the screen gets a bit dangerous. I suspect I could have been pulled over by the cops if they saw me trying to read the map even at traffic lights.

Another GPS, another posh woman’s voice

Apple’s turn-by-turn voice directions are quite different than Nokia’s. There’s less of “at the next roundabout take the third exit” and more of “stay on Onewa Road for three kilometres”. If anything the information is better.

While Nokia’s Drive uses a British woman with a BBC accent, Apple’s app has an Australian accent. Both sound foreign but perfectly acceptable although a New Zealand accent would be nicer.

Choosing the iPhone turned out to be a mistake. While the Nokia app is loud and clear. The speaker on the iPhone is feeble, even when cranked up to the maximum. I could barely hear the instructions over the car’s air conditioning. Even with that switched off, the voice was too soft and quiet.

Because the iPhone is so much lighter than the Lumia 920, I could put it in my shirt pocket – a few hundred millimetres nearer to my ears. Even this wasn’t enough, I found I had to put the phone up near my ear to hear the instructions properly – hardly safe.

The other problem was that something, almost certainly me, kept turning the voice off. I’m not sure what was causing this problem, but struggling to turn the sound back on is the last thing you need to do when driving through Auckland’s rush hour traffic. In the end, I completely overshot my destination because I didn’t hear when I arrived.