So today has been a busy day.
I awoke at 2:45 to plug my headphones into the iPod nano strapped to my wrist, flung on the radio and tuned into the MacTalk Podcast live coverage of the World Wide Developer Conference 2012 Keynote. For the uninitiated, the keynote is Apple’s main recurring release event and we have for the last several years been treated to new features and a look at upcoming operating systems from the folks in Cupertino.
If you want to watch the keynote video yourself, it is available here.
Disclaimer: As a registered developer I’m subject to the usual NDA and other fun agreements. I stick to a general rule though that anything that Apple has already announced or made available to the general public via their website or some other official channel is fair game for discussion. If you’re after some tidbits from the SDK or something as-yet undiscovered, this isn’t the right place.
I’d like to focus this post on the upcoming iOS 6 release as this is where my interest and expertise lay. I have had a chance to install it on my primary iPhone, and I must note that it is pretty damn stable already. More so than any first beta Apple have released before.
Maps is probably the biggest change in this release. Apple have ditched Google’s base maps and data services in favour of rolling their own. This is a bit of a mixed bag I’ve seen in terms of quality of the data so far.
The key feature, the 3D flyovers, are as visually stunning as they appear in screenshots. At least until you zoom right in anyway and you note the pixelation, but it does not diminish much the user experience.
Is it practical though? It is certainly nice, the only practical bit might be noting the skyline and buildings around you in the Map and matching it to what you see in real life. The 3D seems to be selective, though. In Melbourne, where I was completing my testing, the CBD and South Melbourne are 3D, but as you move up Royal Pde in Parkville, one side of the road is 3D trees and fields, and the other side of the road is flat satellite images of buildings.
The other part of this change is the base map themselves. Apple has moved to vector maps, which render beautifully and are very responsive, but the cartography and data for Australia leaves something to be desired. The key difference for me is that the major arterial roads are not rendered any differently from minor road types. Railway tracks are not rendered at all, and streets like Swanston St and Bourke St Mall have vanished entirely.
The detail as well is just not there. Compare the two images of Melbourne below and you’ll see the difference (compare map data only, not apps). The Apple Maps is beautifully rendered, but it lacks detail of any real landmarks.
The geocoding could use some work too, a search for Dubbo, NSW, Australia in the Maps app ends up zoomed way out to show about 100kms across and centred with the pin about 4.8 miles (according to Maps’ directions) from the actual centre of Dubbo.
According to the copyright information in the app, the data for Australia is supplied by MapData Sciences Pty Ltd, who according to some basic research by @decryption, just seem to be Navteq resellers.
Yes. I am fully aware that this is a beta firmware and that Apple will improve their data quality over time. My hopeful prediction for the mean time is next.
What does this mean for Google Maps?
Aside from the fact that Google is no longer the default mapping provider, this is actually very good news for us as users. Google are now free to release their own Google Maps app into the App Store (and Apple would be very foolish not to approve it, all that anti-competitive stuff), which means we might finally get a Google Maps app that is up to the same standard as the Android version, including turn-by-turn directions.
My prediction is that Google will even have that ready to go and in the App Store available for purchase on the day of release of iOS 6.
It seems too that Apple have dropped the maps.google.com URL redirection that was in place to the application, which means that the Google Maps Mobile website will open and you can use that as normal. In combination with the App Banners that were mentioned for redirecting users from your website to your app means that the experience should almost be seamless.
Apple’s approach to transit directions is interesting. Rather than trying to pull everything into their data services, Apple will reach out to third-party apps to provide the directions directly.
As an example, the PTV app could register as a Routing App, nominate Victoria as its area of service and whenever you attempt to do a public transport directions request in the Maps app it would switch to the PTV app and it would do a journey plan for you. It would even search the App Store for apps that are registered to provide routing directions for that area for you if you do not have one installed.
But this feels a bit disjointed to me. It is not going to be a seamless experience as Google Transit is, but it does free them from copyright issues and responsibility for providing the service, it all comes down to an app that you have installed.
Another very interesting addition to iOS. I see a lot of promise here, particularly for small businesses to catch up to the world and provide their loyalty cards electronically. Likewise for services like Ticketek and TicketMaster, it should be trivially easy to convert their printed email tickets to passes in Passbook.
Many people have complained that it uses QR codes and not NFC. They miss the point: why support a technology in software that they do not support in hardware? Another prediction here though; with iOS 6 being released “in the fall” and a new iPhone likely to be announced 12 months after the iPhone 4S (which was in the fall), the release of the Passbook app to developers paves the way for Apple to easily provide NFC hardware, and already have a raft of apps and services available and ready to make use of it.
Likewise providing QR codes allows support for older hardware as far back as the iPhone 3G S, something those Android vendors seem to forget to do.
The Siri enhancements are nice, but the sports scores are, as is typical, US-centric. The release of local search for the rest of the world is much better, but the existing data for Australia is patchy at best. This will improve of course. Being able to Tweet and Facebook post with dictation is likely to be fun, though.
Shared Photo Streams
Perfect for holidays! Rather than spamming your entire social media networks with pictures as I did on my recent trip to Japan, you could setup a shared photo stream for close friends and family, and they don’t need an iOS device or Mac to see it, it outputs to an iCloud hosted website also.
This would have been great for me, I could have given my Mum the website URL and she could see them herself rather than getting my sister to show her the Facebook photos, or the twitter search URL I gave her that filtered it to my posted photos.
I’ll wrap it up here, there are a whole bunch of new features (go watch the video for yourself and browse the iOS 6 Preview page on the Apple website.h3