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Family practice physician Rachel S.C. Friedman recalls a first-generation Apple iPhone as her constant companion during months of West Coast travel in her quest for a hospital residency five years ago.

Its mobile map application proved a source of guidance and comfort as she navigated foreign roads and out-of-the-way communities at all times of the day and night, from Washington state to Southern California.

"I just remember feeling so grateful for all the times I didn't get lost," Friedman said.

So even as she's discovered new functions she likes on the iPhone's upgraded operating system, iOS 6, the admitted "early adopter" said she's worried about reports that its new Apple Maps system is massively flawed.

"I can say that the maps function is probably the thing I use the most on the iPhone," Friedman said. "It's indispensable. So if it's not working very well, it will lessen the magic of the iPhone."

Or just lead you to the wrong destination, as might have happened with Brian Deaton and Gina DiCorti. The pair consulted an iPhone with the upgrade on their way to a Napa restaurant Sunday and found it not only provided the wrong location but showed them traveling west when they were driving east.

If you didn't know roughly where you were headed, "I think you'd be screwed," Deaton, 26, said Monday.

DiCorti, who had to see a new doctor later in the day, said she'd probably print out a map from her work computer rather than rely on her iPhone to get her there.

Around the world, critics are lambasting Apple's mapping system, developed in-house for the new iPhone 5 to replace Google Maps, which was standard on previous iPhones. For iPhone users, Google's app is a casualty of the escalating battle between Apple's iOS and Google's Android smartphone platforms.

Folks using the newest iPhone, released Friday, or its iOS 6 operating system, available for download since Wednesday, are finding neighborhoods, rivers and landmarks obliterated or just showing up in weird locations.

The new Apple Maps software's flaws have become a point of ridicule on technology blogs and social networking sites, even spawning a page on Tumblr, the popular microblogging service.

Sebastopol resident Jonathan Serpa used his maps app while in San Francisco over the weekend and found that, while he was in the Presidio, the app showed him in San Francisco Bay.

The iOS maps also runs more slowly than Google Maps did, at least on his iPhone 4, he said.

"I downloaded it (iOS 6), and now I regret it," he said.

The new map system's key attribute is voice-driven, turn-by-turn directions -- a feature Google, whose own Android smartphone competes directly with iPhone, refused to license to Apple.

And it introduces Flyover, which permits overhead, 3-D views of major metropolitan landmarks and allows the user to pan, tilt and rotate interactively.

But while the Golden Gate Bridge looks fairly realistic, the Brooklyn Bridge looks like it's been out in the heat too long or perhaps was painted by Salvador Dali.

One can view Britain's Houses of Parliament from every angle. The Eiffel Tower looks as if it's been folded one too many times and ultimately kind of fell across the Seine.

But errors exist even in the most fundamental function of a map: showing where something is located.

Key in Trader Joe's, Santa Rosa, on Monday, for instance, and Apple Maps puts it at 2100 Santa Rosa Plaza, right downtown and not far from the mall's new Apple Store.

Even after the address was corrected to 2100 Santa Rosa Ave., the maps app displayed that location, a second store on Cleveland Avenue, and the non-existent one at the mall.

Apple has promised the system will get better.

"We launched this new map service knowing that it is a major initiative and we are just getting started with it," spokeswoman Trudy Muller said in a statement. "We are continuously improving it, and as Maps is a cloud-based solution; the more people use it, the better it will get."

Sara Sauter of Santa Rosa said she'll likely wait until then to upgrade.

"I probably use my maps on a daily basis," Sauter said. "I probably won't download it until they fix that."

But Sunnyvale resident Kate Seibold, visiting her sister in Santa Rosa, said Apple Maps led them just where they needed to go on Sunday.

Curtis and Brenda Smith said they liked what they saw while playing with the app in the car on their way home from Reno on Sunday.

Outside the Apple Store on Monday, Brenda Smith utilized Flyover to check out London's Big Ben and a detailed, 3D view of midtown Manhattan.

"To me, that's pretty freakin' impressive that you can go to New York and see all this," she said.

She also recalled problems in other first-generation apps like Google Earth.

"In my opinion, there are going to be glitches" with any new launch, Brenda Smith said.

Apple's iPhone already has proven "it evolves and changes," she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary. callahan@pressdemocrat.com.