By on July 1, 2018

Apple Maps has been a lackluster tool for navigation since its launch. Of course, you probably don’t know this because you’re statistically more likely to back out of the driveway using Google Maps or Waze. That’s because the latter programs seem to work as intended. The same cannot be said of the former.

While Apple can get you down a major highway without incident, it frequently falls apart when you start asking it to make sense of a complex, overlapping network of roads or sparsely traveled rural area. Meanwhile, Google has already mapped the same areas twice and taken photos of every blade of grass within 100 square miles.

Upon launch, Apple Maps was plagued with issues. Areas were left blank, locations were misnamed, landmarks were misplaced. Had it come out a decade earlier, it’d have been a technological marvel. But with competent competition readily available, the iOS-based navigation system was (and remains) unacceptable. So Apple is giving it a complete overhaul. 

According to TechCrunch, the company intends to use first-party data gathered via customers’ iPhones and its own fleet of camera and sensor-equipped cars (like Google). Starting next week with the iOS 12 beta, people in the San Francisco Bay Area will build their own detailed maps and, hopefully, see improved navigation on Apple Maps within the boundaries of California.

“Since we introduced [Apple Maps] six years ago — we won’t rehash all the issues we’ve had when we introduced it — we’ve done a huge investment in getting the map up to par,” explained Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of software and services. “When we launched, a lot of it was all about directions and getting to a certain place. Finding the place and getting directions to that place. We’ve done a huge investment of making millions of changes, adding millions of locations, updating the map and changing the map more frequently. All of those things over the past six years.”

Apple hasn’t confirmed a timeline for how long it would take for the application to become totally revamped on a nationwide level. But we’d imagine it would take at least a full year after iOS 12 is rolled out to the rest of the country before anyone notices a significant improvement — and that’s the best-case scenario. More realistically, the process would take several years to complete. But the company has a head start. Apple vans have been spotted collecting data for a few years now and they appear to be incredibly advanced.

“We decided to do this just over four years ago,” Cue said. “We said, ‘Where do we want to take Maps? What are the things that we want to do in Maps?’ We realized that, given what we wanted to do and where we wanted to take it, we needed to do this ourselves.”

The company claims that, since mobile devices are not the primary navigation tool for most customers it made sense to use them for data acquisition to rebuild Maps. Apple had previously relied upon partnerships with firms like TomTom and OpenStreetMap to assemble navigation data, rather than the more user-driven approaches of Waze and Google.

“We felt like because the shift to devices had happened — building a map today in the way that we were traditionally doing it, the way that it was being done — we could improve things significantly, and improve them in different ways,” Cue continued. “One is more accuracy. Two is being able to update the map faster based on the data and the things that we’re seeing, as opposed to driving again or getting the information where the customer’s proactively telling us. What if we could actually see it before all of those things?”

A large part of this working and being able to swiftly update the system requires Apple to collect data from its customers. With privacy concerns being a major issue right now, the company is stressing that it is taking data in the most responsible way it knows how. Apple claims all data it procures for mapping purposes is anonymous, totally randomized, and doesn’t include the initial location or final destination.

If that’s the case, then we’re very glad to hear it. Privacy and data acquisition is already becoming a major issue with connected cars and we don’t need another thing to gripe about. We’re happy to hear Apple is at least attempting to take the high road on this and the end result should be a navigation platform that can rival Google’s best.

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36 Comments on “Apple Rebuilding Maps App, Hopes to Outperform Google...”

  • avatar

    I don’t know who’s data powers Uconnect navigation but it works really well. I thought it messed up once but the driveway I was looking for was obscured by a stand of pine trees, I passed right by it. Depending on the day and time, it gives me traffic updates when my phone syncs after starting the car. The first time it happened I said “How does it know where I’m going?”, lol. It “guesses” based on your habits. I’ll have to bear that in mind if I do anything nefarious.

  • avatar

    Yesterday Apple Maps literally told me to go north to reach a city to my south! I use Apple Maps when I know more or less where I’m going, since it’s CarPlay compatible and I’ll be able to spot errors like that. Otherwise it’s Waze, despite the unreadable design, or Google Maps which apparently now updates with Waze user info.

  • avatar

    Why does Apple need to compete in this area. Accept that Google is better, has been doing this longer and has the credibility. Is it a pride thing?

    • 0 avatar

      We should be thanking the hell out of Apple for this. You do not want monopolies like Google being the only smartphone navigation and mapping information system!

      • 0 avatar

        Apple will probably make sure people thank them by charging for Google maps in the app store or simply removing Google maps totally so you don’t have a choice.

        Apple really has a complex when it comes to outside services that are better than their own, especially from Google.

        • 0 avatar

          They can’t. The app developer sets prices in the store, and Apple has no control over them.

          Since Google Maps has always been in the App Store I don’t think they are going to remove the app just as their own is getting better. I’m also pretty sure a lot of people would flee to an Android phone if they couldn’t use Google Maps, so it would be a stupid move to deny people access to them.

          Strangely enough I actually like Apple Maps and it works for most of the travel I do in the United States.

          • 0 avatar

            “Since Google Maps has always been in the App Store”

            Don’t forget IOS 6 in 2012, when Apple removed Google Maps as the default map program, and removed Google Maps and Youtube from the app store.

    • 0 avatar

      Google is pretty much a monopoly in this field. Apple has no way to compete. Google gets to collect data from the vast majority of Android phones and a good majority of Apple and Windows phones. Apple only has their own phones. Unless they create an Android version, they will never be a good enough. Since they currently don’t advertise through this app, they also won’t have the same budget to fund it. Netscape Navigator put up a better fight.

  • avatar

    I’m not really sure why a Google Maps clone needs to be built from the ground up by Apple, but Google isn’t exactly the most scrupulous company when it comes to data collection, usage, and security. Apple can’t be any worse, can they?

    • 0 avatar

      Google is an advertising company, Apple isn’t. Google collects user data and sells it to advertisers, Apple doesn’t.

      • 0 avatar

        Once your company has acquired the data, will the shareholders and executives resist the urge to sell it? or to use it for their own advertising platform?

        This is what matters. Google was once just a search engine company that placed ads for vendors. Now they have unique tracking mechanisms for everyone who uses their platform or other platforms that host google ads or analytics.

        Scope creep comes at you fast.

    • 0 avatar

      The danger is that Google might ‘read’ a text message from your wife asking you to bring some milk home then Google maps might route you past a store and remind you to get some milk. Hard to imagine a more gross invasion of your privacy.

      We already have situations where gmail ‘reads’ your emails and puts things like flights and meetings into your calendar, then prompts you to set off early because the traffic on your route is worse than usual. It’s pure evil.

  • avatar

    I use my iPhone with CarPlay, and Apple Maps/ Siri is a match made in hell. In addition to the occasionally incorrect directions, Siri has unacceptably awful with the voice recognition. Sometimes she’ll not understand a clearly spoken request, and others she’ll pick a hilariously incorrect destination.

    A couple of the worst:
    NC Zoo – “Save a Gato Cat Sanctuary, San Juan Puerto Rico”. How she was going to tell me how to drive there I’m not sure.
    Park West 15 Cinema (15 minutes away in Morrisville NC) – “15 Central Park West, New York City”

    I was so happy to learn they’ll allow Google Maps use for the next version of i OS / CarPlay

  • avatar

    This is why I use paper maps! And a SEXTANT!

    Now stay off my lawn!

    • 0 avatar

      I use a Suunto compass and a paper map. For driving I write up pacenotes into a Dakar Rally style roadbook. Sorry, I’m only crossing your lawn on my MV Agusta Turismo Veloce Lusso SCS, ’cause it’s a shortcut that’ll save me several minutes!

  • avatar

    I was outside doing some work about 2 weeks ago and noticed something weird looking droving down the road. I ran out to the bottom of our driveway and discovered it was a white Transit Connect with a camera rig on the roof, and Apple Maps printed on the side.

    I had no idea Apple Maps was even still a thing. But apparently it does still exist and they’re spending money on it now.

  • avatar

    Interesting article about what and how Apple is doing, here:

  • avatar

    Garmin is still my favorite. Google is easier because it’s on my phone. Why doesn’t Apple just buy Garmin?

  • avatar

    Billions and billions of dollars in their coffers, and yet they (and I mean other Silicon Valley tech companies too) have the gall to just sit on that cash instead of having proper regional data gathering!? Seems they only care about consumers in the SF bay area, maybe later on the largest US cities and London. The rest barely exist to them, they rake in billions from those other places and yet don’t even bother to have basically _any_ staff there to actually build up reliable info services! I mean yellow pages in the 1960’s had more detailed and pertinent information than Apple Maps! They have hardly any businesses in there, and if I’d like to add my company’s info it’s a nightmare to even try to do that! And the stuff that I am able to add is stone-age stuff, barely anything.

    Plus, sure they have some kind of liability issues that they’re afraid of, but come on: speed camera warnings are completely legal in most countries! Tomtom and Garmin etc. have speed camera warnings so why not the ‘super advanced’ companies like Apple?

    Waze and other companies before that have _proven_ that user-generated data for those and mobile speed traps work really well! So just put an ‘open source’ safety warnings feature or whatever you want to call it into maps, STAT!!

    (I’m tired of my iPhone connection to my BMW failing every once in a while after I turn on Waze. There’s something about the way Waze works that cuts off my music and sometimes completely messes up the connection for good, only restoring any phone-to-car functionality after the car has been parked long enough to reset itself. Fortunately I’m getting a new software update in a week which might fix this.)

  • avatar

    “… Seems they only care about consumers in the SF bay area, maybe later on the largest US cities and London.”

    I just did 5,500 miles through the western US in an old British sports car. Google Maps had every small town from SF to Belfield, ND, mapped and the maps were correct, to the extent I drove many of the streets.

    NFI. I was a techie for 35 years and I was astounded at the thoroughness and accuracy of Maps.

  • avatar

    I use Apple Maps for navigation almost exclusively. I go to Google Maps only for street view.
    I haven’t had any major issues in the past couple of years. Other people in my family use Google Maps, we often compare estimates and routes and Google doesn’t tend to do any better than Apple with directions or traffic.

    Google also has its issues. 3 years ago I lived at a place along a major road in a major city that was correctly located in Apple Maps but was placed 2 blocks away in Google Maps. I found it out from frustrated food delivery people.
    Google also didn’t correctly locate our family cabin for a couple of years after the township changed the house numberings on the street. Apple fixed the location several months earlier.

  • avatar

    I generally use Waze but also use Google and Apple Maps. Apple Maps is really good if you are iPhone user because how it is integrated into the system. IE: it can sync calendar events and contact information. What Google does really well is telling you which lane you need to be in, IE: use the 2 left lanes to exit onto highway X. I’ve had Waze send me in circles, it seems to struggle in the “last mile” part of routing you. However Waze is superior in terms of traffic, police and accidents due to the user reporting, but you do have to deal with the pop-up ads. Google does some similar stuff as it offers “suggestions” which are just ads too. Apple doesn’t do this because that isn’t their business model. I’ve never had Apple Maps steer me wrong, but I do find that Waze and Google are better at getting me from place A to B quickly. In the end I think its really just a matter of convenience, comfort and confidence in which one you prefer. So I’m glad there are choices.

  • avatar

    I typically use Google Maps, and occasionally Waze, and last week, I installed the first iOS 12 public beta, and it had a negative effect on both Google Maps and Apple Maps. On Saturday afternoon, I was going from our suburb to a house in a neighboring one, taking one of my kids to a birthday party and sleepover. Both apps could find the address, but were completely clueless about how to get there. Google Maps could only manage “toward” a certain road, and the pointer showed me at certain points being out in the middle of undeveloped land instead on the road, and actually took me in the wrong direction. I ended up just finding the address in Apple Maps, and then manually finding my way there using the map.

    I spent the evening reinstalling iOS 11.4 and reverting to the archived backup I’d made before upgrading. Yesterday, I went back to the same address using Google Maps, and with iOS 11.4 it was on the money. I learned my lesson about iOS beta releases.

  • avatar

    One issue I’ve noticed with Google Maps is that it wants to take you on the straightest, shortest route by default, even if it means putting you on two-lane roads (like Farm-to-Market roads here in Texas). It may be the shortest route, but you end up on a route with few gas stations or other places to stop, because you’re in the middle of nowhere. Google Maps needs a little more intelligence in that regard.

  • avatar

    Just from a seat-of-the-pants observation, I’d agree that Google has put out more effort. I’ve seen Google Maps cars on several occasions over the years, usually Subaru Imprezas, but it’s only recently (last February) that I saw an Apple Maps car for the first time, a Ford Transit Connect, driving around in our neighborhood. It had a lot more gear on the roof than a Google Maps car (I managed to snap a couple of pictures of it).

  • avatar

    Samsung phones allow you to split your screen and run 2 apps at the same time. Thus Google maps for directions and Waze for the speed traps.

  • avatar

    An interesting story about Apple Maps vs. Google Maps:

    Crying dire wolf: The state of Apple Maps

  • avatar

    An interesting story about Apple Maps vs. Google Maps, with lots of links to other stories on this topic:

    Crying dire wolf: The state of Apple Maps

    I live in the middle-of-nowhere Wisconsin on a dead end rural road, and was surprised to see an Apple Maps van drive by last month…

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