There has been a lot of discussion over mapping errors and lack of detail in iOS Maps, so much so that Tim Cook issued an apology. In the United States at least, I believe this is mostly being made into a bigger deal than it is. Let me be very clear, as a whole, Google Maps is a better product than iOS Maps.
I don’t think anyone really expected iOS maps to exceed the quality of Google Maps. Google has been in the mapping business for 7 years and has spent countless hours refining the data both through in-person ground crews, user location data and user error submissions. Anyone who expected Apple to top that either has exceedingly high expectations of Apple or unbelievably low respect for what Google has accomplished.
The world is a big place; the idea that anyone can be expected to map it flawlessly at the level of detail modern mapping solutions provide is a pretty bold idea. I’ve come across the following three examples, two from Google and one from Apple’s mapping solution, that I’ve experienced in the past month. I did not seek out these errors they found me.
First and foremost, Google does not know where I live. Every other mapping solution I’ve used gets it correct or at least identifies the correct road. Bing, Mapquest, iOS Maps, VZW Navigator, Garmin all stop you at my driveway. Google will put you about 4 miles away. I blame the city planners for this a lot more than I do Google, but still others get it right.
Now for a more detailed example. I was using Google maps to get an estimate of how long it was going to take me to get somewhere and it told me a number that seemed unreasonable. I then noticed that it was taking me a really odd route. The picture on the left shows Google’s proposed route which involves an approximately 10 mile detour. The core of this problem appears to be that the routing engine believe’s the bridge is one way. Zooming in on the image, will display bi-directional arrows across the bridge, but for some reason Google will not route you across it.
Here you can see that iOS has mapped a more logical route directly across the bridge. I will argue this is a pretty glaring error to put someone 10 miles out their way, in this specific example it would nearly double your trip length.
The intersection around this bridge is a mess and is under major construction so the route will be changing and I’m sure Google will eventually figure it out. But this serves an example where iOS data is superior to Google data.
Apple’s error is a lot less complicated and a lot more dangerous. They have connected a cul-de-sac to an adjacent road through some trees and a pool in someone’s yard. In the following screenshots I have dropped a pin and then toggled the view mode of the map between Standard and Hybrid.
Why would Apple Switch?
It’s no secret that Apple and Google are in the midst of a rough patch in their relationship. So is Apple sacrificing the end user experience just to punish Google? I don’t believe the answer is clear-cut either way. Clearly the map quality on iOS devices has been reduced so the user experience has clearly been negatively affected in that way. However the launch of the new mapping application also includes turn-by-turn navigation that users have been wanting and competing Android devices have had for a year or more. It’s rumored that Apple and Google couldn’t come to terms on Google providing this sought-after feature.
Does the gain of turn-by-turn out-weigh the mapping errors? I think that largely depends upon how you use your device. If you use it primarily to find locations prior to driving, Yes your user experience has been sacrificed by the fighting couple. If you use it to get directions while you’re driving the switch is probably a net gain.