It’s fair to say Apple Maps didn’t get off to the right start. When the company’s mapping app replaced Google’s in iOS 6 in 2012, many thought that it would be inherently better than Google Maps.
Boy were they wrong. Apple Maps was plagued with a host of problems upon launch, the primary being a dearth of Points of Interest (POIs) aka locations like stores. And of the POIs it did offer, many of them were incomplete or entirely wrong.
It was arguably Apple’s biggest public blunder to date. But in the almost 7 years since its launch, Apple has made Maps MUCH better. Its POIs is almost as good as Google’s and it now sports some basic features such as transit directions and some indoor maps.
Even so, Google Maps is still widely superior to Apple Maps in terms of feature sets. Here are six reasons why–and five things Apple should steal from Google for their next Maps update.
Highlighted Areas Of Interest
Without a doubt, the best recent feature to Google Maps is its “Areas Of Interest” color shading on maps. Google describes Areas Of Interest as this:
“As you explore the new map, you’ll notice areas shaded in orange representing “areas of interest”—places where there’s a lot of activities and things to do…We determine “areas of interest” with an algorithmic process that allows us to highlight the areas with the highest concentration of restaurants, bars and shops. In high-density areas like NYC, we use a human touch to make sure we’re showing the most active areas.”
In other words, Google shades portions of its maps an orange color allowing you to quickly eye what parts of a city have a lot of things to offer. Apple’s Maps don’t have anything like this simple, yet powerful feature.
Another visual element missing from Apple’s Maps is a noticeable lack of structures when compared to Google’ Maps. Structures are things like buildings or other man-made objects that have outlines on maps. On Google Maps the outlines are numerous and complete and correspond almost entirely accurate to the shapes of their real-life counterparts.
On Apple Maps, the company does display structures, but they are lacking in number and accurate shape in even the biggest cities on the planet, like New York and Tokyo. A look at the same area of the world on Apple’s and Google’s Maps apps and you can see just how many more structures Google offers, which makes navigation easier.
Another fantastic thing about Google Maps is the “Popular Times” feature in POI listings. This feature shows you, for example, the foot traffic in a certain restraint or club. It allows you to see the busiest and least busiest times so you can plan your trip there accordingly.
Apple Maps has no such Popular Times feature–and the lack of one is a clear reason why Google Maps still rules.
Another feature Google has offered for a while now is Offline Maps. This allows you to select an area on a Google Map–such as an entire city–and download all of its maps content to your phone so you can access the map and some POIs even when your phone is offline.
Needless to say, this is a boon to travelers who often land in foreign countries yet don’t have a mobile Internet service plan yet. It also saves on having to use up your data plan downloading map information. Why Apple Maps has yet to offer an offline maps mode is beyond me.
Google has offered Street View for over a decade now. The feature allows you to view photographs of a street that are stitched together, giving you a virtual way to explore the area on the map. Street View is very useful when looking for a particular establishment or just browsing Maps to see where you might want to live next by browsing in areas without actually going there.
Apple Maps doesn’t have a street view, but it does offer what it calls “Flyover.” This is a semi-3D aerial view of an area. It’s more like enhanced satellite imagery than street view, however. And Street View is still far superior. It would be a welcome addition to Apple’s Maps.
This is a small point, but still worth mentioning. Google Maps allows you to measure the distance between any two points on the map. That's really handy if you want to see how far away something is "as the crow flies". Apple Maps lacks a cool tool like this. It's this lack of little extra tools that make Apple Maps the one who needs to play catch up.