Maps Issues… aka “Hey Apple, welcome to the club…”

So, there’s been a lot of discussion on the problems with Apple’s new mapping system.  They did a lot of good work getting the app up and working, and it is a promising app for the future, but it wasn’t quite ready for prime-time in any but the most populous cities.  So, what’s the problem and what are the alternatives? I think the Apple Maps app was built to facilitate those who want both directions and turn-by-turn directions (aka a “how to get there” approach) while neglecting those who used maps to find a building or certain place (a “where is this place” approach).

Well, consider the image below:

The first pane is Apple’s mapping system.  Looking for the University of Virginia’s library (Alderman) gives no results (poor students relying on their iPhone).  But wait, there’s more! The second pane is the MapQuest app.  It provides about as much data on the map-level as Apple and has been on the app store for years, but it still doesn’t find Alderman.  It does correctly identify the public library.  So, fire up Safari and head to Google Maps (last pane), and you correctly get Alderman.  Now, there are also Bing maps, but we’ll get to that later….

Now, suppose you’re just visiting UVA and want directions here.  You fire up Apple maps and search for uva:

Hmm, good luck getting there by car if you’re in the US.

Now, let’s look back at my alma mater, William and Mary.  A few years ago the school bought the old Williamsburg hospital location, tore down the building and built a brand-new School of Education in the space. But, for some reason, they must have re-torn down the ed school and rebuilt the hospital?

Okay, I’ll assume they didn’t re-re-locate the hospital and that the map is at least 5 years old.  Apple’s map data really needs to be updated. And SOON.

Now, I have to say that Apple did a really good job with the mapping solution and that it provides great promise, even if it’s not quite there yet.  Why do I say this?  Well, the map interaction is much smoother than the previous implementation of Google maps.  Also, the street names are much more readable than previously.  Most of all, it’s clear that they spent more time fixing up more populated areas, but neglected most of the country before the release.  For example, VCU is one of the largest public universities in the state of VA and in downtown Richmond.  Want to see buildings? No problem! However, move over to the second-oldest school in the nation (W&M) and you can’t even seem to tell it’s there:

William and Mary (left) vs VCU (right)

Also, the level of detail is pretty awesome in the biggest market, such as NYC:

So, I think Apple maps will be an amazing system once it matures, but this release does seem to be a bit premature in all but the most populous cities.  With all the publicity that has been generated around the release, hopefully we’ll see a much more rapid development of the mapping system than any other app available on the iPhone.  Especially with such a large user base that is being forced to make the switch when upgrading to the latest version of iOS.

This whole situation shows the power and reach of Google and its data.  Google maps is unmatched by any other system that I’ve seen yet.  Remember I said I’d return to Bing?  Well, I wanted to check it as well, so I fired up Safari and moseyed over to maps.bing.com to give it a shot.  Well, I couldn’t seem to get out of Seattle!  Every time I searched for Alderman Library, it would reset to a map image of Seattle, WA, with no search results.  An iPad saved me, and I was able to search for the library:

So, bing saved the day.  However, if you’re a student at UVA, you’ll know that the library is really at the red x below:

You can say all you want about how bad Apple Maps are, but remember, everyone seems to be on a catch-up path with Google Maps.  I don’t know what pace that will take now that more and more mobile devices are not using Google Maps anymore.  Thoughts to ponder…

For directions, I’ll make quick use of Apple Maps.  To actually find a place, I’ll likely switch over to Safari and Google Maps. At least for now…

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