Apple replacing Google Maps with their own Maps application has easily become the tech giant's biggest marketing goof for a product release since the iPhone 4's antennagate, leading CEO Tim Cook to apologize for maps and even suggest alternatives. But lost in the roar of complaints and bad reviews is the fact that Apple Maps does have good points, even when you don't count the 3D maps and the major metropolitan area flyovers.
One of the major sticking points that accelerated Apple's decision not to renew the contract with Google and to move away from Google Maps, the voice turn-by-turn directions is something that has long been missing from the iPhone and iPad. Google actually provides this service for Android users via Google Maps Navigation, but they have never made the attempt to bring that feature to iOS, perhaps wanting to keep it exclusive to their own mobile operating system.
Apple's Maps uses Tom-Tom to help out with the turn-by-turn directions, and at times, it actually seems more accurate than the map on the screen. In an instance last weekend, I noticed the Maps app labeling a street with an older name, but when we were notified of the upcoming turn, Maps got the name right. And while not perfect, it does beat the non-existent turn-by-turn directions in Google Maps.
Apple Maps has a long way to go in displaying traffic. Not only is the little red dotted line much more difficult to see than the bold red lines used by Google Maps, but the data itself seems to be just a trickle of what is displayed by the old maps. In a side-by-side comparison of downtown Dallas this morning, Apple Maps was displaying issues on major interstates and highways while Google Maps went further, displaying problems at the street level.
But one thing I really like about the new Apple Maps traffic view are the pins that let you know why traffic is backed up. And in some instances, such as telling if an accident is on the northbound or southbound side of a freeway, this information is very handy.
Apple Maps isn't going to match the sheer amount of data Google was able to draw upon when showing search results on the map, but it definitely has a more useful presentation. By hooking into Yelp, Apple Maps can not only show you nearby Mexican food restaurants, but can also help you decide which one you want to eat at based on star ratings shown on the map itself and full reviews available with the touch of a finger.
Yelp has long been one of the must-have apps on the iPad and iPhone, and it is great to see integrated with the Maps app. I thought it was really neat that you can see a picture of the outside of the building and photos of some of the dishes, though if you are really, really hungry, showing food on the screen might not be the best idea.
A better strategy
Apple made the right decision. Yes, Google Maps is much better than Apple Maps right now, but in the long run, Apple Maps will be the better experience for the iPhone and iPad. There was always going to be a bump in the road when they made the switch, but now that Apple is completely in control of the app, they won't have their hands tied to just the Google database.
In fact, Apple Maps is already providing a different experience. If I have a craving for Italian, I don't need to use multiple apps to find nearby Italian restaurants and get turn-by-turn directions to the one I decide on. In the future, I might even be able to reserve a table via OpenTable. Or even find out which movies are playing nearby rather than just seeing the location of nearby theaters.
None of this is to say that Apple Maps is better than Google Maps right now. Apple has a lot of work on their hands to fix the inaccuracies and put more polish on the app, but in the long run, we may be better off with the switch.