Former Apple cartographer Justin O’Beirne is writing an extensive, detailed and even-handed comparison of Google Maps and Apple Maps. The first part is online now and it’s a fascinating read. In surveying what cities, roads and places each product displays at given zoom levels, O’Beirne shows that the two systems, whose visual presentations might be easily confused with one another, are in fact not very similar at all.
It’s clear that Google thinks transit is important, while Apple thinks that airports, hospitals, and landmarks are important. Two very different views of the world!
O’Beirne refrains from calling one or the other superior, but for me, the clear difference is that Apple Maps is concerned with cartographic integrity where Google Maps is concerned with the experience of using the application. That is to say, at most given zoom levels, Apple Maps presents formally better maps, but holistically, Google Maps presents more of the right information at the right time. Which is consistent with what animates each company: Apple is focused on beauty and elegance, and Google is focused on information delivery.
It may sound like I’m a Google Maps partisan, but in fact I prefer Apple Maps. I find that it’s easier to use, clearer, and its integration into the OS is a much nicer experience overall. That said, I acknowledge that sometimes the data that drives Apple Maps is less than optimal or inaccurate—my wife, like lots of people, would say it’s just plain bad. I disagree with that but I understand why she says it: Apple’s turn-by-turn directions can be unreliable, to put it mildly. The scope of O’Beirne’s analysis apparently won’t include turn-by-turn directions but for most people, that is where these maps live or die.