Apple Maps: 18 Months Later

March 14th, 2014

The common theme is that Apple messed up big time when switching to a home-brewed mapping system for iOS 6. It got so bad that Apple even fired a long-time executive, Scott Forstall, although there may have been other reasons that hastened his departure.

No matter. It was quite true that, during the early days, Maps could be quite flaky, and in ways that were easy to document with big, bold, lurid screen shots. So when the 3D view showed a landmark melting into the background, such as Hoover Dam, you just knew Apple would be getting tons of bad publicity. Any instance involving wrong directions or locations simply added to the perception that Maps was a huge miss for Apple.

I suppose if Apple called it a public beta from Day One, and treated the mistakes with a touch of humor, the media wouldn’t have reacted so critically. Maybe offer a prize for the silliest mistake, and invite iOS users to document the worst ills, so Apple could fix them. Don’t take it seriously, and the criticisms would be blunted.

But Apple was serious. Tim Cook was serious in apologizing for the shortcomings, and inviting iPhone and iPad users to download someone else’s software, even Google’s, until things got better.

And get better they did. Even Consumer Reports, no fan of Apple, did a test comparing Apple Maps with Google Maps and found similar levels of accuracy in turn-by-turn directions. As Maps improved, there was one published test, involving some tech journalists residing in San Francisco, showing Apple’s solution delivering more accurate driving instructions than Google’s.

The perception remains that Apple Maps is bad, Google Maps is good. But the truth lies in a gray area where both are imperfect in different ways. I’ve documented situations where Google Maps screwed up big time, but Apple was mostly correct.

Now my scheme for getting directions is old fashioned. So I launch Google Maps on my Mac, have it calculate turn-by-turn directions to a specific location, and print a copy. As I said, old fashioned.

Google has an option to format the directions for printing, and a recent change has resulted in the use of smaller, lighter text with bold entries for the direction of the turn and the name of the street or location. The new formatting makes it difficult to follow without becoming a distracted driver.

It wouldn’t matter quite so much if the directions were accurate, and that’s not always the case.

In contrast, printed directions with Maps for Mavericks are better optimized, with larger, more readable text. Let me tell you that it makes a difference.

Sure, I could simply have Siri read the directions for me through my car’s audio system, and not concern myself with the printed version. But I still prefer the hard copy.

Regardless, if both mapping systems are accurate, the results should be fairly similar. But in my most recent test, getting directions to a kosher-style deli located about 25 miles from my home, delivered somewhat different results from Apple and Google. So Maps offered fewer steps, but a more direct route to the destination. Google offered a more roundabout route, particularly close to my destination, which seemed superfluous.

Understand that the restaurant in question is located near a large shopping center, minutes from a highway, and thus should be fairly simple to reach. That Google offered some indirect steps — and that’s not the first time I’ve encountered such results — made me more more inclined to prefer Apple. And that’s before we get to the superior printing results.

This, however, doesn’t mean that Maps is fixed and is, in all respects, a superior service to Google. But it’s also clear that Apple has invested considerable resources into improving the product, and it shows. But it still may be less accurate in other locations. What’s more, Apple doesn’t provide support for public transit systems, something that’s baked into Google Maps. On an iOS device, Apple merely points you to a third-party app, but that’s changing, since Apple has purchased companies that do provide those services. Perhaps with iOS 8.

The problem with the Apple is bad and Google is good brigade is that they are suspended in time. They simply do not understand that Apple has had 18 months to improve the mapping service, and the results should be evident to anyone who checks out rendering and navigation accuracy. It’s a lot better, and Apple deserves the credit for doing the right thing.

At the same time, the problems with Google’s mapping service deserve more attention. No navigation system is perfect, but Google routinely gets away with this by putting up a “beta” warning when you launch one of their navigation apps for the very first time. They are not, it says in so many words, responsible for errors. If you get lost, therefore, that’s just too bad.

I even encountered that message on an Android smartphone not too long ago, but that’s a nasty fact the media ought to mention. If Google isn’t demonstrating confidence in their product, why should you feel safe in using it?

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13 Responses to “Apple Maps: 18 Months Later”

  1. Articles you should read (March 14) says:

    […] “Apple Maps: 18 months later: The common theme is that Apple messed up big time when switching to a home-brewed mapping system for iOS 6. It got so bad that Apple even fired a long-time executive, Scott Forstall, although there may have been other reasons that hastened his departure. No matter.” — Read the article on > […]

  2. Peter Mitchell says:

    In regards to any Apple Maps application.
    I would like to be able to define my own route.
    I would like to be able to record and save a route.

    Google maps routes can be edited on the desktop (or laptop).

    Routes predefined are not always the best or most convenient.


  3. Peter says:

    On a meandering road trip from San Fran to Portland OR along the coast, Google and Apple mapping were equally horrendous. Apple had me exiting a major road and turning back as if I had missed an exit only to be sent on an eternal loop. Google told me to exit main roads for side streets that would take two to three times longer to navigate. We soon realized that we needed to review a route completely before we started driving.

    Googles only advantages were in Street View and finding restaurants along the route. The latter advantage was diminished due to the lack of Siri integration, which is not their fault.

    BTW, where is the Kosher style deli? I could use a pastrami on rye with a smear of mustard.

    • @Peter, The deli is Chompies, which has branches in Chandler, Tempe, Phoenix and Scottsdale, AZ. They make great pastrami sandwiches on rye, with genuine deli mustard.

      The founding family, still in charge, is from New York City.


  4. Sylvan Wells says:

    Apple maps vs. Google maps. The simple fact is that google maps works through bluetooth on my iphone so that the directions come through the car stereo. Apple maps does not do this, rather it uses the phone’s speakers which are quite useless when I am using the radio. I don’t understand why an Apple software product using Apple hardware does not provide the at least as good as the functionality that Google Maps provides. I thought that iOS7 would fix this obvious slight but, alas, to no avail. So it is Google Maps for me!

    • @Sylvan Wells, There is an option in Maps (tap the speaker icon on the bottom right of the Overview page) where you can set navigation voice volume and your output choice. On mine, there was the option to use the iPhone or my Kia’s handsfree system. However, auto infotainment systems offer different and sometimes incomplete support for these features. So it still might not work in your car.


  5. John says:

    Google maps sent us on a long detour through Bakersfield one time. It wanted us to go a few miles from the freeway, make a U-turn and go back to the freeway.

    Apple maps works fine in most places. I travel a lot on business all over the US and use it a lot.

    I do like Maps on Mavericks. Nice way to check things before leaving the house.

    The point about the nay Sayers being stuck in time is a general truth. The conventional wisdom seems to have a hard time correcting itself once it comes to a conclusion.

  6. patrick says:

    I have found problems with both Apple Maps and Google Map.

    I find Apple Maps to be cleaner and nicer, but I often use Google maps first. Just like Chrome over Safari.

    • You’re not really saying why you find Google Maps to be superior, since you have problems with both. All things being equal, in other words equally imperfect, wouldn’t the cleaner and nicer app be a better choice?


  7. melgross says:

    It isn’t just Google and Apple. There’s also Bing. My favorite GPS app on my iPad is GPS Drive by Motion X.

    The problem is that they use Bing mapping. Recently there was a message on the app that said that Bing changed the way it calculates addresses. It actually changes the address of several places. We went completely out of our way a number of times because it put us in the wrong borough here in NYC. I would put the correct address in, and it would change it after we got to the map, so that we didn’t know that until we saw we were well out of our way.

    It’s finally been fixed after a month or so. Compared to that debacle, both Apple and Google are great.

  8. S. Mulji says:

    Here in Vancouver, I use both Apple & Google Maps. Apple Maps for turn-by-turn navigation and Google Maps for POI.

  9. patrick says:

    Although Safari and Maps look nice, I like Chrome and Google Maps on iPhone better.

    I do not like Safari. I just like Chrome on iOS and OS X a lot better.

    Although Maps can be “off” for location, Apple Maps was SO bad in the past, that it ruined its reputation with me. I do use both though, when looking for a location, as they can both be off, depending on the situation. I actually trust Apple Maps more, but Google often happens to find locations better (when it does). I guess the artificial intelligence is better.

    It’s also nice that Google Maps has transit, and I like the traffic information and street view.

    Apple could spend a few billion just employing a few people and mapping the world like Google with street view.

    Sounds like a confusing post, but I know what I like and I prefer Google Maps and Crome. Maps by a slight margin and Chrome by a mile.


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