Maps fiasco demonstrates the need to be able to change default applications on iOS

Written by Jason Grigsby on

Good news today that Apple CEO Tim Cook has acknowledged the problems with the iOS 6 Maps application. Now everyone is anxiously waiting on Google to release a new native version of Google Maps so they can regain their lost functionality. But what many people are overlooking is that even if Google releases a native maps app, it won’t be able as useful as it once was.

One paragraph in Tim Cook’s open letter stood out to me:

While we’re improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their web app.

He’s right that these are good alternatives. I’ve been using Mapquest for turn-by-turn directions on iOS for a couple of years now. It works really well.

But here’s the thing, even if you found a maps application that worked better for you in the short run, if you tap on an address in the contacts app, it won’t launch your preferred maps application. It will always launch Apple’s default Maps app.

The same is true for people who prefer to use Sparrow for email, Chrome for browsing, or a different calendar. There is no way to change the defaults for these activities.

And that’s the real shame. Based on features alone, someone might decide that they prefer a different Map application than the one Apple ships with iOS. The fact we can’t chose our default applications becomes even more frustrating when the default applications fail us like the new Maps application has done.

So Tim Cook is telling us that while we wait for them to improve Maps, we should try these other Map applications. My question to him would be, while we’re waiting, would you mind letting us select a different app as our default?

Jason Grigsby

Jason Grigsby is one of the co-founders of Cloud Four, Mobile Portland and Responsive Field Day. He is the author of Progressive Web Apps from A Book Apart. Follow him at @grigs.

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I too would love this.

Even the ability to choose between options, like the “Open in Dropbox” sheet you get when looking at a PDF, would be nice.

It’s a good point. This has really frustrated me with Chrome especially. I understand setting the default, but preventing users from changing it? No desktop OS maker can force us to use, say, Firefox. It makes me wonder… How is this different from what Microsoft got in trouble for in the 90s with IE?

@Ryan: I know what you mean. I think it’s because Apple doesn’t have a monopoly-like share of the smartphone market, whereas Microsoft did have a monopoly-like share of the desktop computer OS market.

@Ryan @Paul I totally get the sentiment, but I’m not convinced it’s malicious on Apple’s end. Like copy and paste functionality I think it’s one of those things we’ll see happen eventually.

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