Maps - all maps - just aren't good enough yet

While everyone loves to beat up on Apple Maps - and not without justification - none of the existing maps apps are good enough yet. Whether it be data quality or user experience, they all still get it wrong too often to be acceptable, and that needs to change.

Apple, for all their data aggregation, cleansing, and sanitizing issues, gets a couple of things right. The interface, both pre- and post-iOS 7 is not only good looking but provides a a good amount of information about not only your next turn, but the turn after that. The voice directions also do a good job of keeping you informed over long stretches of road, and advising you to stay left or bear right so you're in the proper place for a turn sooner rather than too late. Unfortunately, while Apple Maps can often get you to the block you're going, it tends to break down when it comes to the exact place and entrance to it.

Google Maps nails the data, but almost to a fault. It's less human. It'll tell you you need to turn right without warning you to get right, or tell you to go left when there are three left options, and only get to the elaboration well after the proper one has past. (And lest you think their data is perfect, today they told me to pull a u-turn on a dead-end road when I was actually in the middle of a 4-lane highway. That only appeared after I passed the virtual dead end. On my way to Mountain View. Yeah.)

Nokia Here maps, TomTom, and everyone who licenses data from them all need to do a better job not only with that data but with presenting it in a more human way.

Well-verified, consistently presented location that doesn't just tell you where to turn and how to get some where, but makes sure you're in the right place to turn, and helps you get there.

Like far too many things, if I could somehow mash Apple and Google Maps back together, I'd get something approaching what I want - great data and great interface - but that's an option that no longer exists. For now it's a race to see who can become more like the other, better, faster.

Maps are hard, no doubt about it. But getting lost sucks. What's a reasonable level of accuracy? What's a reasonable level of experience? If you miss a turn, or get sent the wrong way, how often is too often?

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Well said René. Using Google Maps for the past 6 months on Android I can vouch that they are far from perfect (at least not here in Australia). And the "turn at the last second" voice commands are maddening.
  • Well I had a Lumia 925 and the Here Maps from Nokia was by far the best maps of all three. They even had the speed limit for all places, except where upgrades and road works are taking place. I wish Nokia would release an iOS version so people could see how great it is.
    Nokia have now released an Andriod version of Here Maps for android.
  • Being a long time user of Garmin Nuvis... I'm partial to Navigon... closest experience to my last Nuvi - 765t... and by last Nuvi, I mean I'm not buying another... apps are the future of personal navigation. Navagon is awesome on my iPad. Apple maps is a close second choice.
  • My house has been big fans of the Nokia Drive+ app which doesn't always give (what we think) the optimum route but its the best I've experienced in turn warning and the route good enough. Would like to see it on iPhone. The rather clipped, terse English voice used is good too, we call him "Baxter". Naming your navigator is a thing, right?
  • Yes ours used to be called sandy I think lol
  • It's why I don't use all that navigation crap. I look up the address, see where it's physically located and then go there. Why should I trust some machine to tell me where to go and how to get there if I already know how to drive the streets? It can't be trusted to be correct, and shouldn't be. Ever. I see the pathetic people here in Austin try to use these things to get around, and it's infuriating. They're getting in left turn only lanes when they need to go straight, or turning from non turn lanes, whatever. I'd hate to see how they do in a place that's actually hard to get around. I was in a wreck, riding with a friend who insisted we needed his navigator to tell us how to get to my damn house. He blew through a red light and SMACK, hit someone turning left. As a Christmas gift, I gave him a $5 Rand McNally map of the city and showed him how to use it.
  • To be fair, I don't think you should be blaming a navigation app for making your friend run a red light. I always have a good look at the route before I start using navigation so I have some idea of the direction I am going. Being helped out by the computer doesn't mean you can throw common sense out the window.
  • I'm sure the majority of people who use nav apps don't run red lights. Maybe your friend is just a doofus.
  • I have been using GPS Drive by MotionX, and only one time did it not take me to a location. It was a rural area, and a street to a building had just been put in. It did tell met to park, and walk the rest of the way, which is what you had to do before the street was put in. Sent from the iMore App
  • I've been using Waze for a few years now. Its map data is as accurate as Google, and it's traffic data is almost as good. I would fault it somewhat for re-routing around traffic, which its fairly terrible at, and the amount of obnoxious ads is rapidly increasing. For me a deal breaker with Google Maps is its total lack of re-routing around traffic, and its lack of night mode. As for Apple Maps, they're still hopeless here in the UK.
  • They are a disaster. I live in a pretty rural part of Ireland and it's just a blank canvas, no roads, POI, nothing. Google and Nokia both have it mapped to a T. Drive with English Voice +Street Names is great, I've used it all over Europe for years, it's never let me down. Not always the quickest route but it does get you there every time. Lane guidance, offline maps and rerouting and no need for data.
  • Same in New Zealand. Navigation is also less intuitive than Apple and Google Maps.
  • Well said. All map apps has their faults. Although I find Apple Maps to be pleasant, I find it's about half a second too late when prompting me to turn. Like telling me to turn after I crossed the intersection. Google Maps and Waze gave enough time to react. But Navigon is best. Probably because I'd paid so much for it.
  • This is why I use a Google Maps as a backup. My primary is my Garmin Nuvi in my car.
  • TomTom on iOS has been quite reliable and the Lane Assist feature is actually quite good especially when travelling on multi-lane highways (especially in Montreal!). Been using the TomTom app for years and it has yet to lead me astray.
  • Totally agree with your comment about the TomTom App. It's my go to for now. Apple maps is woeful at rerouting and I find both google maps and apple maps traffic information to be terrible. I pay an extra $20 a year IAP for the live traffic updates in the TomTom app, it is very very good and has proven worth it not only by saving gas but saving me from an aggravating drive.
  • Apple Maps has at least one huge interface problem -- its traffic representation. A thin, dotted red line not only gives less information than do competitors' various colored lines, but Apple's deliberately light stroke weight makes it much more difficult to take in traffic information at a glance when driving - which is precisely when you need quick access the most, so you can keep your attention on the road. Sent from the iMore App
  • Agreed. Google Maps gives you a nice thick red line to let you know "hey, it's heavy traffic here!"
  • So far, I've had a 90% satisfactory experience with map apps for those times when I've been a stranger in a strange land. Having said that and read your post, Rene, what's a viable solution to tightening up the dependability of our navigation offerings? Increased localized data gathering and reporting? Sent from the iMore App
  • I agree. Every map all I have tried usually gets me in the vicinity of my destination but it is either across the street or around the corner. One thing they are good for is getting me home when I don't know where I am. Sent from the iMore App
  • All the map apps do suck, but Apple is so far behind on the data outside the major metros that it isn't funny.
  • I travel for a living. Apple maps isn't quite there. Google maps on my phone does warn me ahead of time that a turn is coming up. Maybe a US only?
  • Have no issues with Google Maps other than I wish I could turn up the navigation volume Sent from the iMore App
  • All Maps are terrible seems like a way of defending Apple's Maps. Then you completely ignore apps like Navigon. Most software or apps can be improved. Maps is simply one of them. We may as well say all email clients aren't good enough. All message apps aren't good enough. All OS's aren't good enough. Clouds services. The list goes on. Here's the thing though. It doesn't matter what the competition is doing. Apple matters more because they bake this stuff into their OS. We're not paying premium for Apple hardware so we can sit and admire the other Maps. This stuff may be hard but Apple has all the resources to make it happen. Still, we live in a world where "good enough" is well..good enough. It's for the masses, not you even if enough of the masses seem to have gradually flocked to most tech blogs which blurs the lines between "you" and "them." Grandma loves it. If they like it, you should too, so be quiet. That kind of poor logic is prevalent even on the tech forums.
  • Navigon is now owned by Garmin which licenses its map data from TomTom. I love Navigon, but I've had them drive me in circles just like Google, just like Apple, just like Nokia. The point was none of them are good enough yet, and it's something that seriously needs to be better.
  • Garmin uses Navteq as a significant provider of GIS data... and Navteq is a wholly owned subsidiary of Nokia.
  • Well said indeed. None of them are perfect, but I actually haven't had any major problems with Apple maps. I even deleted Google maps from my phone. Sent from the iMore App
  • Apple maps are bad period. Tim cook said that they screwed up on them himself so my default map app is google maps until apple decides to fix them. The interface is bad and the overall functionality is premature. Sent from the iMore App
  • In the UK, Apple maps has too few POIs- it can't find local theatres by name, for example. One area maps have still to be improved is in intelligently considering what is near to your journey. If I am about to run out of petrol there tends not to be a way to find where the nearest filling station is along my route, or of finding out what interesting sights there will be along a suggested route. I'm sure we'll get there in the end (ho- ho!)
  • Google maps may not be so human but in India it is probably the only app that provides navigation data unmatched. In one of my recent trips, google maps even showed the ways in a very small village which is actually kinda surprising. Sent from the iMore App
  • Rene, I know this doesn't apply to your article; but what case is that on your phone? As far as maps go, I agree that all options are far from perfect. I always read the route ahead of time to make sure I have a general idea of where I'm going, then I rely on my iPhone to give me the details so I'm not staring at a map while driving. I use Waze quite a bit, but I put very little trust in its route selection. It's go to solution for traffic is to have you get on an access road for miles till the highways clear up; but the social media aspect is great in terms of knowing if there are accidents, hazards, or police ahead of me. Sent from the iMore App
  • Hmm...looks like a Draco case to me. Sent from the iMore App
  • Thanks Anton, I just looked up Draco cases and believe you are correct. Sent from the iMore App
  • No problem. I've tried so many cases with my iPhone they've become easy to spot in some instances. Sent from the iMore App
  • Apple would have to make a lot of improvements to make me want to switch from google maps to apple. Google maps is just a solid, tried and tested and reliable mapping service. There are still a lot if bugs and errors in apple maps. Sent from the iMore App
  • "Google maps is just a solid, tried and tested and reliable mapping service." No, actually it's not.... Maybe you missed the point of the article, but the point is that none of them are where they should be. Describing the google mapping service as "tried and tested and reliable" is borderline laughable considering the bugs/ommisions it still has.
  • In western Canada apple maps are not to bad for directions, but do miss the mark on the physical address a lot. I tend to use waze more often, and I wish apple had bought them instead of google. As the crowd sourced aspect is a great feature in a area that has lots of users. And I love the fact I can edit maps and addresses when they are not 100%, and add gas pricing etc. Sent from the iMore App
  • Apple Maps typically does a good job for me both in metro and rural parts of the eastern US. I do have Garmin USA as a backup though. I have been in places where a network connection is spotty so having the maps on the device helps. Sent from the iMore App
  • So we live in a world where we have incredibly detailed maps that update automatically and dynamically adjust automatically to our position down to an accuracy of mere feet, and can be searched and filtered and zoomed - and still covers 90% of the planet's land masses --- yet that's "not good enough" and people complain... How the hell did people get around in the thousands of years before smart-phones and GPS? Haven't any of you ever used a Thomas guide? For hecks sake people, use your own brains once and a while. The map is just a tool. The conditions and data can change at any moment. It's a big world out there. Soon you all will be complaining because Apple or Google or whoever - didn't update their map to show the dog that just crossed the street in front of you. It's a tool. It shouldn't replace your brain. You should be able to find your way around with only casually glancing at a map... Of course - anyone here is welcome to take their own car and drive around capturing 100% accurate data of the entire country including imagery and addresses and businesses and every possible combination... You could then use your vast amount of data to dynamically map routes with algorithms you make yourself. Feel free if you want to - because clearly all the other people are doing it too unsatisfactorily for you... After all, it's just a couple maps right? How hard can it be?
  • Do you have a Dr's appt tomorrow to get your head removed from your a$$? What a strange post.
  • So you don't get the "in a quarter mile, turn ______" notices? I get them as low as 1000 ft.
  • What kind of case is that in the picture? Waze all the way :)
  • I'm sure, like many users, I have multiple map apps that I jump back and forth to get what I need. Not the best solution, but then again, that's why we have lots of memory and the App Store on tap. Sent from the iMore App
  • A lot of these comments ring very true. The poor user experience and closed nature of navigation devices drove me crazy enough to create a navigation startup aimed at solving these very problems. We wanted to create a GPS app that did a good job visualizing the route - so you can understand where you're going, but also provide a robust turn-by-turn voice experience. If friends are coming over, you can personalize and share a route with them. If you're frustrated with GPS, I'd be very curious what you think. Check out Mapkin on the iOS app store and send me feedback!
  • Honestly I only used the app for the iPhone . I does what I need except for when I travel in a new highway and it doesn't recognize the road. Sent from the iMore App
  • Waze always works for me. Sent from the iMore App
  • I've used Apple Maps exactly once. It was stuck in an endless series of right turns -- literally driving me in a circle. I've never had any issues with Google Maps, including not giving me enough notice for turns. It always gives me at least a half mile warning, unless the next turn is within a half mile of the last. The it will give the next turn instruction as it gives the current instruction. Maybe it just doesn't like Canadians? ;)
  • I have to say I have an Android phone but Google maps should be about the same and it works great. Nothing is perfect. I live in Illinois in the U.S. Iv also get plenty of notification before I need to turn. I make use of the simpler map interface to aid in knowing when to turn with the more complicated streets but we are still years from a 100 % reliable maps so.
  • I've used a number of navigation apps and I find Navigon to be the best as far as features and accuracy.
  • I've bashed a lot on Apple Maps on the iMore forum here and there for good reason, as I've had several personal real life examples of where it had half of a neighborhood missing, put a location on a street two blocks away because the street names are similar, or can't find a skyscraper in downtown Manhattan. This was from personal experiences and not being influenced by someone else on tech blog. That being said, I've been trying to give it a chance in actual usage over the past few months and it hasn't been much of an issue. I've said before in my bashing threads that I WANT to like Apple Maps if I can trust the accuracy of it's data. I have to say that in the past few months I haven't noticed any inaccuracies in where it's pointing me. If I'm looking for an unknown location, I'll still occasionally verify with Google Maps to make sure its accurate. I still find Google Maps to be far superior looking for non-address locations like "chinese restaurants" and "men's clothing", as Google's search database is more closely tied into its maps products than Apple's. So in the end, I find myself using each product depending on use case.