Monday, September 23, 2013

Apple Maps in iOS 7

Steve Wildstrom:

In fact, just about every map screen I look at in my neighborhood has a mistake of some sort. A nonexistent school shows up a few blocks from my home, several miles from the school’s actual location. The National Institutes of Health Bethesda main campus, not exactly a minor landmark, is not indicated on the map. (I reported both of these errors to Apple a year ago.) The Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is shown as the national Naval Medical Center, a name dropped two years ago, and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and Howard Hughes Medical Institute are missing.


Apple has still not done what is needed to improve the shortcomings of the apps itself. There are still no public transit directions, one of the more useful features of Google Maps. Switching between driving and walking instructions remains awkward.

We heard a lot last fall about how Apple would catch up throughout the coming year. Then when things didn’t seem to be improving much, we heard about how Apple was on a yearly schedule, with major improvements on the way for iOS 7. Apple itself has barely said anything about maps lately. Nearly every time I’ve tried to use Apple Maps, it has gotten something important wrong. Google Maps has rarely given me any trouble.

Back with iOS 5, it was possible to ask Siri or tap on a contact’s address and have it open up in a top-quality map. This is no longer possible today, because although Google Maps is in the App Store, all the OS services are hard-coded to use Apple Maps.

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I think the experience depends very much on where you're located. In the SF Bay Area, I find Apple Maps to be very accurate -- no problems at all.

@Dennis For what it’s worth, I’ve mostly used Apple Maps in New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, and Washington DC. In Boston, the data was OK but not presented as clearly as in Google Maps; the priorities for what to show and hide at different zoom levels aren’t right yet.

In Iowa Apple Maps are spectacular

@Dennis I've used Apple Maps primarily in the Los Angeles metropolitan area (meaning all of California North of San Diego and South of Santa Barbara). It is still terrible. Most of the improvements that have been made have been to the aerial view textures and 3D geometry. Which is not insignificant, but hardly the biggest problem it faced. Even my home address is wrong, still. I'm no longer in the Los Angeles Four Seasons, but I'm still not actually at my address. There isn't even any feedback from all my submissions I've sent them with corrections. When they moved me, it could have been entirely incidental, and I'll never know because there is no feedback or tracking for the map problems. Even Waze (which up to Google's acquisition had it's own dataset) actually does a better job in LA.

@Michael I completely agree that the biggest drawback is that the services tie in to it. Myself, and my friends and family, manually copy addresses we look up in Yelp, or other services, in to Google's Maps App. Most of the time it's faster, and easier, to just open Google Maps and search there without even using an Apple-approved intermediate. If they aren't going to improve Maps significantly, then they should at least make an official API so they can collect data they can use to refine their results in the future, or for other users. At this rate, it's far more likely that more and more apps will start to use url schemes that completely cut Apple out of the loop. Google's own apps are already geared around keeping you inside of their pseudo ecosystem of iOS apps. It's not immediate doom and gloom, but there's certainly a possibility of it causing Apple even bigger headaches in the future.

[...] And a similar sentiment from Michael Tsai: [...]

I think Dennis is onto something. I don't use Maps on anything like a daily basis, or even a weekly basis, but every time I've tried to use it in the Midwest (mostly Michigan), it's worked great.

Of course, your overall point is still quite valid: Apple promised an improvement, and for notably large chunks of their user base, that improvement is not readily apparent.

Interesting that anyone would expect iOS 7 to change this, though. Presumably, the Maps application itself is really just a bare-bones front-end to a giant database, and the database is where the fixes need to happen.


Can't say I've had any problems with Apple Maps here in Omaha, but I only use it for driving directions. But no complaints for that use case.

In Cincinnati, I've found Apple Maps have worked better for me. I use Apple Maps while my wife uses Google, so I have the chance to exercise both as we drive around. Honestly, neither Apple nor Google maps have failed much in their listed routes, but Google's voice directions are routinely incorrect. The spoken directions sometimes don't match the directions listed on screen and would have me taking the wrong exits if I didn't know the area well enough to pick out the obvious errors.

Very good points. Joe's comments are spot-on as well. I do find Apple Maps is pretty good if you are driving to a street address, but their POI (points of interest) database is very weak.

With the iOS 7 upgrade I moved Google Maps to the home screen and Apple Maps is relegated to a folder on the third page.

I still prefer the Garmin Nuvi, but not enough to carry a separate device anymore...


I'm curious why nobody is mentioning that Google Maps loads its tiles faster than Apple Maps and this has a huge impact on the user experience.

IMHO in addition to the POI issue, there is a server issue. There's no point in sending less data if it's still sent slower than the guy who sends more data.

My experience is that Apple Map is better at computing directions. It may have trouble to locate some places, but after I give it an hand and I tell it exactly where I want to go, it find better directions.

And FWIW, in my region, Apple maps are far better than Google one. Unlike Google, Apple didn't try to invent kilometer of road than absolutely do not exists just for the sake of having as much road as possible.
Google maps literally contains kilometers of road that are nothing but grass and trees in reality.

I think what's so annoying about Maps is that many people have sent in corrections to local errors but none of them have appeared in the database. What's the point? What's Apple doing with the data? I've sent in errors numerous times but they are still there.

There was a huge flurry of improvements to Apple Maps through November of last year then it seemed like changed went static. I assumed that Apple was being dumb and was going to roll out improvements with iOS7. Yet the iOS7 release has come and gone and the Map data seems the same. I'm not sure what to make of this.

"I think what's so annoying about Maps is that many people have sent in corrections to local errors but none of them have appeared in the database. What's the point? What's Apple doing with the data? I've sent in errors numerous times but they are still there."

It's a feature, not a bug! It's Cupertino's way of keeping maps on parity with rdar!

[...] beefing up their data through acquisitions of key companies. But I have no doubt that this is frustrating for users, like Michael [...]

For me, it's all about discovery. I don't need a fancy database (or Siri) to tell me where I need to go or give me directions. I'm map-literate enough to know how to get from point A to B. Just give me a map app that has as much point-of-interest information and proper transit overlays so I can find my own way. That's what makes Google maps better and will continue to be better. IMO, that's what Apple needs to focus on. Give me more data! Incorporate transit maps and wiki links. I was just in SF last week and really wanted to know what was around me, but sadly, Apple maps only shows me yelp data and a handful of transit stops, but no lines connecting the dots. And I would have loved to linked directly to a wiki entry for a building around the corner from my hotel because it looked old and interesting. But to no avail. Of course, this is my POV and probably not the norm.

[...] The comments here are about 50/50. I've not had too many problems with Apple's maps, but just today in San Antonio it failed to properly identify the location of a Texas Land & Cattle. It was off by several miles. Outdated info? No - the place has been here for years. [...]

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