The problem with Apple Maps is that it’s not Google Maps

apple maps

I grew up thinking a vacuum cleaner was called a ‘hoover’ and to ‘hoover’ something meant to suck it up off the ground using a ‘hoover’. I still call it a hoover, most British / Irish people do and everyone knows what I mean. But it’s not a hoover. It’s a vacuum cleaner. A hoover is simply a brand of vacuum cleaner…

Brand today, verb tomorrow

If you’re born today, it’s a similar story when it comes to technology… there are certain brands we use as verbs or that have become so dominant in their area that you kind of forget what the area is called. Let’s run through a few examples… when i think of search, social, video, music and perhaps some other things, i associate those words with a company or a website. I don’t just associate them with a site though, they’re so synonymous with a site that i could almost say ‘social’ and you’d think of the same site. Chances are it’d be Facebook. For search it’s Google, for video it’s YouTube, for music it’s Apple.

Time to change

Time, of course, changes everything and now although i might still call a vacuum cleaner a ‘hoover’, i’d recognise a ‘Dyson’ more than i would any other brand. For mobile phones, 10 years ago i would have said ‘Nokia’… now it’d be different. So because something becomes famous the world over doesn’t mean it’s invincible, let’s get that straight. However, breaking habit and breaking familiarity is not easy. Most people won’t welcome it and quite a few will object or provide fierce opposition. Just ask any government. Try introducing about a 5% tax hike on teachers or nurses or maybe cut student grants… giving people LESS than what they had before is always going to lead to trouble. Nobody wants to live a lifestyle today worse than they were living yesterday.

So if you were a smart government, you may announce cut throat plans like that to let the notion simmer, then introduce much lower cuts on D-Day so the cuts aren’t unexpected… the fact they’re better than what people thought they were going to be will act as a small relief / surprise / comfort. Of course ideally, you don’t want any cuts at all, you want to give people MORE than what they had before. That’s how you impress people…

Apple introduced overnight cuts without warning

We’ve been aware of Apple Maps for quite some time. Developers and journalists had time to play with it, write about it and test it in beta versions of iOS6. In general, nobody really thought it would be a bad thing… the idea of 3D viewing seemed pretty cool and it was expected (taken for granted) that the actual mapping data would be similar if not better than Google Maps which, right now, is the ‘hoover’ of the digital mapping world. Any consumer familiar with Apple, will be familiar with their attention to detail and their relentless pursuit of ‘perfection’ with all of their products. The iPhone 5 is no exception. We were told how they’d done the impossible and made an already small and light phone even smaller and even lighter using cutting edge manufacturing techniques. I joked in an earlier post that we’ve become so used to this ‘smaller, lighter, faster’ headline that it’s no longer news-worthy… it doesn’t impress people because they just take it for granted these days.

What i didn’t expect, however, was Apple Maps to be so poor. Or let me rephrase that… I didn’t expect Apple to release a product that in my mind is an inferior product to the benchmark that is Google Maps. Here’s my local town on Apple Maps and they’ve got the hospital location wrong but who’s cares about the location of hospitals, right? It’s not as if you’re ever going to need the location of hospitals in life or death situations…

monaghan hospital on apple maps

I use Google Maps and Streetview quite a bit. I like to be prepared going to places i’ve never been before. On my recent trip to Vegas, i checked out where my hotel was and used Streetview to ‘walk’ along the Las Vegas Strip, helping me to get my bearings and learn how far certain places were from my hotel. I love Streetview for that reason… it offers information no traditional 2D maps can. If i’m approaching a 3 lane roundabout for example in Ireland, the sat nav will just tell me to ‘take the third exit’. Yeah, fat lot of good that is if i’m approaching the roundabout in the left most lane and can’t get over to the right most lane in time. So you can visualise and prepare yourself for those tricky roundabouts and junctions in Streetview – to me that’s it’s most important function.

Apple Maps quite simply doesn’t have that. If has a sort of ‘superman’ version of streetview in that you can use a satellite image to roam around, change your elevation and rotation which could possibly be just as useful if not much better and smarter than Streetview but the problem is Apple Maps doesn’t have enough data. If you’re outside of a major city, you’re screwed if you want streetview-type detail. Furthermore Google Maps provides you with loads of building information which is very useful if you’re on foot. On foot, all buildings look big so if buildings have labels on Maps, you can get your bearings quicker. For example Google Maps might label a church, Apple Maps probably doesn’t. On foot, it’s simple to identify a church so you can get your bearings quicker with Google Maps.

If i were using my iPad or iPhone now to find my hotel in Vegas, first of all, it doesn’t appear in an Apple Maps search if for example i’m currently browsing around Dublin. Not a good start… search isn’t as powerful. If i try to get walking directions from point A to point B, sometimes it can’t process it and a lot of the time it’ll tell me to download a third party app. I love the way Google Maps would give me directions from Ireland to Australia on foot. Even though nobody would ever do it, it still processed the query and came up with the best route and estimated time. There isn’t much you can throw at Google Maps that it can’t find or won’t attempt to answer.

But i shouldn’t have to start justifying why i prefer Google Maps… to me, it’s obvious Google Maps is the better product at the minute. The guys at Apple are smart people. They constantly produce apps, designs and hardware that i could never have imagined. That stuff impresses me. It’s rare i’m disappointed with their stuff and can easily dismiss it as inferior product to a competitors but in this case, that’s exactly what Apple Maps is. That would be fine were it not for the fact that Apple pride themselves on exceedingly high standards.

Apple Maps, for me, is an indication that someone at Apple knowingly approved a below-par product. Or more likely, a whole bunch of people right up to top level approved it at various stages along the way. That’s incredibly worrying as it suggests that a ‘good enough’ attitude is creeping in to or becoming more common inside the Apple. I don’t doubt Apple have the resources and skill to produce a better product than Google Maps, but right now they’re a long way off doing that.

To make matters much worse for them, Google Maps currently don’t have an approved app in the app store meaning there is no way of getting Google Maps back as a native application. Once the Google Maps app does get approved, this won’t be such a big deal but right now the claws are out for Apple and rightly so. It’ll be very interesting to see how Apple Maps develops because i know that right now, once the Google Maps app is released, i’ll be using that exclusively for all of my mapping needs.

6 thoughts on “The problem with Apple Maps is that it’s not Google Maps”

  1. I’m guessing you’ve seen this then:

    Also regarding that ‘hoover’ thing, I think I was 15 before I found out it was actually a brand

  2. Yeah i love that tumblr blog, ’tis a great idea and highlights exactly why nobody is going to rely on Apple Maps…

    Also, yeah i was probably the same age… even now ‘vacuum cleaner’ just sounds american or sounds strange… it’s tough to re-learn words as an adult 🙂

  3. As long as people keep buying the newest apple products, they won’t be forced to change. Hopefully a large enough uproar will change things!

  4. Town labels
    Most towns in my state’s zip codes are the town. In my town, there are six zip codes (highly inappropriate for less than 10000 people) and my zip code is of a village (no government) in the next town over. Apple of course has to use this instead of my town (which doesn’t even exist in their database because no zip code has my towns name). But they don’t even get that village right half of the time! Terrible! Google gets it right every time…

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