It’s been months since Apple released iOS 6 killing Google Maps in favor of its own Apple Maps. Apple CEO Tim Cook’s official explanation was that the company wanted to add things like turn-by-turn navigation, voice integration and flyover, but while those are worthy reasons it seems like Apple just did not have good enough data for the back end. Google in contrast has spent tons of money and has a huge team working on Maps for years, and it is hard to expect Apple to work out miracles in the short time they’ve had.
Interface and design
But it is not just the back-end (we’ll speak more on this later), let’s start with the design of the brand new Google Maps for iOS. The application has been completely remade with a clean, gesture-based, intuitive interface. No useless buttons, almost all of the screen estate is used by Google Maps.
A swipe from right to the left in the bottom part of the screen, or just a two-finger swipe to the left brings up four toggles. There you can switch between maps and satellite view, turn on or off traffic and public transit indications.
When you select a particular place a swipe up from the bottom brings up the address along with contacts and user reviews, all very elegant, very intuitive and simple.
Compare this with Apple Maps, and its interface with no gesture support seems outdated (however still functional).
The maps themselves are vector-based in both Google’s and Apple’s case, and load very quickly. Google however seems to have managed to somehow optimize its app so it seems like the new Maps load even quicker than Apple Maps.
Overall, interface is a clear win for Google Maps, which shows us how Google is now more often leading the way in terms of mobile software design while Apple has to catch up.
- Google Maps 1 vs 0 Apple Maps
Search, points of interest
Apple Maps search does not work as well as the one on Google Maps (Google Maps is on the left, Apple Maps - on the right)
The place is on Apple Maps, though, so what happened? Two important things. First, you just have to be way more specific - Apple’s search algorithms work differently. We managed to find it only after changing the search query to ‘Silo, NY.’
Interestingly enough, search on Apple Maps is also much more context dependent. While in Google Maps you can be looking at a map of, say, Berlin (the one in Germany, not on the South Pole!) and out of the blue search for your favorite NYC lunch place, you’d get results. Apple’s app works differently.
If you are viewing that same map of Berlin on Apple Maps, the search just won’t find that New York lunch spot. However, if you are viewing a map of New York on Apple Maps, and then look up that same NY cafe, it would actually show up.
And then come less known points of interest, and challenges like locations outside the United States. We tried looking up a popular restaurant chain in Europe and Google was spot on bringing us all of the restaurants in a particular city. Apple? Could not find a single one.
The more we searched for things, the more it became apparent what a huge gap there is between Google and Apple when it comes to actual places.
Even when it does find places, Apple Maps needs more context in searches, but most often it just would not find them. All of this is a huge frustrating for users, and that’s why searching is definitely an area we see Google as a clear winner.
- Google Maps 1 vs 0 Apple Maps
The accent here is on United States. Yelp is simply a great platform for the U.S., and in most cases it gives you a better user review of a place than Google Maps user comments can. However, you still need to download the Yelp app to be able to read the full reviews, and that somewhat breaks the integrity of the experience. Google Maps on the other hand has everything in one place, but everything means less opinions and less insightful opinions.
Outside the U.S., though, Yelp becomes largely irrelevant. Things change drastically in Google’s favor. If you happen to travel a lot, you’d be much better off with Google Maps’ user reviews.
Ultimately, we feel this one is a draw. Apple Maps integration with Yelp makes it the better platform for the United States, but for all other places on our beautiful planet Google is far ahead.
- Google Maps 0.5 vs 0.5 Apple Maps
Directions and Navigation
Directions differ slightly in the interface, but both apps do a decent job at them. However, the backend of more accurate maps and tons of more points of interest on Google definitely puts it in a much more favorable position.
Not just that, Apple’s solution does not have public transit information. Ironically, when you tap on the public transit option in Apple Maps it suggests you to open Google Maps for that.
If we try to overlook that, though, it’d be a draw.
Those four things round up what we think is essential to a maps application. However both Google and Apple have not stopped there and are adding more information to make the experience better.
First, Apple Maps. The company takes pride in its Flyover feature and we love it. It shows a 3D-like (isometric) view of major cities, as if you are looking at them from a helicopter up in the sky. You can fly around buildings, take a look from all sides, and it looks gorgeous. On the downside, the feature is only available for only the central areas of a few large cities like New York. Siri integration is also a benefit you get with using Apple Maps.
Google Maps lacks those particular features, but it brings its famous street view which seems far more useful. Street View is available in a ton of locations across the globe, and in some areas you even get inside view of restaurants and other points of interest. You also have the indoor view for around 100,000 businesses, which is an awesome addition in case you want to actually look inside say a restaurant before you go there.
When it comes to offline maps, they are a no-go on Google Maps, but once you select a route, it is pre-cached so you needn't worry about your connection dropping halfway.
- Google Maps 0.5 vs 0.5 Apple Maps
With a brilliant gesture-based interface, no distracting ads, full on public transit information that Apple Maps lacks, and voice turn-by-turn guidance, Google Maps is the best maps application we have seen up to date, hands down.
Compared to Apple Maps, it is a no brainer - Google Maps is better in virtually every aspect, especially looking from a global perspective. If you live in the United States, though, the disparity between the two narrows. It is still there, but with Yelp reviews integration, better documented locations, Flyover for many cities, the U.S. is one place where Apple Maps could be used.
Weirdly enough, we like Google Maps for iPhone more than Google’s own Android Maps application.
It is not perfect though. It does not have full offline maps support, an area that Nokia still claims its own on Windows Phone. It is also not designed to work with the iPad. We really hope Google changes the latter soon.
If you own an iPhone, though, you should definitely take a look at Google Maps. This could one day save your life, you know.
- Google Maps 4 vs 1 Apple Maps