Google Maps vs. Apple Maps

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.

Can Microsoft create killer hardware and software?

What if Microsoft pulled a page out their early playbook and created software for the most popular platforms, be it desktop, tablets or mobile?

What if Microsoft  was less concerned about owning the entire mobile ecosystem and instead was a player on all platforms? I can’t imagine owning an Android tablet or phone. But because Google brings apps to iOS, they have my businesses. I wouldn’t hesitate to pay for premium versions of GMail and Google Docs. I run Chrome and use Google Search multiple times each day. Too much of my life runs through Google apps. No way am I switching to a competitor at this stage.

I understand that Microsoft hopes to sway me into buying a Surface tablet and Windows Phone by getting me accustomed to the look and feel of those products through Windows 8. But the train has left the station, and I’ve already committed to another tablet and phone, that when combined, are used more often than my Windows PC.  And that delta continues to grow each year as my tablet and phone perform more of my day to day tasks.

This year, Microsoft will get $39 from me for a Windows 8 Pro upgrade and $60 for an Xbox Live Gold account. That’s better than nothing but still a fraction of what I’ll give Apple for games, apps and music among two iPhones, two iPads and three iPod Touch. 

Why does Microsoft continue to toss hundreds of millions into Windows Phone when the best they can do is take 3rd place? Why not create best of breed apps across Android and iOS and offer them to billions of customers instead of a few million Windows Phone owners?

Some may point to the success of Xbox to show Microsoft can make their own hardware and own the end-to-end experience. Sure, Xbox can be found in millions of living rooms, but it adds very little to the bottom line for Microsoft. Microsoft still derives most profits from Windows and Office. They dabble in entertainment, and search and business software, but if you look at what drives profits to the bottom line, it’s Windows and Office.

Unfortunately, Windows and Office take a backseat to tablets and smartphones in terms of growth potential, two areas where Microsoft had a head start, but got shoved aside by RIM, Apple and Google. They are trying to crawl back into the game with products like the Surface and updates to their Windows Phone platform. And, both seem like decent products, but they spotted Apple and Google a three to four year head start, and it doesn’t appear that carriers or customers are looking for a third alternative. Developers already have a huge audience developing for Android and iOS which explain why Microsoft is having to pay developers to build apps for Windows Phone and new Windows Store.

Why does Microsoft believe they need to become like Apple?

Some of my favorite software products came from Microsoft but have been abandoned like Windows Live Writer and Digital Image Pro. I used to love Windows Messenger and Live Mesh until they started changing their names, and morphing into other products.

I’ve been running Windows 8 Pro for just over and month. With one exception (older Creative soundcard), it’s been a easy transition from Windows 7. Microsoft can put an army of talented software engineers behind a product like no other company can.

I just wish they spent more time creating excellent software across all platforms.

Your Father’s Search Engine

Bing vs. Google.

The comparisons are inevitable.

As Google continues to speed away from Microsoft Live Search in terms of market share (and profits), Ballmer’s crew had to do something drastic. 

And Bing is their Hail Mary.

Which brings us how it stacks up against Google. Some say it’s better than Live Search. Some say it’s clean and fast. It certainly feels modern.

But is it better than Google?

IT DOESN’T MATTER.

Microsoft concedes they are the underdogs, and simply being “as good as Google” will not lead to increased market share.

Search actually works quite well. Most people do not have a search problem. They aren’t looking for a solution because they don’t have a problem.

So why doesn’t it matter?

It doesn’t matter because Microsoft didn’t build Bing for the savvy internet user. Here’s the profile of the average Bing user:

  • Purchases computer at retail store
  • Uses default web browser which is nearly always Internet Explorer
  • Does not know how to change default search provider in browser
  • Leaves homepage set to “MSN"
  • Types “www” in front of every URL

Microsoft understands many users do not under the benefits of  installing a modern and more stable browser such as Firefox, Safari, or Opera. Maybe nobody has shown them the number of cool plugins that are available for these other browsers. Or maybe a browser is just a browser to them in the same way that a pair of skis are just skis to a beginner.

Whatever the reason, Microsoft is aware of the fact that the sheer number of Windows users automatically guarantees Internet Explorer will be the default browser on most computers. And what search engine do you think Internet Explorer uses unless the user changes it?

Let’s see how easy it is to change the default search engine in Internet Explorer to Google. Just complete the following ten steps:

  1. With IE open, click on “Tools”
  2. Select “Internet Options”
  3. Select “Programs” tab
  4. Click “Manage add-ons” button
  5. Another window open. Select “Search Providers” from left pane
  6. At very bottom of window, select “Find more search providers”
  7. Another instance of IE opens. Scroll through list till you find “Google Search Suggestions”
  8. Click “Add to Internet Explorer”
  9. Another box pops up. Click “Make this my default search provider” box.
  10. Click “Add”

Thank you, Microsoft, for streamlining the process!

How many people do you know who will jump through all those hoops? Will your friends? How about your parents or grandparents? Even savvy users will give up and use whatever came with Windows.

Microsoft knows this.

Microsoft has no incentive to make it easy to switch search engines within their browser. I have to believe this factored into Google’s decision to release their own web browser: Chrome.

And that’s why it ultimately doesn’t matter if Bing is better than Google. It doesn’t have to be better. It doesn’t even need to be as good as Google. It merely needs to do a reasonable job. Bing’s search results even LOOK like Google’s. I doubt that’s by accident.

Just as many DVR owners think they are using Tivo when, in reality, they are using some watered down DVR from the cable company, many Bing users will continue to tell others how they “googled it”.

When over 90% of computers run your operating system, you don’t have to build a great web browser. Merely adequate will do.

The same goes for your search engine.

Online Advertising

It’s impossible to pickup a business magazine or major newspaper without finding an article detailing how online advertising is going to change the technology landscape. Many of these same article have declared Google the hands-down winner in this mystical realm.

The people who write these article must not use the internet like I do because I never click on online advertising. I visit MSNBC, Digg, Facebook and Google multiple times a day yet I’ve never once clicked on an ad. Never. I’m left wondering who are these internet users who are driving such wild speculation? I mean, Google continues to mint money and Microsoft seems hell-bent on wrestling parts of Yahoo that will boost their own presence in this area. We know that Google is selling a lot of ads but are the people paying for these ads getting a reasonable ROI or are they scared into not participating in the “next big thing”?

google

I believe all this talk about online advertising is a bunch of hyperbole that’s being perpetuated by the participants themselves who clearly have the most to gain by its growth. People see Microsoft trying to crawl out of hole and get in the game by swallowing Yahoo while Google continues to increase marketshare because MicroHoo is distracted and clueless.

Online ads. Who cares.

What I do care about is when someone I trust recommends a product. When Seth Godin blogged about Sigg bottles, I bought 6 of them. When I decided to purchase a DSLR camera, I looked at what Ken Rockwell recommended and bought the Nikon D40. This week my father purchased two Nikon D40 (one for work, one for himself) based on my recommendation. A coworker told me about Ecco shoes a few years ago and I’m hooked. The same goes for dozens of other products that came to my attention through friends, coworkers, family and bloggers I trust.

Go ahead Google. Continue stuffing more ads next to my search results but you can’t fool me. I won’t click on your ads. Same goes for Microsoft and Yahoo and Facebook and Digg and whomever else foolishly believes online ads will take over the world.

One last thought: If Google provides both the search results AND the ads next to these results, what incentive does it have to refine the results and make them as relevant as possible? Wouldn’t it make sense for Google to make the free results less accurate than the paid ads so that users take the bait and click on the paid ads?

Comic provided by Geek and Poke

Take It To The Web

I spent a couple of hours rebuilding my home PC yesterday which isn’t all that different from what I’ve done over the years. Except that it only took a few hours instead of an entire day (or night on a few occasions). 

In fact, installing Windows Vista Business only took about 30 minutes. That was the easy part. Once I had it installed, I ran Windows Update which found a lot of updates, 75 to be exact. Some of these were for my specific hardware such as video card, sound card and network adapter. I estimate that Vista has spent at least two hours downloading and installing updates. That’s a lot of time but things seem to be running well and I’ve not run into a single driver issue so far.

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Upon install, expect Vista to find many updates for your system.

Here’s a list of the programs I install first:

  1. 7-Zip – Open source archive utility.
  2. CCleaner – Cleans up your PC including registry.
  3. Clip Diary – Keep a history of your clip board.
  4. FileZilla – Open source FTP program
  5. ICE Mirror – Syncs folders/files between two drives
  6. Threatfire – Security program that analyzes virus behavior
  7. UltraMon – Must have dual monitor utility
  8. uTorrent – Tiny bit torrent program
  9. Adobe Photoshop Elements – For simple photo touch-up
  10. Windows Live (Writer, Photo Gallery, Messenger)

Even two years ago this list would have been two or three times this size. Products that run from the web are replacing boxed software. When I bought my first computer in college, I had to go to a computer store in order to purchase a game. My children will have no concept of that as everything they need will be a Google search away.

Did you notice one program I left off my list? I’m talking about Microsoft Office, and it used to be the first program I installed when I built a new computer. I no longer have any need for it at home. I have to install it at work because most of my coworkers still enjoy passing files around via email which seems about as fashionable as listening to Hootie and the Blowfish.

Removing Microsoft Office from your computer is the equivalent of getting a substantial performance upgrade for free. I’ve replace the bloated, buggy, resource hogging Outlook with Gmail and the rest of Office with Google Docs, and I can’t believe I didn’t do it sooner. Besides the speed, stability, no patching, no upgrades, nothing to install nature of Google’s products, I love having access to everything on my phone. I feel like to jumped 5 years into the future when I got rid of Office.

When I upgrade my PC and reinstall Windows every few years, I’m sure that list will continue to shrink as more products move to the web. I hope my children won’t have to waste time patching their operating system and updating their software.

I wish I were as lucky. Windows Updates is telling me it found 4 more "important" updates it wants to install. Lucky me.

Why I Left Microsoft Outlook for GMail

I’ve used Microsoft Outlook for just over 10 years. It’s been one of my favorite Microsoft products over the years. Before that I used a combination of Pegasus Mail and PINE. I liked Pegasus so much that I may not have switched to Outlook had I not gone to work for Microsoft in the mid 90’s. It was elegant, speedy and very powerful.

The early versions of Outlook didn’t impress much much (wasn’t it called Exchange Mail?) but, over time, it grew on me. I liked having my email, contacts, tasks and calendar in one area. At work, I came to appreciate how it allowed me to schedule meetings and locate times when participants were available. Yet over time, it become bloated and used a lot of system resources. Worse yet was the fact that several of my PST files become corrupt. That Microsoft includes a PST Scanner with Office to fix corruption (sometimes) leads me to believe this isn’t a rare problem.

A few months I started using Google Docs at work because a number of us update the same files over and over, and I didn’t like the idea of emailing them around each time an update was made. I wrote about how I’ve stop using Word a few weeks back and I can’t imagine going back to it. I still occasionally use Microsoft Excell when I need to create a more complex graph or chart, but Google Docs covers my needs 95% of the time.

When Outlook 2007 started acting up at home a few weeks ago, I decided to switch to Google’s Gmail service. This presented several challenges such as how to move my existing PST file into Gmail which includes not only my email but my calendar and contacts. I researched a few options until a follower on Twitter suggested GMove. I bought the GMove for twenty bucks and it works as advertised. I like how it allowed me to chose which folders to sync to Gmail. It even sets up Gmail labels and tags email which makes it easy to migrate and organize lots of emails. (If you use GMove not that I got it working best using the Google POP option)

screen_2008-04-27 23.08.26

I cannot believe how fast Gmail feels compared to Outlook. I think I became accustomed to the sluggishness of Outlook, but Gmail is super fast. Labeling email feels a lot more natural than using folders to organize email and the search…OH THE SEARCH! in Gmail just schools the lame search in Outlook. It’s no contest.

Tonight I moved Kim and hundreds of email to Gmail. So far so good. She immediately mentioned how she likes the look of Google Calendar compared to Outlook’s. That Google Calendar will SMS events to me is a killer feature. The potential uses of this single feature are countless.

The only thing I miss about Outlook so far is how it handled attachments. Outlook made it really easy to see the file types and has a nifty “download all attachments” option. But the speed and ease of Gmail shine everywhere else. It’s convenient to have access to my email from any computer and I will enjoy not having to worry about PST file corruption anymore.

First Word and Excell and now Outlook. What will be the next Microsoft product I rid my computer of?

The Year of Web Services

Could this finally be the year that Amazon see some competition in the web services market? I got thinking about this while reading this excellent post from Dave Winer this afternoon. Dave believes that it makes sense for Google to release their offering as a free service and makes a good argument for doing so.

So we’ll have Amazon and Google in this space. There’s no way that Microsoft can ignore Google or Amazon. Anything Google does, Microsoft has to follow. I’ve already written about what a nightmare this could be for Microsoft so I won’t rehash it here. Suffice it to say that Microsoft will be playing by Google’s rules if Google can beat them to the punch by offering a free or nearly free service. Amazon’s services have already lowed costs substantially but I expect many hold outs will jump on the Google bandwagon.

Few companies have the resources and cash to build out such massive data centers like Amazon, Google and Microsoft will do. We all benefit when three large, competitive companies fight for our business.

If I were handicapping the race I’d put Amazon ahead of the pack with Google a close second and Microsoft a distant third. If Ray Ozzie were leading Microsoft, I’d give them better odds but it’s hard to imagine Balmer fully embracing services that could erode Windows and/or Office margins. Microsoft hasn’t shown it possesses the guts to release online versions of Word, Excel or Powerpoint. I keep hearing rumors this will happen but it’s hard to fathom what took them so long. Someone is asleep at the wheel in Redmond.

I’m using Amazon’s Simple Storage Service in conjunction with Jungle Disk and I love it! But I don’t feel locked in to their service. If Google or Microsoft put out a better product, I’ll move over. But does it have to be free? As Winer mentions, Google could benefit from having potential acquisitions already running their products and services on the Google Web Services platform, thereby removing one of the major hurdles to any purchase. Giving the service would make sense in this case.

I wonder if one reason Microsoft is willing to overpay for Yahoo is they feel Yahoo could catapult them into a better position to compete in this space with Google and Amazon? There’s power in combining Microsoft’s cash and human resources with Yahoo’s open source platform. 

Read Om Malik’s interview with Ray Ozzie where they discuss web services.