After trying out Apple’s Maps app in the iOS 6 beta, I wasn’t able to test the built-in turn-by-turn navigation in an office setting. I decided to test Apple Maps’ turn-by-turn directions against Google Navigation during a recent drive.
In iOS 5, the Google-supported Maps app doesn’t contain turn-by-turn navigation so Apple is playing catch up with its upcoming release. Maps in iOS 6 could become a contender against Google Navigation because both will be first party applications.
This is an impression of Apple Maps’ directions because iOS 6 is still in beta and aspects of the app could change before the official launch.
Here’s how each app fared during its turn-by-turn test.
I used an iPhone 4S, with the iOS 6 beta running AT&T’s 4G network, against a HTC Thunderbolt with stock Android 2.3 Gingerbread. Since the Android phone is normally running on Verizon’s 4G LTE network, I switched the connection to 3G to get a comparable signal between devices.
I also installed My Data Manager to estimate data usage during the test. I drove from Berkeley, CA to Millbrae, CA, resulting in a 23.6 mile drive through San Francisco.
It’s an easy drive on the highway, but includes on-ramps, exits, and merging highways. This drive also allowed both apps to pull data without encountering interference from buildings.
Apple Maps navigation works, kind of. The app showed directions simplistically, but Siri quickly became annoying and I had to mute the sound. It also crashed if the iPhone was placed in landscape mode (which is likely a bug).
I think the most irritating part of Apple Maps is the actual directions. The billboard sign placed at the top of the screen covered too much of the screen. The perspective of the map also didn’t allow you to see very far ahead. Google Navigation’s perspective displayed from a lower angle so it was possible to see a wide area along with the suggested route.
Maps also didn’t let you explore upcoming areas like Google Navigation. The screen was locked into directions, and swiping the screen didn’t do anything to fix that. Sometimes it was helpful to see upcoming roads, but maybe Apple disabled the option for safety.
I’m sure that Apple wanted you to allow Siri to give audio directions, but audio notifications were delayed. I’m used to being given a heads up at least a couple miles before an exit, but Apple Maps notified me about a mile before I was supposed leave the freeway. On a busy road, this doesn’t give you a lot of time to switch lanes.
Google Navigation pointed out almost every street and also upcoming turns. Apple Maps didn’t give a lot of warning overall. The crowdsourced traffic that Apple announced also doesn’t currently function so it wasn’t possible to layer traffic in the map.
The app contained the simplicity that I mentioned in my original impression of Maps. There’s not yet enough information available for locations outside of San Francisco though. It was also strange to see Apple Maps point out different businesses at random times.
With 3D toggled, the driving map looked interesting, but there’s still a lack of information on things like streets or points of reference.
Apple Maps also didn’t take traffic into consideration with the estimated time of arrival. It gave an estimated time, but when I was stuck in traffic, it kept the original time, while Google Navigation gave a different estimate.
Apple Maps impressed with the smoothness of the animation as the GPS kept track of my car when driving the suggested route. Google Navigation kept a good pace too, but occasionally played location catch-up.
Maps did have problems with rerouting, suggesting new turns after I had passed them. Google Navigation also encounters this problem from time to time however.
After I arrived in Millbrae, I opened My Data Manager and found that both iOS and Android used about 6 MB of data during the drive. Google Navigator presented more information and used the same amount of data as Apple.
If Apple adds more visual information like street names and smaller details, will extra detail consume more data? It’s hard to tell right now, but with standard data plans, every MB counts.
Apple Maps is simple
Apple Maps reminded me of receiving directions from a friend.
It was simple and didn’t present a lot of distractions, focusing on a point A to point B approach. I do think the app was a little too simple for the consumer. Even considering people who use standalone GPS devices, Apple Maps still should have included more relevant driving information like street names.
I assume that Apple Maps will always be streamlined and only show more information when manually searched. Apple Maps was decent as a turn-by turn service in beta, but I think most people will simply end up using the app because it’s included on later devices.
My original thought was Apple Maps could deliver a more useful experience with Siri and TomTom, but I didn’t find that in my hands-on.