Earlier we reported on Google releasing its own Maps app for iOS. Now having played with it, it’s time to do a little A/B walkthrough. This is about showing you the best maps option, not determining who’s to blame. Trust me, there’s enough of that to go around.
The first thing you’ll notice is the quality of the mapping data and how far Google is ahead in this area. On Google Maps, highway exit ramps are clearly marked in a different shade, prominent streets are marked very visibly, the two hospitals are displayed in a reddish-pink, and even the small neighborhood parks are marked. the color scheme and quality of data make this very easily readable to the user. Googe’s traffic data is also more complete. It’s available in most metros, unlike Apple’s maps.
Now look at Apple Maps, on the right. The exit maps are not clearly marked and some major streets are not clearly marked at all. The roads are even marked different thicknesses of white on a light yellow background. This makes them hard to see at times. The parks and more importantly the two hospitals are nowhere to be seen. Also, in my area, while the 2010 image in Apple maps is fairly recent for mapping software, the Google maps are current as to early summer of 2012. Basically, the Apple data is where the Google data was 3-4 years ago. This will take time to correct.
When it comes to the GUI design, I have to say Apple’s maps comes out ahead. Everything is very well marked and all the features are easily at your fingertips. Despite the better mapping data, Google’s maps can be clunky and unintuitive at times. The options menu, displayed by three small dots at the bottom right, is pretty spartan. You have access to you traffic, satellite, and public transit data, as well as a link to Google Earth. Dropping pins is done by holding down on a spot only, and for Street View fans, it’s there, but really difficult to access. The only way I’ve found so far is by typing in an address. If you want to rid yourself of labels on a map, I have not found an option for that. Apple’s maps will also give the option to print. Google maps will not as far as I’ve seen.
Both offer turn-by-turn navigation. Here’s it’s not even close, despite Apple Maps having voice control through Siri, Google Maps is the much more polished and useful product. I used the turn-by-turn to get to and back from a local big box retailer. Both went a bit of a roundabout way and didn’t recognize a short, but major, 4-lane connecting street.
That’s where the similarities ended. Google Maps gives you multiple route options and can dynamically reroute if you chose to take a route other than what it recommends. Apple Maps takes a my-way-or-the-highway approach. It offered no route options and no dynamic rerouting. In fact, as I was pulling into the parking lot, it was screaming at me to do a u-turn, go back, and take its route instead. With the possibilities of detours or a short cut, this fixed route mentality is unacceptable.
Google Maps has three significant shortcomings, but only one, the GUI design, are its fault. The inability to be set as a default app or have access to Siri voice control both squarely lie on the shoulders of Apple. Other than those, Google Maps is superior to Apple Maps in every single way and usually by a wide margin. I will say this very clearly: At least for the time being, if you use iOS, Google Maps is a must have app and fortunately it’s free. Which reminds me, John can we give an Editor’s Choice to something free? Seriously, stop reading this article, go and download it now!