The Improvements to Apple Maps are a Big Step Forward

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For all of Apple’s great products and software, no company can lead in all areas, all the time. However, Apple has proven that, when properly motivated, they can get things into gear and play a mean game of catch-up from behind. A notable recent example of this would be in smartphone photography.

While Apple was the one of the first companies to prioritize the smartphone camera hardware and software, they eventually lost that lead to more aggressive companies like Samsung, and later Google and Huawei, over the course of a few years. However, Apple showed a willingness to invest and apply their resources to get back into the smartphone camera game in 2019. The new three lens camera systems on the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max and the improved camera app have made huge strides in computational photography, especially in low light.

While smartphone photography is a good recent example, Apple Maps is definitely the longest running game of catch-up that I’ve seen from the company. Based on what I saw over the last week, the time and effort that Apple has put in has paid off nicely.

As far as trying the new maps in Maps goes, I had a work trip to Dallas, TX last week and drove a rental car the 7 hours or so each way to and from the event. This Chevy Malibu that I ended up in had CarPlay, which I have enjoyed playing with on a few recent trips with rentals.

One thing I noticed was that the maps in Apple Maps were much more detailed than before. The POIs were more plentiful and more acccurate. The lane directions on large highways were solid. Everything was more detailed and accurate. I also noticed that traffic lights had been added to many of the roads in Dallas.

I wasn’t sure if the better maps were just available in Dallas, but then the news dropped that Apple has released its updated, more detailed maps for the entire United States. This has been more than a year-long process for the company since first rolling out a small section of the new maps in California in 2018.

The proof is in the pudding. As you can see here, Apple has a 3D model of pretty much every building in my small town, including houses.

When you consider that I live in a small suburb of Memphis, TN, it’s impressive that this level of detail reaches that far. Along those lines, I had a trip to a customer located in the booming metropolis of Cleveland, MS today. It is a small town in the Mississippi delta separated by around a 30 minute drive to the next town of any size and every direction. In other words, it’s in the middle of no where. Other than the small college and the company there I do contract work for, there isn’t much happening in Cleveland.

Despite this fact, Apple’s Maps show the same levels of detail that they do at my house.

As you can see, the building locations and the map detail are still there.

As for Google Maps, you can see above that they offer much the same level of detail in their maps. I did notice that Apple Maps offers you this detail at a lower level of zoom, which is helpful. However, I do have to point out that Apple isn’t doing anything new or groundbreaking here. This is all about them playing catch-up.

That said, when you think back to how far behind Apple was when Maps was released in 2012, you get a feel for how significant this update is. Apple hasn’t pulled even with Google yet by any stretch, but this major update represents the first time we’ve seen Apple Maps get within shouting distance.

More importantly, the work to add this new detail to the Maps was done by Apple. They now own a significant amount of their own mapping data, where they relied exclusively on partnerships just 8 years ago. That should help them to move forward faster in the future and it should also make updates easier to roll out.

The best part of this Apple Maps update is the commitment that Apple has shown to get to this point. There were plenty of people in the tech press and industry who thought they should just throw in the towel after the debacle that was the Maps release and slink back to Google with their hat in hand. Instead, after Tim Cook’s public apology, they started cleaning up their mess.

The progress was slow and steady for a few years. However, by two or three years ago, I felt like Maps was good enough to trust for directions again. After using it almost exclusively all last week, I have no issues at all using it to get around an unfamiliar major city now. I also believe that Apple is committed to Maps for the long haul.

Based on the leap forward they just made, I believe Apple can eventually challenge Google to become the best mapping platform. That’s NOT a prediction, mind you. I just think it’s possible now, where it would have been foolish to even consider just a few years ago. Such gains on the competition will take time and a commitment by Apple to keep pushing the development of Maps at the same rate they have been or faster. Google certainly isn’t going to stop working on Maps, so Apple will have to maintain a brisk pace to fully catch-up.

But for today, this Maps update is a win for Apple users. If you haven’t taken note of the new maps yet, I highly recommend that you open it up and take it for a spin. You may be surprised at how much ground Apple has covered since the last time you used Apple Maps.


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