I’ve wanted to compare Google Maps to Apple Maps for a while but never got around to it. But a couple of weeks ago I made four trips between St. George and Las Vegas. The trip covers about 130 miles each way or two hours of drive time which would provide me the chance to test both apps in and around a small and larger city.
On my first trip to Vegas, I ran both Google Maps and Apple Maps simultaneously. This allowed me to take screenshots of both apps, and also listen to how they differed in providing turn-by-turn directions.
I considered adding my Garmin GPS to the test, but I just don’t use it much anymore. It’s a portable unit but is a hassle to set up in our Honda Odyssey, provided I can remember where I placed the power adapter and window mount. I’m also not thrilled that Garmin wants another $100 or to update my maps. So I’ve all but stopped using the Garmin in favor of my iPhone 5 on which I tested Google Maps and Apple Maps.
I should also point out that I was a Google Maps user for several years until Apple Maps arrived. I didn’t have any of the bad experiences some Apple Maps users were having so I’ve continued to use it. I went into this test to see if one map app worked better than the other, knowing if they felt about the same I’d probably stick to using Apple Maps.
You’ll notice a blue bar at the top of the Google Map screenshots. It’s there because I was running Apple Maps at the same time but wouldn’t show up if I had only Google Maps running. I don’t count that against it although it resulted in the bottom of the screen getting squished a bit which matters because Google tends to present more information at the bottom of the map while Apple tends to present as much as possible at the top.
The two screenshots below (Google Maps on left, Apple Maps on right) show the different approaches both apps take. Google provides much better surrounding street detail. Apple provides more trip details at a glance. With Google Maps, I can get more details by pressing the bottom section of the map (1 hr 57 min) but it requires more interaction than Apple Maps.
Here’s another example of how Google Maps provides a lot more surrounding detail including business names. Keep in mind that this is a small town and Google still provides a good level of detail. This would be incredibly helpful if my destination were one of those businesses or even if I knew my destination was close to one of them. Apple Maps zooms in closer on your current position. But this screenshot also shows a major issue with Apple Maps in that it tells me to turn onto Black Ridge Dr. which is flat out wrong. Black Ridge Dr. is a street near the freeway onramp but runs in the opposite direction. Yet when I approached the onramp Apple Maps corrected itself and provided correct turn-by-turn directions. In fact, I hadn’t noticed this mistake until I got home and looked at the screenshots. But this was enough to make me rethink how much I should trust Apple Maps.
Once I was on the freeway, both apps worked well. I still prefer how Apple Maps presents the trip details. Apple Maps design also feels more polished while Google Maps looks like an app only an Android user could love. But I wanted to mention a major difference I noticed when I pulled off the freeway to purchase gas. It’s not uncommon to have to backtrack a block or two to enter get back on the freeway and Google and Apple differ in their approach here. While pulling out of the gas station Apple Maps turn-by-turn directions would say, “Proceed to the route.” and assume I knew my way back to the street that would return me to the freeway. Google would say, “Take a left onto Ranch Road and then a slight right onto I-15.”
This may seem like an insignificant difference, but it’s not. While pulling off the freeway to get gas, I was often able to see the freeway entrance so I didn’t need to rely on turn-by-turn directions to get me back on the route. But twice, as I made my way around Las Vegas, Apple Maps assumed I could either see the freeway onramp or knew what street I was on (if I were looking at the map), because all it said was, “Proceed to the route” which isn’t helpful if I don’t know the route well enough to get back on the freeway. It’s easy to get turned around in an unfamiliar area, especially large and often confusing Las Vegas. In comparison, Google anticipated the street I would be on when I exited the station, and then guided me to the freeway onramp. Huge difference and a major win for Google Maps.
I started out each trip by searching for the Palms Hotel and Casino and both found it immediately. As you can see from the screenshots below, Google Maps provide more business names and locations to their map while Apple Maps includes a link to Yelp reviews while providing more street names. I like how Google Maps brings together the trip details at the bottom of the screen. Apple provides more options on the screen including a 3D view, but it’s one of the few times where Google takes the “less is more” approach which I prefer here, although both work just fine.
So in closing, I prefer the look of Apple Maps. If were getting around town by looking at a map, I would prefer Apple Maps. But that’s not how I use a map app in my car. Google Maps detailed turn-by-turn direction trumps Apple’s better-looking maps for me any day of the week. In fact, the less I have to look down at my phone the better! The the main reasons I’m going back to using Google Maps is that I trust it more than I do Apple Maps today. The goal of any mapping software is to get the user to his or her destination. Google Maps may not look as polished as Apple Maps, but it nails the key features and shows why Google services for consumers are the best in the business.
If you’re using an iPhone I recommend using Google Maps over Apple Maps.