Google’s New Maps Shows Apple How It’s Done

The launch of Apple Maps was not one of Cupertino’s finer moments. Fortunately for iOS users–and Apple, actually–Google’s come back into the iWorld with an iOS 6 compatible app.

Google Maps IconAside from the revelation a few days ago that Apple Maps turns out to be a good tool for getting yourself lost in Australia, things have been quiet on the Apple-embarrassment front lately. Personally, I found the service in Japan, where I’m based, to be acceptably accurate. But it’s nowhere near as accurate as the updated Google Maps.

To test the accuracy of each, I simply turned them both on and noted how close they came to pinpointing my actual location. They both showed me at the same point, which was roughly 10 meters from where I actually was, but I’m in a building with poor cell phone reception. Outdoors both found my exact whereabouts, but Google Maps was instantaneous where Apple’s still took a few seconds.

The real difference, though, was the level of detail. Japan is notoriously difficult for would-be foreign navigators. To start with, many streets have numbers instead of names, and the numbers are assigned in the order in which the streets were built. Plus, few have signs, which makes things all the more confusing. So most people navigate by landmarks: turn left two streets after the 7-11, etc. The lack of detail in Apple Maps makes it next to useless in this regard. You simply cannot tell if you’re on course or not.

In contrast, Google Maps shows pretty much every shop on a street, English in many cases. It even manages to pull an accurate address when you press on the location for a couple of seconds. Given the idiosyncratic nature of Japan’s address system, that’s no small feat.

Finally, there’s the turn-by-turn navigation. I migrated to Apple from Android, which already had turn-by-turn, but the navigation capability of my Android device (an aging Pantech) was terrible. It was simply too inaccurate to use. Google’s the new app has functioned perfectly. It doesn’t know all my shortcuts, but it gets me to and from work in rural Japan–precisely the sort of location that Apple Maps has struggled with in its brief and tumultuous existence.