How Bad Are Apple Maps (and does it matter)?

Dave Zatz —  October 2, 2012

By now, I’m rather certain you’ve heard that Apple’s replacement maps aren’t living up to some customer’s expectations. While there has been all sorts of rumor and speculation as to why the change was made, as a consumer, it’s mostly noise (from the apologists). The bottom line for many iPhone owners is that Google Maps have been replaced by Apple Maps. And while, at first blush, they sounded superior with flyover 3D renderings and turn-by-turn nav (finally! on some models…), in many geographic areas the data leaves much to be desired. For example, as you can see above, Apple believes I live in a beige patch of nothingness whereas Google has a relatively decent picture of my neighborhood. Yet, I’m not often lost in our community and had good luck doing some minor Apple Maps navigation in the big city. So I’m wondering, on a practical level, how bad are these new Apple maps… and has it impacted you?

In terms of mapping and navigation alternatives, until Apple ups their game, I do have a few suggestions should you find the current cartography unsuitable. My wife and I both subscribed to Telenav ($10/year)… until they recently revamped the experience and have now reverted to our former navigation solutions — I’m running the Navigon app and she’s utilizing TomTom. However, if you’re not prepared to drop forty or fifty bucks (on a possibly short term solution), I suggest you check out the free Waze – which way exceeds what we managed to accomplish at Dash. Lastly, if you’re sold on Google Maps and don’t require voice guidance, simply visit maps.google.com via Mobile Safari and follow the prompts to add a convenient shortcut to your iPhone home screen. Bonus tip: In landscape mode, Safari can go fullscreen via the stretchy icon displayed in the lower right.

34 responses to How Bad Are Apple Maps (and does it matter)?

  1. I haven’t found the maps to be that bad. It seems like the issue is more that Apple has always relied on on the reality distortion field to sell a problem as a good thing. It’s like they forgot that Steve Jobs would have spent 20 minutes talking about how awful the maps experience is now, and then told you how they’ve fixed it all. I think they basically just stumbled because instead of saying “it has turn by turn nav now, and they load faster!” they didn’t really say anything.

  2. When iOS 6 came out, I gave the Maps a test and it successfully navigated me from my home to work and back. It also navigated me to pretty much every destination I came up with, usually using the same route that Google Maps picked.

    The place it has issues with is points of interest. They are fairly lacking in places (though Google Maps also lacks POI in some areas as well). For example I searched for a AAA office and was told the closest one was 30 miles away, when I was standing in front of an AAA office. Some POI are shown in the right general area, but the wrong exact spot (for example, the wrong side of the street), which again something I’ve seen with Google Maps. In a few instances, the POI indicator was completely wrong. For example a Church as shown being where a school was. The Church was 1/2 mile down the road.

    The main problem I’ve found with Apple Maps, is that it’s searching for things is frequently way off. Searching is something Google is very good at. Apple is not. For example searching for a town name, will find businesses on Yelp with that name. This is true even if the name and state are spelled out and found as a suggestion. For example I tried to find the intersection of two roads and it simply ignored me and showed me the road in some town (in the completely wrong direction). When using Siri to find things on the fly while driving, this is very frustrating since it requires looking at the screen to figure out what’s going on.

    For basic turn by turn directions though it works fine. It’s not as good as the Navigon app (no night mode, no lane view, etc), but it’s good for a basic free app.

    Consumer Reports recently compared Google Maps on Android to Apple Maps on iOS 6 and this was their conclusion:

    “Both the free Apple and Google navigation apps provide clear routing directions. Apple feels like a less-mature product. But as seen with the initial competing applications for the iPhone, we would expect updates to this new app over time–and Apple has promised as much. When getting down to the nitty gritty, Google provides a better overall package, but we feel that both provide a good solution for standard software. We expect the competition between the companies will benefit customers with ongoing improvements.”

  3. I used the new iOS 6 Maps for turn-by-turn directions on Saturday. I was going to 658 XYZ street. Here’s how the blocks are basically laid out in real life:

    500, 600, 700, 800, 900, 1000, 1100, 14

    Yes, there’s some address of 14 XYZ street right where it dead ends. Even though 658 XYZ street was a real address that has been there forever, Apple maps took me between 1100 and 14, assuming it must be there. :-|

  4. When I was using the beta, I let the map find me in Memphis, TN. I typed in “Starbucks” to find the local Starbucks stores… It picked a random Starbucks in Kentucky and pinpointed that for me. Uh… thanks?!?

  5. Maps for my neighborhood are actually better on Apple’s Maps (other than one road that recently was opened not being there), and the satellite imagery is vastly superior. However my first attempt at using driving directions was pretty terrible: It made me take a left a T-junction to drive in the opposite direction away from where I was going near the end. The weird thing was that Apple new where the place was, but it’s directions just didn’t go there. I knew where I was going in that case, but it made me nervous for trying the routing out for places that I actually need directions for.

    Anyway, my recommendation for iOS turn-by-turn is Motion-X Drive, which is another subscription service, but is really excellent. I drop from Central PA to Rhode Island twice with it, and it took me a different and fun route every time (mainly due to avoiding traffic).

  6. Well, my experience is that everything I’ve ever tried (Tom Tom GPS units, Navigon on iPhone, GPS units in two different Acuras–2005 and 2010) is that nobody has good POI databases that are current and easily searchable other than Google. Just type in a string of letters and hit search, and it comes up on the map. It’ll auto-correct your spelling (7-eleven not seven-eleven), make suggestions, knows about recent changes, etc etc.

    None of the other solutions can even approach this level of detail/accuracy.

    So to me its no surprise that Apple’s POI database is limited. Yes its been missing a number of things I’ve looked for. No its not that big a deal to me, but its a pain. And yes I’m aware of the alternatives. Personally I haven’t tried mapquest for example for years, so I have no idea how good they are. I may find out in the coming days/weeks/months I guess as Apple struggles to fix this.

    Doesn’t change anything for me, still a loyal iPhone/iPad/Apple TV user and likely to remain so. But if its the start of a trend or something… hey, things change.

    The part I don’t understand is how they didn’t KNOW they had a problem. As others have said, Forstall could have hinted at it being new and still being worked on etc and maybe some of the coverage would have been a little different, a little forgiving.

    As it is it seems like they’ve got a MASSIVE effort to fix the issues and are only just getting started. Not sure they appreciate how much of an effort its going to be to fix this stuff. We’ll see over the coming months I guess…

  7. Glenn, some of the third party GPS apps can utilize Google for POIs – my Navigon has a separate Google Local Search option.

    My main issues thus far with iOS 6 are massive battery drain on my iPhone 4 (wife’s too) and a jacked up auto correct. But the Maps are mostly fine for me, especially since I have some alternatives as discussed.

  8. Michael Burstin October 2, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    I live in a suburb not even 10 miles from downtown Boston and have lots of mistakes. It marks a church down the road from me as a hospital, puts a grocery store on a main road 2-3 roads off on some side street, places the Gulf gas station in the middle of an apartment complex and calls it an Exxon – which it hasn’t been for about 1.5 years. Its enough of these things that I don’t want to update my iPhone to iOS 6 until the Google Maps app comes out (I tested this all on my iPad which I don’t rely upon for directions). It also calls labels my office building in the middle of Cambridge as a gas station (it is a big building that we share with Microsoft).

  9. My only issue had been searching for businesses using a keyword. I’ve been using a search for “hamburgers” or “french fries” to see if Maps can figure out what I want. So far, it still gets confused, sending me to a Five Guys way over in Herndon, when there’s one just up the street. What’s weird is that it can handle a search for “pizza” just fine. Perhaps, this is b/c many pizza joints have pizza in the name. It’s a weird quirk that Apple/Yelp can’t get this right. Perhaps I’m being to demanding, but Google had no problem with this.

    I’ve been using Google Local to supplement my searches, in the meantime.

  10. The navigation in Maps works just fine. I’ve tried it quite a few times and it works.

    As the others are saying, this is a POI and a business listings issue. The university I work at grew out of a high school roughly 80 years ago… but the high school is still listed (in its correct location) in Maps. It reminds me of the reports that Maps lists a train station in the UK in its correct location… except it closed in the late 1960s.

    In terms of businesses: Using Yelp isn’t a bad idea for that data, but it’s incomplete. Gas stations along an interstate near the house my wife an I moved into 9.5 years ago aren’t listed… that’s a problem.

    If Apple really wants to make the iPhone your next GPS, then, yes, this is an issue. It’ll tell you how to get where you’re going, but will it find the spot you’re going? I’m not sure…

  11. Dave’s point about just adding a bookmark to your home screen is what I’ve been waiting someone to point out! You don’t have to completely give up Google Maps.

    Here’s my question – So Apple had an Iphone 5 to get out the door. They wanted their own map program. Which would’ve been better – wait a year and wipe out Google Maps on a software update – or do what they did? Go with their own maps at launch even if not perfect?

    When you look at it that way I really can’t blame them. By wiping out Google Maps after launch – say 6 months from now – you’d have pissed off consumers even more.

    In 6mos to a year all of the fixes will be handled and this will be in the rear view mirror.

  12. My biggest issue with Maps is its use as a GPS device. It goes full screen while driving but doesn’t show things like ETA or speed or whatever. The search and POI listing is cluttered and messy — navigate from here to Place X or just Place X. Its not intuitive. Worst of all their is no indication of which route is better in CURRENT traffic. So it sucks, for POI, it sucks for GPS use, but looks pretty. That is Apple.

    BlackBerry Traffic is more informative than this app. Spot on for traffic and routing, even on crazy back roads. Its no frills, but gets the job done. Typical BlackBerry, function and no form.

    I have decided to give Waze a go for the time being. I like the social nature and the routes seem pretty good.

  13. Well, given the comparative screenshots you provide, the Apple Maps have a much cleaner, minimalistic design aesthetic compared to the Google Maps.

    Considering this fits in perfectly with the general Apple design aesthetic, I find the criticism mystifying.

  14. Interesting trivia for Brian… Blackberry Traffic is the descendant of Dash Navigation.

    Chucky, Good point… those roads and POIs add so much visual clutter.

  15. “Chucky, Good point… those roads and POIs add so much visual clutter.”

    I mean, seriously. Do you want Maps for all that extraneous noise, or do you want Maps to help you get your zen on?

    What’s next? Thinking everyone needs to clutter up their car design aesthetic with license plates?

    Folks these days seem to have their priorities so out of whack…

  16. “The part I don’t understand is how they didn’t KNOW they had a problem.”

    Especially given Apple’s perfect track record in pretty much all of their online services, going back a couple of decades. We could say it’s consistently been one of their core competencies.

    From eWorld all the way down to MobileMe, it’s all been smooth sailing with online services. So their inability to understand this bold effort to push the featureless future into the hands of today’s consumers might be misread as a hiccup is indeed mystifying.

  17. Auto-correct and user keyboard shortcuts were screwed up on my iPhone 4S after upgrading. I fixed them by doing a reset all settings following by clearing out the save name and password auto fills in the Safari settings.

    My iPhone 4S had pretty poor battery and I did two things: cleared out the reading list and did a full power cycle. I still get days were the battery drops very quickly for no reason at all that I can determine, but other days it barely drops. Yesterday I was at 80% after an hour of usage. Today I’m at 82% after 1 hour and 40 minutes. My guess is the displayed percentage is off.

  18. Michael Burstin October 2, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    One thing I forgot to mention earlier was that the traffic data is also miserably lacking as well. I can get traffic info for local roads Google Maps but nothing on Apple Maps. A coworker mentioned that I93 North in Boston doesn’t even have traffic data – one of the busiest highways in the city.

    I also don’t get why they don’t just rely on something like the yellow pages for business locations.

  19. I was just thinking about how Google created 1-800-GOOG-411 years ago to improve their business search capabilities. Apple’s got a lot of catching up to do.

    Also, is Yelp really a good source for complete business listings and ratings? It seems like Yelp reviews are skewed with either glowing reviews of popular hipster hangouts or 1-star reviews of places where customers were not satisfied. There’s not much middle ground. I could be wrong about this.

  20. Apple’s problem here is that they created an app that replaced tom-tom and other GPS apps. Not Google maps. If users were looking for a turn by turn map app they probably already found one. Google maps seems to have very different use case scenarios, such as walking or public transit directions. Or, as was mentioned, searching for points of interest.

    I really like the interface on the Apple maps app. It is excellent for someone who is driving solo. It shows upcoming intersections very clearly and seems to be specifically designed for that use case.

    Finally, Waze is a really dangerous app unless you have a copilot. It requires far too much of the drivers attention to be safe.

    And finally, I agree that Steve Jobs would have spent all of his time explaining why the Apple maps app was so much better than existing GPS maps, not apologizing for an incomplete app

  21. Regarding Steve Jobs infamous quote that, “I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this” with Google over their temerity to enter his 50%+ margin handheld ‘private domain’, one wonders if the appropriate movie reference is:

    1) Dr. Strangelove and Slim Pickens waving his cowboy hat all the way down

    or

    2) War Games and the “The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?” quote

    It’s when folks forget that business is never a zero-sum game, and instead desire to hear the laments of the enemy’s women that fundamental strategic problems occur.

    (And how ’bout the iPad 1 being EOL’d due to iOS 6-only 3rd party app updates making it more and more useless only 19 months after it was being sold new by Cupertino. I understand the highly aggressive planned obsolescence strategy that Apple’s moved to over the past couple of years, but 19 months is really starting to push the envelope…)

  22. “So now that the jump is over and he didn’t die… Why couldn’t I send the stream to AppleTV via AirPlay?”

    Ummm… why didn’t you just watch the better quality live-feed on the Discovery Channel?

  23. Couldn’t find it on live TV. Guess TiVo’s universal search doesn’t live up up the marketing materials. YouTube held up pretty well, given the reported 7-8 million simultaneous viewers – wow.

  24. “Couldn’t find it on live TV. Guess TiVo’s universal search doesn’t live up up the marketing materials.”

    My RSS feeds informed me it was going to going to be multicast there.

    “YouTube held up pretty well, given the reported 7-8 million simultaneous viewers – wow.”

    That is remarkable. That’s gotta be a record for successful IP livecasting by a very wide margin.

    But still, if you wanted to watch lean-back stylee, you’d be watching higher quality if you stuck with the multicast version, were you so informed of said’s existence by keeping up with what the cool kids were talking about.

    —–

    And teh twits is cutting off RSS access next March. I won’t get your live-feed anymore. Bad, teh twits, bad.

  25. “Starbucks app especially useful for Jews and Muslims on Christmas day.”

    Now us Festivus celebrants just need a Chinese restaurant app…

    (Also, you gotta love how the sheer chutzpah of how the Jewish NBA high command not only plays on Xmas, but sticks a little six-point Jewish star on the uniforms camouflaged with plausible deniability as a snowflake…)

  26. Yeah, that was going to be my follow on tweet. But we already called ahead yesterday and know which Chinese restaurant is waiting for us. And it’s next to a theater where my wife is making me go see Guilt Trip. I’d actually deleted the referenced tweet on my drive over to the SBUX as I forgot to include my Buddhist friends… although I’m pretty sure they’re also celebrating Christmas.

    I suspect David Stern has my back and the games today are somehow related to my employer requiring me to take 8 hours of PTO yesterday in regards to some new federal holiday.

  27. “I suspect … the games today are somehow related to my employer requiring me to take 8 hours of PTO yesterday in regards to some new federal holiday.”

    Well, the non-Jewy sports like the NFL, NHL, and college football don’t play on Xmas. It’s only the NBA.

    But, like I say, it’s the plausibly deniable Jewish star on the uniforms just for that one day that really tickles my fancy…

  28. The NHL doesn’t seem to be playing on any day…

  29. Weird. No six-point stars this year. I do swear they’ve had ‘em the past few Xmas’s.

  30. “Weird. No six-point stars this year.”

    I think I figured it out. All the coaches and players in street clothes wore green ribbons for Sandy Hook, so I guess they only wanted one piece of lapel symbolism this Xmas.

    I do hope they return the six-point star next Xmas. Always tickled my fancy, and even got my non-NBA freak spouse to appreciate the chutzpah.

  31. But what do the purple spandex forearm coverings represent?

  32. “But what do the purple spandex forearm coverings represent?”

    Ultimate respect for Prince.

  33. “After all these years, I’m still not convinced Green Day and The Offspring are different bands…”

    Unlike Green Day, The Offspring actually created a genuinely good album.

    (And on the narrow focus of your Critically Acclaimed Blog™, that album produced the “keep ‘em separated” line I always use here when folks want ‘Smart TV’s’ or other stupidly integrated electronic gadgetry…)