When Apple Maps first launched alongside iOS 6 in 2012, the service was incomplete, inaccurate, and at times comical. Over the past six years it has steadily improved, owing to much work by Apple and several acquisitions.
So is it finally time to jump ship from Google Maps to Apple Maps? In this article, we explore the differences and benefits of doing so from the perspective of an Apple user.
Note: Since Apple Maps is only available on Apple hardware, a platform-agnostic comparison wouldn’t be particularly useful.
Apple Maps vs. Google Maps: Availability
Apple Maps is available on iOS, watchOS, and macOS devices. That includes the iPhone and iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac (running 10.11 El Capitan or later). There is no official browser version available, though you can use Apple Maps in your browser with a workaround.
Google Maps is available on just about every modern device, with dedicated apps for iOS and Android, wearables like the Apple Watch, and the original browser-based version on the web. Google also has a fully fledged atlas companion called Google Earth, which uses much of the same data.
Apple Maps vs. Google Maps: Business Models
While usability is important, it wouldn’t be fair to leave out the difference in the ways the two companies tackle privacy. This is largely due to the business models adopted by Apple and Google, which take completely different approaches.
Apple is a hardware company. It make money by selling hardware, and to a lesser extent, software. Google is a data company. The bulk of its profit comes from advertising, but also analytics. When you use one of its free services, Google uses the data it collects to make money from third parties.
As a result, when you use Apple Maps, much of the calculations and resulting data exist solely on your local device. Data that Apple collects uses non-identifying markers, which change as often as you re-launch the app. Apple only provides third parties (like ride-sharing apps) with the bare minimum they need to get the job done.
You can’t say the same for Google. When you sign into Maps and other Google products, your requests and data regarding your activities is tied to your account. This is convenient, but it allows the company to build a profile of you and your habits over time.
It’s a similar situation to how Google Feed and Siri compare.
Even when you use an app and aren’t signed in, Google attempts to use unique identifiers to share data between browsers, platforms, and devices. Again, much of this allows for convenient features such as serving you a product in your preferred language. It is also of benefit to third parties, though.
Google has built a business out of selling data and analytics to third parties. It does this to provide companies with insights into what led their customers to pick them, and how to target specific groups. It then sells them advertising.
Apple Maps vs. Google Maps: Accuracy
Google Maps is used on a billion devices every month. There’s no way Apple can compete with the sheer volume of information that Google Maps has at its disposal. Since Apple Maps is limited strictly to Apple devices, the pool of data is naturally much smaller.
Google bought satellite imaging company Skybox for $500 million with the aim of improving the accuracy of its mapping service. It also employs a huge number of staff to check and correct problems with the service. As a result, Google Maps is unsurprisingly the more accurate mapping solution.
Apple Maps has drastically improved since the embarrassing start it had back in 2012. Based on my own usage, I’d say that Apple Maps is “good enough” for everyday use, particularly built-up areas. Rural users may want to think twice, since this is where the bulk of the problems seem to arise.
Google integrates many points of interest with its own search listings. Apple Maps pulls from Yelp, The Weather Channel, Foursquare, and Tom Tom. Discovery of amenities has improved significantly, since Siri can now provide context-aware suggestions based on set criteria. Google does this too of course, with more data and frequent updates.
Apple Maps vs. Google Maps: Platform Integration
One area where Apple Maps excels is its OS-level integrations. For example, you can effortlessly send a route wirelessly from your Mac to your iPhone in just a click. Siri support allows you to create a route simply by asking, and if you use your iOS Calendar for meetings and appointments, you’ll get traffic alerts and ETA announcements.
Extensions let you use ride sharing apps Uber and Lyft right in Maps, alongside OpenTable and Yelp integration. CarPlay, Apple’s in-car integration with iOS, lets you navigate using Apple Maps on your dashboard. Though iOS 12 opens up the possibility of Google Maps and Waze CarPlay support, the feature hasn’t materialized yet.
To enable or disable Maps extensions, head to Settings > Maps.
Apple Maps vs. Google Maps: Driving and Navigation
Both Google and Apple Maps offer walking, public transportation, and driving directions with turn-by-turn navigation. (Google also offers support for cyclists, which we’ll discuss a little later).
While driving, Google lets you fine-tune your journey with options like:
- Playing navigation instructions via Bluetooth, or as a phone call.
- Automatic or manual day/ight color schemes.
- Avoiding highways, tolls, and ferries.
- Traffic information, satellite view, and basic 3D buildings.
- Parking detection to save your spot.
Apple Maps can match most of these features. You can avoid tolls and highways, but not ferries. Park detection is available at Settings > Maps. There’s an automatic night mode, though you can’t leave it on permanently. Navigation uses a 3D view for some cities, but support is thin on the ground outside of the US.
Google Maps frequently re-routes when it detects traffic issues. Since Google owns alternative driving app Waze, its pool of traffic data is likely superior to Apple’s (which seems to rely on Tom Tom). I’ve never seen Apple Maps do this before—at least not in my city.
Both navigation modes have a bright and pleasing interface, though personally I prefer Apple’s approach. It seems easier for my eyes to follow, with higher-contrast colors and clearer instructions at the top of the screen. I also find Siri less jarring than Google’s assistant for turn-by-turn, but that’s probably because I’m used to Siri.
Apple Maps vs. Google Maps: Public Transportation
Two features that can differ drastically depending on where you live are support for public transportation and bicycle routes. If you depend heavily on public transportation, you’ll likely pick the app that best integrates with your city’s infrastructure. The same is true if you’re a cyclist.
Where possible, both Apple and Google Maps have support for public transportation, including map overlays showing routes, service information for stops, and departure times. If all of the above is present, they’ll be able to route you to your destination using public transportation too.
While Apple Maps has no support for cycling, Google Maps has a filter dedicated to showing biking routes. This includes roads with bicycle lanes, dedicated paths, as well as quieter bicycle-friendly back streets.
The difference is massive, and it even works with turn-by-turn directions to favor bike-friendly routes. I use this feature frequently, and it’s about time Apple Maps embraced the fixie-riding hipsters that make up a decent portion of the iPhone’s user base.
Apple Maps vs. Google Maps: Look and Feel
There’s isn’t a lot of difference between the two apps from a visual standpoint. Both feature regular vector maps and a satellite view, though Google also throws in a terrain view which makes it more suitable for some outdoor pursuits.
Arguably the biggest visual benefit for Google Maps users is Street View. The feature uses real-world photography to provide users with a look at the map from a more relatable perspective. It’s useful for providing context to addresses and locations, and helps users quickly visualize a point of interest.
While nowhere near as useful, Apple Maps features the 3D “flyover” view first introduced back in 2012. It’s a neat way of going on a virtual tour without ever leaving the house, but it’s ultimately a gimmick.
The last feature Google Maps offers users that Apple Maps doesn’t is offline mapping on iOS. Tap the menu button in the app, choose Offline Maps, and select an area to save to your device.
Apple Maps vs. Google Maps: Why Not Both?
Google Maps is still the superior mapping solution, and it likely always will be. But Apple Maps is catching up, and even includes a few features that you might want to start taking advantage of.
Remember that much of this is subjective and will depend on where you live. If you a travel a lot, it makes sense to keep both around just in case!
If you stick with Google Maps, make sure you know the best Google Maps tips to get better use out of it. And check out some alternative map services if you don’t care for either Apple Maps or Google Maps.