Google Maps on iPhone shows iOS 6 Maps where to go

Google Maps on iPhone shows iOS 6 Maps where to go

Summary: I didn't think iOS 6 Maps were that bad, but turn-by-turn navigation on Google Maps is so good there's no way I'd deliberately launch iOS 6's Maps app again...

TOPICS: Smartphones, Apps

I meant to write this piece yesterday, but events conspired against me doing so. And today I'm wondering whether it's worth writing a comparison of the turn-by-turn navigation features on Google Maps for iPhone and iOS 6 Maps at all.

You see, the problem is that "Google Maps v iOS 6 Maps" is perhaps the most unfair fight in the history of the technology industry. What you have on one side is an inebriated, sloth who's having a particularly lazy day. On the other side you have Godzilla, who's in a bad mood because he's caught his wife sharing flirty texts with King Kong. There's no drama here, no cut and trust of two well-matched competitors. Google Maps squashes iOS 6 Maps without even being aware that it's doing so.


Personally, I didn't have too much of a problem with iOS 6 Maps. I was expecting an unmitigated disaster when I upgraded to iOS 6, but in the areas I used it iOS 6 maps successfully rendered roads and other things roughly where they were actually positioned in space. But I did discover the beauty of having turn-by-turn directions on my phone. Although I'd used turn-by-turn on a mobile for a bit during the brief period where I owned a Lumia 800, since 2003 I've used a dedicated satnav unit in the car. About a day after I first used turn-by-turn on iOS 6 Maps, I took the satnav out of the car and resolved to sell it on eBay.

The maps on Google Maps are clearer, and that's probably enough in and of itself for Google to win the fight. You're supposed to be driving a car. iOS 6 Maps are "information-poor" -- it's basically a white space with some roads rendered on it where the roads are. Google Maps renders much more subtle information that mirrors the physical space that the driver is in. Google actually does cartography. I'm not at all sure what Apple's mapping software people are doing. Plotting points on a map isn't cartography.

Here's two screenshots of the same tricky turn on a road in the UK. What's happening here is that there's a dual carriageway, but the median between the two carriageways is full up with mature trees. The Google Maps image gives you more of an indication that there's greenery. All the iOS 6 Maps one is doing is telling you that there are some roads. With the iOS 6 Maps one there's a bias towards you having personal pre-knowledge of the area that you're driving through. Google Maps assumes that you don't know where you are. Google Maps also renders roads in the correct colour. This sort of road in the UK is signposted using green colouring, which Google Maps uses. For UK users, iOS 6 Maps look like they're obsessed with everything being a motorway (which happen to be blue).

Google Maps (on the left) renders maps in a superior fashion when compared to iOS 6 Maps.

Another thing that Google Maps will do is allow you to fiddle with the map view during navigation. Oftentimes you can be in a situation where you have two possible routes home and you know one is filled up with traffic and the other relatively clear. You might want to inquire whether the system is routing you through the one without traffic. In this screenshot all I had to do was pull over, twiddle with the maps to see that it was taking me on the route to the right rather than the more straight-on route. (I happened to know the straight-on route was rammed with traffic.) On iOS 6 Maps you can do this, but it's more fussy.

Google Maps's rendering of complex maps is also superior. Here, I've zoomed out to check a route, but I'm not baffled.

That's why Google wins this fight. One glance from that fantastically clear rendering and you know what's going on and you can park the phone back in your mental periphery and get on with your day. Turn-by-turn directions on iOS 6 Maps is fussier to use and has maps which are substantially less clear. Perhaps counter-intuitively, it's a lack of information that makes them less clear.

There are some other points too. iOS 6 Maps uses the phone's onboard speakers for directions. When you plug the phone into your aux port on your car stereo it redirects the speakers to that. So if you're listening to the radio, you get no directions because the aux port is not active. Plus, when you're listening to audio from the phone itself, the situation gets stupid. Say you're listening to a podcast with a low recording level and the volume is cranked up. At this point when the directions are read out they are basically screamed at you. It's not pleasant.

Google Maps plays the directions through the Bluetooth interface in the car. This means it works when you're listening to the radio, and whatever you were listening to before gets nicely muted and the directions read out to you without yelling. It's much nicer.

All of these points tell us that not only does Google understand mapping, someone actually "dogfooded" this stuff before they released it. If you're trying to use your iPhone to get around in the car, Google Maps simply offers a better experience.

Where next?

If we look back at the products, I find myself wanting to say that they are both as good as one another at the actual task of planning the route and guiding you through it. Then why the sloth v Godzilla simile above? I think it comes down to the fact that Google Maps is noticeably better in a way that makes iOS 6 Maps irrelevant. And it's this irrelevancy that deems it this future:

Screen Shot 2012-12-18 at 12.14.58

(Thanks to the parody Twitter account @ios6maps for that moment of comedy gold.)

And then you have to wonder where do we go next. I'll never use iOS 6 Maps again, not out of malice, but because there's no particular point to do so.

Well, until Google Maps makes some boneheaded move and manages to alienate its customer base. That's what makes living through this current phase of the technology industry's life so interesting. Before Apple mucked up iOS 6 Maps we took Google's mobile mapping stuff for granted. When it was reintroduced on the platform last week, the feel on Twitter was like some alien race had some down and gifted humanity with a compound that gave us all everlasting life. Apple's cackhanded rollout of their mobile mapping stuff has simply wrapped up and gifted the whole market to its erstwhile partner without any clear indication of exactly when Apple going to get a new opportunity to fight back on a more even footing.

But there's always something going on. For example, today's tech business immolation seems to be Instagram. An opportunity for someone, even if it does stink for any user with an emotional investment in Instagram.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Topics: Smartphones, Apps

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  • Move on...Apple Maps vs. Google Maps is yesterday's news

    “You're supposed to be driving a car.” “…. Another thing that Google Maps will do is allow you to fiddle with the map view during navigation.”

    So which one is it? The author seems to have the pros and cons a bit mixed up. But as long as the conclusion is makes it 1:0 in favor of the Google Maps it’s all good. We all know where the UK stands when it comes to Apple.
    • Translation

      Please stop writing anything about all the things that apple is horrible at. Please restrict all of your apple reporting to stock price changes for any time period between more than 6 months ago and today (stock price changes for any period in the last 3 months don't count, unless apple bounces back up at which point 3 month stock price changes are proof of a company's excellent product line).

      Thank you.
      • Wow!

        The best 'Translation' I've every read!!..hahaha
        Marty Kaan
  • iOS maps also plays through Bluetooth.

    Lots of other inaccuracies in this report as well.
  • Biased

    Google did not get Maps right at the beginning it took them years. Apple will put thousands of people to make sure Apple Maps App is top notch. It will take them 1 year or two, put they will get there. I mean your talking about the most valuable company in the world with 120 Billion in cash! Maps is a priority for Apple and they will innovate like they always have.

    Take Android, when it came out it was garbage. Two years later it is much improved. The same will happen with Apple Maps.
    • If/when Apple maps is better, we'll use it.

      There is no bias in stating facts. If you're going to use an iOS maps app today, Google Maps is superior. Period. People don't use something today which might be usable in 2 years. They use what's best now. That's Google Maps. If and when iOS maps is superior, people will switch. When it comes to getting reliable directions in a strange city, you don't depend on an app which has a significant chance of being wrong. You use the what already works.
      • iOS Maps work fine in the NY metro area

        Using Google Maps purely as a traffic report alternative.
    • The issue is why Apple pulled the trigger on their own maps app now.

      Apple users were happy with Google Maps so there was no rush. Apple could have taken another year to get it right as their contract with Google didn't expire until next year.

      It was all about ego for Apple and not what was best for their users. That's what happens when you think that since you're worth 100 billion dollars you can do whatever you want and get away with it. Well, not so fast.
  • Innovation? Not so much...

    I use Macs plenty at work and I have an iPhone 5, but let's be honest. Apple doesn't really innovate.

    Unless you call jazzing up features others have had for a while and making them cool "innovation"... which I certainly would not.

    Apple doesn't innovate, but they DO a fantastic job of polishing ideas and concepts someone else comes up with and packaging them in a really appealing way.
    • You forgot the 5th row

      There's no denying an extra row of icons is innovation.....
      Little Old Man
  • Best quote of the day

    "there's no way I'd deliberately launch iOS 6's Maps app again"

    I can just see Tim Cook's quote in response:
    "apple maps is accidentally launched by millions of users every day. That's success."
  • Confusing

    Confusing article.
    The iOS Maps image shows to turn right in 0.2 miles which seems to be the intent for the route. Google Maps image suggests (to me) to turn left in 0.1 miles? I don't really see the Google image clearly showing the median is filled with greenery. iOS Maps works fine with Bluetooth. Why would you have anything plugged into the AUX jack if you have Bluetooth?
    • Also, what Matthew called "information-full" is what Apple calls "clutter",

      ... while saying their approach is cleaner.
      • Oh right, apple said it.

        must be true then.
        Little Old Man
    • Agreed

      The Google maps turn icon clearly shows a left turn ... why the author thinks this is clearer than correctly showing a right hand turn is puzzling.
      nim chimpsky
    • On the turn left, good catch.

      Yes, I saw it, a right turn is needed not a left turn. So, Google can make mistakes as well. All mapping programs have mistakes. A while back I had a major problem with Rand McNally maps. Some of my paper maps miss roads, streets, and with incorrect street names as well.

      On my 3GS my choice for voice turn by turn is MapQuest.
  • Established products typically do perform better.....

    In other news: Chrome OS beats the snot out of Firefox OS!!
  • Google Maps needs to go metric

    Bit confusing to have nav readout in miles when the signs all around you are in kilometres. But agree with @johnsuarez10 Apple will get there in the end. Isn't competiition wonderful?
  • iOS beats Google Maps in my test

    I gave iOS maps vs Google Maps a test drive last night to a well known location. iOS there and Google back.

    iOS nailed it, start to finish. On the way back i took a different route to check Google's rerouting algorithm. Google maps had me trying to make a U-Turn for 5 miles AFTER the reroute and would have added 10 miles to my trip.

    The algorithm Google maps uses for rerouting is terrible. iOS maps was spot on.

    There is more to iOS maps than you think. I also tried Navigon on the same trip another time. SAME AS iOS!!

    Google turn by turn has a better voice
    Google's reroute algorithm didn't work well at all
    iOS had better information and worked in the lock screen

    I am sticking with iOS maps.
    • I'd like to see more analysis like this

      I realize that Google Maps has a more developed graphical interface and a more finally-combed/tuned database - within Google; but iOS Maps could very well access iOS APIs or other Apple data services that Google may not choose to access with Google Maps. I would suspect that third party vendors would use the IOS APIs and any Apple services, which would make those apps perform like iOS Maps.

      A goog analogy would be the Google Docs app on iOS. Obviously, this app uses Google's cloud solutions, rather than those of Apple (ie. iCloud), so it works in a very different way. Third party developers, meanwhile, can opt for iCloud APIs within the iOS SDK.