Local Search in the iOS 6 Maps App is Broken

iOS Maps

I sat down to play with the Golden Master release of iOS 6 tonight so I could familiarize myself with the software before our customers download it next week. While the majority of my interactions have been perfectly good, there is one terrible experience that I’ve spent way too much time trying to figure out.

With Apple looking to control more and more of its software, they replaced Google Maps with custom-built mapping software in iOS 6. Initially, I thought that would be great — better functionality, turn-by-turn directions, a prettier interface. I didn’t consider the consequences that come without Google’s data and backend for local businesses.

Search 101

As I used the new Maps app, everything seemed great until I typed in a search term. Keeping in mind that Google is no longer involved in the Maps search functionality, here’s how you can search:

  • Business Name
  • Address
  • Yelp Category

That’s it. Nothing else returns any relevant results. This is incredibly different from using Google Maps; it’s a tremendous step backwards and something that cripples iOS for Apple’s customers.

Previously, you could type the word “burrito” into the search bar and any local burrito business would show up on the map. RMMR is a Denver company; we have hundreds of restaurants that serve burritos. With iOS 6, that term shows you just a couple places. That’s it.

I went on to search “iPhone Repair” and “iPad Repair” since that’s obviously relevant to our business. The results broke my heart. All of the work I’ve put into our local recognition is completely gone because I focused so keenly on Google Places. By limiting search to Yelp businesses, there were only two places returned for “iPhone Repair.” They illegally use the trademarked term “iPhone” in the name of their company on their Yelp record. One of the companies used a false name just so they had iPhone in the title.

So, I need to create a false Yelp business and hope that Apple legal doesn’t come after me just to show up in Maps? Wow.

What about searching with “iPad Repair” in the box? No results. No, seriously. Not a single thing. Maps didn’t know what to do with it because it’s not an address, business name or Yelp category. My brain hurts just trying to grasp the stupidity.

The Case for Yelp Categories

The use of Yelp categories as search terms became apparent to me when I was trying to figure out how to find RMMR on the Maps app. I had our company listed under “Web Design” on Yelp (we do that occasionally) so I used that as the search term. Immediately, it found RMMR. Perfect, we’ll get inquiries about web development but nothing for iPhone and iPad repair. That’s definitely not ideal. By using some of the stock Yelp categories (you cannot add a custom category), I was able to find a lot of local businesses… but I had to use the exact wording of the Yelp category to find a Yelp listing in the Maps app.

I have an owner verified listing but our business address is months out of date. I can see all of the relevant data that happens with my listing each day, but I cannot edit my address because it’s “locked.” I’ve done some research — this is supposedly a bug within their system — and you’re supposed to contact the support team. For three months, I’ve been trying to get someone to change it but the most recent message that I received was along these lines: “The team at Yelp has reviewed this record recently. No more changes are required.”

Not only is Yelp the only source for local search in iOS 6, but they’re telling me that the RMMR address is correct when it most certainly is not. Even if I could get RMMR to show up with the proper search terms, the address would be incorrect. The expletives are leaving my mouth but are not making their way to the computer for the sake of the children. Changing an address on Google Places is infuriating; changing an address on Yelp is impossible.

Does Siri Know Everything?

What happens when you use Siri for your search instead of the Maps app? I guess it gets a little better. ”iPhone Repair” and “iPad Repair” redirect you to Apple Store records… but it includes other retail listings that share the name Apple. LOL WUT IDK, my BFF… Jill? The “burrito” search term finds many local burrito shops and specifically references reviews that mention “burritos.” Interesting.

If the Maps app database indexed reviews like Siri, small businesses like us wouldn’t be in as much trouble.

Big Brother Apple

Apple’s incessant need for control has put SMBs under extreme pressure to figure out new ways to optimize their local search results. They’re also forcing us to use Yelp. All SMBs should be on Yelp. Some people use it religiously… we’ve just never been that fond of the service, filtering policies, lack of communication and constant nagging for competitor advertising. Yelp and Apple must love this relationship.

Most of our customers search for iPhone Repair in the Maps app on their iPhone. Right now, that returns nothing relevant. Because Apple filters the search results, we could see an extremely unfair advantage set through search term redirects. Like Siri, Apple could easily redirect any iPhone, iPad or Mac search term to only show Apple Stores. How great would that be? Er, great for Apple… terrible for the small guys like us.

I initially thought that this strategy could make its way into other industries. After searching for “Coffee,” that doesn’t seem plausible. Starbucks and Apple are extremely close, but searching for “Coffee” didn’t result in a single (not even one) Starbucks showing up in the Maps app. I did a little detective work and found that Starbucks lists “Coffee & Tea” as its Yelp category. So, I searched that in the Maps app — still nothing. Searching for “Starbucks” obviously returns a thousand results. Now I’m really confused. Sometimes search works, sometimes it doesn’t?

We Don’t Have a Choice

I can only hope that Apple realizes the error of its ways and improves the local search capabilities of the Maps app. They dropped Google; it will never return. However, they have an extremely long way to go if they ever want to compete with Google in local search. Yelp isn’t the best, nor is it the only way to do local search. Currently, it’s our only option. So optimize your listings, folks. This isn’t going to be pretty for a while.

A Google-developed Maps app for iOS cannot come soon enough.

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