Google Maps vs. Apple Maps: Which one is better?
BY ROBERT EVATT World Staff Writer
Friday, December 28, 2012
12/28/12 at 5:40 AM
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A few months and much wailing and gnashing of teeth later, Google Maps is back on iOS.
Apple's decision to ditch Google Maps for iOS 6 in favor of its own option was met with skepticism, and when Apple Maps arrived in a flawed, unpolished form, people flipped out.
Now, any iPhone users who want to return Google Maps to their smartphones can download it for free. All's right with the world again, right?
But there's a major wrinkle to this story - the Google Maps that everyone loved was actually made by Apple Inc. and just used Google's services. The new Google Maps is built from the ground up by Google Inc.
With that in mind, I decided to put them both through their paces to see how they held up.
In addition to real-world turn-by-turn driving, I had them route me from the Tulsa World to six locations - my home in Broken Arrow, Tulsa International Airport, Woodland Hills Mall, McNellie's Pub, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa and the newly opened Five Guys Burgers and Fries at Riverside Drive and 96th Street.
I used keywords to search for all the places except my home, which got a specific address.
The app hasn't seen any major changes since its release in September, though Apple has promised it's working hard behind the scenes to make it better. I've noticed the map has more landmarks, including stores and restaurants, but it's still far from comprehensive.
The landmarks also have a few errors, as I noticed one or two stores listed on the wrong side of the road. Annoyingly enough, Apple still insists that Bell's Amusement Park is open, even though the satellite view shows an empty parking lot, and I've taken advantage of the "report error" function on it several times.
The map itself is clean and attractive. Tapping the lower corner gives easy options for changing to satellite view, showing traffic, dropping pins and printing. Its traffic view shows areas of congestion, ramp closures, construction zones and even sites of accidents, apparently picked up from Tulsa Police Department information.
The option for 3-D viewing is still there, but Tulsa remains unsupported.
A persistent button at the top-left allows for turn-by-turn directions, and you can specify whether you're going by car, public transit or foot. You can use voice commands or even information in your contact list. Each destination gives you a choice of three possible routes, though they can't be modified.
The driving and foot directions are fine, but trying to get public transportation information instead brings you a list of other apps, including Google Maps. Metro Tulsa isn't great on public transportation, but searching for locations in other cities also brought up the suggested apps. Looks like that feature is still on the to-do list.
Turn-by-turn directions gives you Siri's chirpy voice and a top-down view of your current location. Directions are listed on the top, such as "in 40 feet, turn right on Third Street," with the street you're currently on listed at the bottom. You can swipe the direction box to the left to see the next turn, or see an overview of all the upcoming directions.
Of the six destinations I tested, Apple Maps found five of them fine, with intelligent routes to each. Although Apple Maps couldn't find Five Guys when I originally tested it in October, it knew where it was this time. However, the directions to the airport still put the destination in an industrial area within the airport complex rather than the terminal - and yes, I reported that the last time, too.
Google's new spin on iOS maps isn't quite as attractive as Apple's, but it's clean and usable. Forget about using the map for landmarks more detailed than the BOK Center and ONEOK Field, as marked businesses are few and far between.
Map options are accessed by a tiny tab on the bottom-right of the screen. There, you can overlay traffic, public transportation routes, satellite views and even Google Earth if you've downloaded that app.
The traffic view marks areas of congestion as well as regularly flowing traffic, which is a little more reassuring than Apple, which just marks congestion. Unlike Apple, Google Maps doesn't report construction, closures, accidents and similar information.
Public transportation information isn't available here - Tulsans love their cars - though maps for other cities show detailed public transit routes.
Directions, accessed via the arrow on the top right, can also be done via car, foot or public transit. You can't use voice commands or information from your contacts, but you can pull up information and past searches from your Google account. Log in and you'll have easy access to favorite locations as well as the ability to share locations via text or email.
Turn-by-turn directions are delivered via a female voice that sounds a little less robotic than Siri, as well as the current step in the directions on the top. Like Apple, you can swipe back and forth to go from step to step or see the entire overview.
Unlike Apple, the current step displayed had a little more information. For instance, when it told me which exit to use from the Broken Arrow Expressway, it also gave me the streets or cities listed exactly as they were listed on the real-world sign. In Broken Arrow, streets had both their Broken Arrow names and their Tulsa-area names. Apple had both names; one was at the top, and the other was on the bottom.
Directions are also given with multiple options, and each one shows any traffic congestion along the way. Google Maps found all six destinations with no problems, though one bizarre alternate route to Five Guys stretched 10 miles out of the way to U.S. 169. Fortunately it was easy to ignore.
As a bonus, arriving at your destination pops up Google Street View, so you can ensure you're in the right place. You can also pull up Street View when searching for specific destinations.
There's still no maps app that does every single thing the best. Waze's user-reportable traffic information is the most up-to-date, and MapQuest excels at finding nearly every business around you or along the way.
And Apple Maps still has some key advantages, such as voice search, more detailed traffic information, more landmarks and integration with Siri and your contact list.
But overall, Google Maps is the better experience of the two. Although I didn't find Apple Maps nearly as awful as the protests would indicate, I was impressed by Google Maps' traffic integration within routes, its clearer directions and, apparently, its greater accuracy.
I've already moved my Apple Maps to a sub-folder. Google Maps has taken its place on my iPhone's main app screen.
Pros: Attractive, Siri and contact integration, more detailed traffic information, improved since launch
Cons: No public transportation information, less accurate, "report error" button does nothing
Pros: Street View, clearer directions, integration with Google's online services, most accurate
Cons: No road conditions beyond traffic, few landmarks, no voice commands
Original Print Headline: mAPP vs. mAPP
Robert Evatt 918-581-8447