Apple Is Overhauling Maps


(Josh Centers) #1

Originally published at: https://tidbits.com/2018/06/29/apple-is-overhauling-maps/

If you thought that Apple Maps has been a joke since it debuted in 2012, you’re not alone. Apple has spent the past four years rebuilding its mapping service.


(Simon) #2

I think this is excellent news. Maps has improved a lot (at least here in the States) so that nowadays I use it almost exclusively.

I sometimes miss Street View, but what I miss even more is good topographical information and trails. I want to be able to use Maps for my hiking (nothing crazy, just few-hour hikes in National and State Parks) just like I use it for my driving. Google has a nice Terrain overlay mode and I would really like to see something that come to Apple Maps.


(Derek Roff) #3

One of the most severe problems with tech journalism is the bandwagon repetition of unresearched, unsupported, even flippant characterizations and assertions. Initial first-look impressions become tenets of unchanging dogma, from which many tech writers never seem able to recover. “Apple Maps has been a [six-year] joke” is only true, if we are talking about tech writers who write tech articles with the same depth of research, reliable analysis, and nuanced comparison of a standup comedian. Pundits were thrilled when Apple Maps stumbled out of the gate, and they declared it a failure with zeal. Most of them have maintained this position, without a second look, over the subsequent six years.

Apple’s announcement that they are working on improving the app has stimulated dozens of articles that I have seen so far, all of them parroting the same tropes that they created six years ago, as though nothing ever changed, nor can ever change. While I am used to poor quality tech journalism as the norm, TidBITS has usually produced much higher quality research, measured analysis, and meaningful commentary. Not today, apparently.

While Apple Maps has benignantly provided Josh with cost-free amusement for six years [substantially better than most comedians], it has been my primary navigation tool since the completion of the famous Tim Cook-announced reboot. Tim said Apple would fix the app, and Apple did. It has served me, very usefully, although humor-free, for at least five years. I compare Apple Maps to Google Maps at regular intervals, and while each makes mistakes from time to time, they both generally work well. I have preferred the Apple Maps interface and way of presenting the data and directions, every time I have done a comparison test. I’ve tried Waze, and don’t like its interface and the appearance of the maps. Google Maps does a few things especially well, and when I need those things, I switch to Google Maps. But for 90% of my uses, Apple Maps is my choice.

A particularly critical interface element is the timing of the instructions. With Google Maps, I frequently doubt whether the turn that I need is the next street, or the one after that. I often turn too early, and sometimes turn too late. These problems are less frequent with Apple Maps. The instruction timing for both maps is fine when I’m the passenger, and can look at the screen while listening to the instructions, and looking only for the next turn. But when I am driving by myself, my visual attention is on the other drivers, and the timing of the voice instructions is critical. Apple Maps works better for me. I have no doubt that for some other people, Google Maps has better timing.

Several years ago, Daring Fireball published an article saying that Apple Maps was the most popular navigation app on the iPhone. Other articles disagree. In any case, I think it is clear that many millions of iPhone users prefer Apple Maps for navigation, and don’t get the joke that Josh is referring to.


(Norman Wikner) #4

When Maps first came out, my brother noted an error near his house. The road he lives on, which dead-ends a few 100 yards from his house is shown continuing down into what is now a reservoir. Several roads branching off from that were also shown; these roads do not exist. He reported the error to Apple several times. the error is still present.


#5

One of the most severe problems with tech journalism is the bandwagon repetition of unresearched, unsupported, even flippant characterizations and assertions. Initial first-look impressions become tenets of unchanging dogma, from which many tech writers never seem able to recover. “Apple Maps has been a [six-year] joke” is only true, if we are talking about tech writers who write tech articles with the same depth of research, reliable analysis, and nuanced comparison of a standup comedian. Pundits were thrilled when Apple Maps stumbled out of the gate, and they declared it a failure with zeal. Most of them have maintained this position, without a second look, over the subsequent six years.

I suspect I am not alone in thinking that good technical journalism is concise, accurate, and, where appropriate, descriptive in framing developments within historical context. IMHO, Josh’s article accomplishes all of this very effectively and efficiently.

Apple’s announcement that they are working on improving the app has stimulated dozens of articles that I have seen so far, all of them parroting the same tropes that they created six years ago, as though nothing ever changed, nor can ever change. While I am used to poor quality tech journalism as the norm, TidBITS has usually produced much higher quality research, measured analysis, and meaningful commentary. Not today, apparently.

I think it is safe to assume that people who read TidBITS are at least passingly familiar with the history of iOS and Maps, and probably will appreciate that he did not blather on and on about something they already know.

I also think that TidBITS readers are knowledgeable enough about good journalistic practices to realize that because Apple did not provide specifics to TidBITS or to other media outlets than Tech Crunch so far, Josh wisely linked to the Tech Crunch article, which was truly the ethical thing to do.

Several years ago, Daring Fireball published an article saying that Apple Maps was the most popular navigation app on the iPhone. Other articles disagree. In any case, I think it is clear that many millions of iPhone users prefer Apple Maps for navigation, and don’t get the joke that Josh is referring to.

Though I much prefer Apple Maps to Google Maps and agree with you on your reasons why, I do remember that when Maps was released, it was comparatively so deficient it became the butt of jokes in the trade press. I still read a lot of snide and snotty remarks about Maps in the trade press, most of whom seem to forget that Apple had to buy a mapping service and quickly rush out a very less than perfect version because Google released a version with turn-by-turn voice directions and announced they would not be updating Google Maps for iOS.

My thanks to Josh for another example of good journalism.


(mpainesyd) #6

I was using Apple Maps in a fairly remote area of Western Australia a few weeks ago and was delighted with its detail, including satellite view (that is, where I had iPhone reception). I set a destination on my iPhone and was surprised to receive a tap from my Apple watch as a turn approached. This is a great feature as I don’t need to,look at the screen at a critical time.
I rarely use Google maps these days. I find it has become bloated and cumbersome to use, compared with a few years ago. But isn’t that the way of most software (MS Office, Windows, macOS…)?


(Adam Engst) #7

Because I had family visiting yesterday, I asked Josh to post that piece before I’d had a chance to look at it. When I took my edit pass later, I changed—in the one-sentence summary of a one-paragraph link to another article—“Apple Maps has been a joke” to “If you thought Apple Maps has been a joke.” That was before seeing this discussion.

Even though I softened Josh’s criticism, I agree with it. I keep trying Apple Maps periodically, or because it’s easy to use with Siri, and I’m frequently disappointed. When driving in stressful situations in England recently, I had to use Apple Maps to get the map on the CarPlay screen, which engendered a great deal of swearing and eventually giving up and switching to Google Maps despite the lack of the on-screen directions. I would like to like Maps, because of Siri, but it lets me down way too frequently.

I also think it’s interesting that Apple has admitted that they have now spent four years rebuilding the underlying map from the ground up because tech companies almost never acknowledge that their products have issues until they have a replacement in hand. And Apple wouldn’t have spent what must have been hundreds of millions of dollars fixing it if Maps had met their own standards.


#8

I also think it’s interesting that Apple has admitted that they have now spent four years rebuilding the underlying map from the ground up because tech companies almost never acknowledge that their products have issues until they have a replacement in hand. And Apple wouldn’t have spent what must have been hundreds of millions of dollars fixing it if Maps had met their own standards.

I’ll bet robo car development had a lot to do with the timing and scope of this.


(Derek Roff) #9

My first comment was based on a different version of Josh’s comment. Adam notes the change in his comment. Adam’s experience is different from mine, perhaps since I use Apple Maps predominantly, and because I haven’t tried it in England. In any case, ignoring the six years of improvements that we have already seen in Apple Maps is misleading. Focusing a current review on the problems of the early versions similarly gives an inaccurate picture of the current product. I have no complaint if someone expresses an opinion that Google Maps is better, but Apple Maps is the preference of many millions, including at least four of the six current commenters in this thread, so calling it “a joke for six years” is wrong, and insulting to some of your readers.


(Derek Roff) #10

User input for updates is probably an area where Waze has the best record. I live in rural area, and one of the major landmarks is the Volunteer Fire Department building. For years, Google Maps had it on the wrong corner of the wrong street. I submitted the correction several times, without result. Finally, they changed it. A couple of weeks later, it had been changed back to the incorrect location. I submitted the correction several more times, before the proper location became a stable feature in Google Maps.


(Paul Schinder) #11

At some point you have to switch to specialty apps for this. (You can’t really expect to have Maps do everything.) I have two on my iPhone, Komoot and Topo Maps+. I only use them occasionally, but they seem to have all of the trails in my area. A quick check of Google Maps shows none of the trails near home.


(Simon) #12

I’m surprised to hear that.

This is actually something I really like about Apple Maps. Whenever I spot an omission or error I usually send a short report. And in all cases I remember I usually got confirmation a few days later that the issue has been solved. This has worked for me in Japan, Europe, and the States.

I always got the impression actual people worked on these reports and speedily made changes to the databases. I very much liked that if felt like immediate improvements were possible. I always kind of wished Apple’s feedback pages were that efficient and gave the same speedy and effective responses.


(Richard Rettke) #13

Last Tuesday I was driving to a location I had never been to before in the north woods of Wisconsin. I have always preferred and used Waze, but when I got within 15 miles of my destination, I knew enough about where I was going that I could tell Waze wanted to send me in the totally wrong direction. So I switched to Apple Maps (1st time ever). I certainly did not know how to use the interface and it too did not get me to my destination, but it did get me close enough that I was able to find it on my own the last 2 miles.

Since then I have been using Apple Maps, more as a test to see if it’s “as good” as I thought Waze was, and to gain familiarity with the interface.

Bottom line is that Apple Maps works a whole lot better than I had expected. I had stayed away from even trying it because I bought into the fact that it was "a joke’. So in the future I will endeavor to take those comments with more grains of salt than in the past, and do more personal research. It appears that one man’s joke may be another’s salvation.


(Richard Rettke) #14

Couldn’t agree more. I love the fact that Waze allows user’s to submit updates and they get corrected quite quickly. They (Waze, Google, Yahoo, et. al.) had my home several blocks from where it actually is. It took a lot of correspondence and almost 3 years for Google to get it right. Waze took one submission and perhaps a couple months.

I also like Waze’s interactivity, with eh ability to report slowdowns, accident, road hazards etc. and to be warned about such things that others have reported in real time. It’s those features that will probably keep me using Waze, unless the new Apple Maps manages to supplant it.


(David Redfearn) #15

I don’t use Apple Maps for navigation (I have a car system for that that works very well) but I can say that the satellite view of my neighborhood (west side of Las Vegas) hasn’t been updated in at least six years. It’s like looking into a time machine - empty space that is now full of homes and commercial buildings. The map itself shows most of the streets in the area, but is about six months out of date there also. It seems to me that one basic requirement for a map system is that the roads and views be up-to-date. Maybe if Apple pays more attention, this will improve.


#16

Google bought Waze years ago. User participation feeds in a lot of information that they can’t get from Maps. If I remember correctly, it was not long after the “Facebook killer” social network they built became an obvious flop.

It was rumored at the time that Apple, and especially Facebook, were eyeballing the company. A Facebook acquisition especially spooked Google, which would give a them a big ad sales advantage, especially in hyper local advertising. They recently launched a big new initiative…they now serve ads that will run in the Waze ads that can be linked to digital billboards that will serve a super targeted messages:

https://www.adweek.com/sponsored/the-future-of-out-of-home-its-mobile/

Active participation ads a whole new dimension - someone stuck in traffic due to an accident while they’re driving to a retailer or restaurant can see an ad for a competitor. Keep in mind how especially powerful this will be for robo vehicles…cars and trucks.


(Tommy Weir) #17

I like Apple Maps but it’s undeniably behind the functionality of Google Maps. That said…It’s my main navigation app and is constantly improving but if I need more accurate traffic reports I switch to Google.

I have purchased various Navigon apps for different territories over the years, the USA, the UK and Scandinavia. These are from Garmin. This used to be the sole data-free navigation option when I was roaming and are what I use when I am Stateside.

I see they have removed themselves from the App Store however.


(Ray Kloss) #18

I was up in a remote part of Wisconsin and saw an Apple Maps van driving around. I have seen Google Maps vans at times, but these make me think that Apple is building their database to be more accurate. A good use of their reserves. I couldn’t tell if they were also getting pictures for a street view or not.


(Ron Risley) #19

“You have now arrived at a sponsored destination. If you would like to continue to your original destination…”


(MacTexan) #20

Here, here! I use Apple Maps for 95% of my directions. Why? It works beautifully with my Apple Watch. I even turn off vocal directions when driving. I just listen to the tones from my watch. It is the absolute best “hands free” way to drive using point-to-point directions. The Apple Watch gives me one tone to turn (or veer) left and another tone to turn right.
I’m an Apple guy. To me, Apple stuff simply works better with other Apple stuff. I use as few Google apps as I can get away with, but the Alphabet corporation still seems to know more about me than I would like. I’ve totally bought into the Apple ecosystem and would never surrender my privacy to Google no matter how much “free” stuff they dangle in my face.
Apple’s Maps app hardly ever lets me down. When I do discover a mistake, I often find the same mistake in Google Maps. I admit, Apple maps could use some improvement, but I have faith that a company with over $250B in the bank will find a way to make things right.