Apple Maps vs Google Maps
Once upon a time, Google Maps was the go-to maps provider for Apple's iOS. That was until iOS 6 in 2012, when it was announced that Apple was creating its own mapping service to replace Google Maps. When it was first released, there were a plethora of bugs with the Apple Maps service and many users reverted back to Google Maps, available for download on the App Store.
It seemed that Apple had struggled with the accuracy of its data, with cases of people ending up in potentially dangerous situations in Australia. Apple Maps displayed Mildura in a national park, where temperatures can reach 46 degrees Celsius, when it was in fact 44 miles to the northeast, according to police. It led to people becoming stranded with no food or water, forced to walk through dangerous terrain just to get phone reception.
The issue was that people didn't want to rely on Apple Maps for it to then lead them into a river or airport runway – but does that still happen? Is Apple still hiding in the shadow of Google Maps or is it making leaps and bounds towards something we can rely on? Well…
Price & availability
The good news is that both apps are free. Apple Maps comes preloaded on the iPhone and iPad while you can download Google Maps from the App Store, free of charge. The good news is that if you do prefer to use Google Maps, there are a host of apps that will ask you whether you want to load an address using Apple Maps or Google Maps (if its installed).
Apple is set to update its Maps service as part of the iOS 9 software update and should be available for free when iOS 9 launches in September. The update brings a series of improvements and new features to Apple's service, including the much-awaited introduction of public transport directions.
Accuracy of data
Getting accurate data was one of the key things that Apple struggled with when it launched its mapping service. How does it compare now?
Let's first paint a picture of the processes that Google has to make sure that its data is accurate. Firstly, Google bought Skybox, a high-resolution satellite imagery company for $500m to improve the accuracy of its maps.
That's not all, though - Google employs what has been described as a small army of human operators to manually check the maps and correct any errors. They also respond to thousands of problems that are reported daily by users, fixing them as needed.
With a setup like that, surely Apple can't compete right? Wrong. Apple has also been busy with acquisitions, with a third of its acquisitions in 2013 being mapping companies. It purchased Locationary, a company focused on crowsourcing location data and HopStop, which collected data from hundreds of transit agencies to help users commute via public transport, walking or biking. It didn't stop there though, also buying Embark Inc, a company which owns 10 different iOS apps that help users navigate major cities public transportation systems.
With all these acquisitions, there were high hopes for Apple Maps to become more accurate, but while road maps seem to be as accurate as Google Maps, there are still a few inaccuracies - mainly with regards to business markers being in the wrong place. Apple is conscious that there are still errors in the mapping service and has included an option to report any errors that you find - they're usually fixed within a few days.
While we noticed a similar issue when testing out todays Google Maps, the inaccuracies were not as great as with Apple Maps. In Google Maps, some businesses were a few feet away from where they actually were but in todays Apple Maps, there are businesses listed that are outdated or aren't even in the area.
So, has Apple addressed the accuracy of its data in iOS 9? While part of the issue with business locations/icons is to do with the business information that Apple has on file, the overall service seems to be more accurate in iOS 9.
When using Maps in iOS 9 for directions, we've noticed that (even though it's still in beta) the service is better at tracking and displaying your location in-app. It seems to be more responsive to your movement and direction, which is very useful when you find yourself in an unfamiliar area. It may still improve before its general release in September as the "iCar" that was spotted roaming around the US earlier this year was actually a mapping data vehicle for Apple Maps, and is currently driving around the world gathering data.
Route planning: walk, train, bus, car
Having the ability to navigate around using your chosen maps app is a deal breaker for most people. Thankfully, both Apple and Google provide various options for route planning - Google will provide you with the best routes for walking, driving, public transport and even cycling while Apple only directly provides driving and walking routes, referring you to separate apps for transit information. Both Apple and Google also provide you with live travel information, displaying traffic on the various routes that you can choose from.
When you search for a location in Google Maps, such as a restaurant, you're presented with all possible matches in your area, sorted by distance. Google also gives you other handy information, such as opening times, a description, pictures and even a star based rating to give you an idea of where you're going. Once you've decided on your location, you're presented with the various modes of transport to use as well as different variations of the journey for each.
When you search for a location in Apple Maps, you're not presented with a list of all search results but instead have various pins drop around you on the map with search results. Compared to Google, this makes exploring a lesser known area more of a hassle as you have to click every individual pin to get more information and compare (Apple also includes information such as a description, opening times, photos and Yelp reviews).
In iOS 9 however, searching for points of interest in your area is a lot easier. You can keyword search from directly in the Maps app for businesses like fast food restaurants or bakeries, or you can choose from a selection of categories from within the Proactive search menu (you can find out more about Proactive in iOS 9 here).
The company has also addressed the above issue regarding search results, as results in iOS 9 will be presented in a list that can be easily minimised. Tapping on each result will center it in the map view, and will provide you with additional information including opening times, ratings and a phone number if available.
Once you've finally selected your location in (iOS 8) Apple Maps, you're presented with only three options: walking, driving or public transport. With walking and driving options, like Google Maps, Apple Maps provides you with various options and the length of time it should take to complete the journey with each option.
The public transport option is a little different – if you want to get directions for public transport to a specific location, you can select an app from within Apple Maps to open and your selected app will load up the directions instead. While this may seem like a headache to some, apps like Citymapper has proved hugely popular and is better in many ways than Google's public transport option.
In iOS 9 however, public transport directions are baked directly into the Maps app. This means that unlike in iOS 8, you won't need to leave the Maps app to get public transport directions. Similarly to how it's displayed in Google Maps, the various London tube lines are overlaid onto a standard map, with the colour of each line matching the official tube colour (light blue for the Victoria line, orange for the Overground, etc). Find out more about the public transport option below.
The centrepiece in a plethora of features in both Google & Apple Maps, turn-by-turn navigation has negated the need for a traditional (and usually expensive) Sat-Nav in many people's lives. While both are easy to set up and both boast audio prompts for every step of the journey, there are some subtle differences between the two, with results being quite surprising.
The biggest selling point for Apple Maps' turn-by-turn navigation has to be the 3D maps. While it's not yet available for all locations around the world, Apple is constantly updating its 3D maps and adding new locations. Using the 3D maps mean that you can see every building around you in 3D, helping you work out exactly where you are in relation to your position on screen.
It's been a long-term issue with turn-by-turn navigation in Apple Maps where you'll be instructed to turn left, but you're not sure which left to take – that issue is now gone with a quick glance at the screen.
As well as the use of 3D maps, Apple Maps navigation UI is a lot clearer than Google's, especially when only glancing at the screen. It seems to look a lot like a traditional Sat-Nav, allowing you to clearly see your current location and upcoming directions.
To be fair to Google, its turn-by-turn navigation is still officially in beta (even though it has been for quite some time now) so it doesn't feel quite as polished as Apple's offering. While it's a lot clearer to see traffic in different directions on Google Maps, the UI looks plain and more information about upcoming directions could be displayed.
One feature that we were not expecting was the voice command feature, allowing you to control Google Maps turn-by-turn navigation by tapping the microphone on the top right hand side of the app and stating your action. While some people may not see the uses that this can provide, it means that if you use Google Maps as a Sat-Nav, you're not distracted from driving by fiddling around with it.
While there are a lot of similarities between the two mapping titans, they also have some big differences that make both services unique.
Apple Maps recently released an update that now enables Big Ben to display the current time whenever you search for it on the Maps app. That's not all its added though – Apple also created an animated London Eye that constantly rotates. While these are more gimmicks than anything, it gives you a glimpse at how interactive maps could become in the next few years.
One rather fun unique feature that Apple Maps has is the flyover tour, available for multiple locations around the world. Although this doesn't really add anything to Apple Maps, it's interesting to get a virtual tour of, say, New York with 3D maps, letting you see the sights without having to actually travel there.
Google Maps, on the other hand, comes with a variety of extra features – with the main one being Google Street View. Street View revolutionised the service when it was launched and it enabled people to get a street level view of where they're going, giving them a better idea of their end location. It didn't stop with directions though; people found themselves exploring places all around the world (as well as your home, of course) with the service still generating a lot of interest years after launch. You can even get Google Street View data inside certain buildings, such as Euston Station, enabling people to find outlets and restaurants a lot easier.
Another handy feature that Google has is a public transport filter for its maps. This overlays the location of all tube lines over the map, which is especially handy for tourists in London. Why? The London Underground map isn't geographically accurate, which leads to people wandering around because it looked like two stations were closer to each other than they actually were.
In iOS 9, the biggest improvement to Apple Maps is the introduction of public transport directions. This means that in iOS 9, you'll be able to get directions using the tube and buses in London, and it also displays vital information including upcoming bus and tube departure times directly in the app.
Here's what Apple's transport map looks like in iOS 9 (right) compared to Google Maps (left).
It also overlays the Map with the location of each tube line, so you can see the route they follow. This is especially important in London, as we mention above, because the London Tube map isn't geographically accurate so many tourists find themselves lost wandering around London.
However, the public transport directions aren't available worldwide, in fact London is the only UK city supported at launch. Other compatible cities include:
- San Francisco
- New York
- Los Angeles
- and more than 300 locations in China
Another new feature included in Maps in iOS 9 will tell you whether nearby shops support Apple Pay, a very useful features for us in the UK and our US counterparts too. However, we couldn't go hands on with this feature as it hasn't yet been enabled in the iOS 9 public beta but we imagine that it'd be displayed alongside other business-specific information such as its opening times, phone number, etc.
If you want to find out more about Apple Pay in the UK, check out our User Guide.
Throughout testing, we expected to find that Google trumped Apple in every category, as it did when we first compared the two in 2012. This isn't entirely true, though - Apple Maps has vastly improved since it was first launched and now we conclude the turn-by-turn navigation is a lot better than Google's offering. While there are areas that both Google and Apple can improve on, we're certain that using Apple Maps won't direct you to drive into the Thames, and that most of the initial issues have been fixed.