Apple Maps could finally start to catch up to Google Maps
- Apple's redesigned Maps app is one of the biggest updates coming in iOS 13 later this year.
- But many of the new features feel like Apple playing catch up to Google Maps.
- Regardless, it's an opportunity for Apple to redefine its navigation app after its rocky launch in 2012.
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Google Maps routinely makes it into Apple's list of the year's most popular iPhone apps, and for good reason. With accurate turn-by-turn directions, features that make it easy to keep track of frequently-visited places, and up-to-date transit details, it's the gold standard of navigation apps.
But Apple's iOS 13 update will bring a slew of new capabilities to the iPhone maker's rival Maps app when it launches later this year. Apple has completely rebuilt its Maps app from the ground up, complete with an all-new map with more detailed information about the terrain - including roads, beaches, parks, and buildings. It's an effort that Apple says required it to drive four million miles with sensor-equipped vehicles.
The changes to Apple Maps are just one of several major app updates Apple announced as part of its iOS 13 update during its Worldwide Developers Conference on June 3. The company has also overhauled its Reminders app with a completely new look and a more robust set of features that make it a compelling alternative to third-party apps. And the new Photos app will be much more intelligent about the way it organises your photos, smartly sorting them into views according to day, month, and year and eliminating clutter like screenshots and blurry images.
It's a critical move for Apple as it works to shift its image from being a hardware-centric company to one that's just as renowned for its digital services. The company's big push into services, which was more heavily emphasized during its March event in which it debuted new TV, gaming, and news services, is particularly important as Apple grapples with stalling iPhone sales.
Here are all the ways Apple has improved its Maps app:
Apple's new Maps app
Apple's overhauled map may be the app's biggest change, but there are several other new features coming as well. The new version of Maps will also display a user's favourite places on the app's redesigned home screen for quicker access, and it will also let users compile lists of specific locations that can be shared with friends or family members.
Apple Maps will also finally offer its own version of Google's famous Street View feature. Called "Look Around," the new Apple feature provides a 360-degree photographic view of a location. If the feature works as well as it did during Apple's on-stage demonstration, it could potentially be even better than Google Street View - offering smoother navigation, higher resolution imagery, and labeled places that make it easy to learn more about a store or restaurant with a tap.
Apple plays catch up
Apple's new version of Maps certainly brings welcome changes, but many of the updates are features that Google Maps has long offered.
Google added Street View imagery to Google Maps more than 10 years ago back in 2007. It's been gathering Street View data for more than a decade, and it's evident when you consider the sheer breadth of coverage Street View offers.
Google Street View is available in many markets, including South Africa. Apple says its Look Around feature is based on the new base map it created, which it expects to roll out to the entire US by the end of 2019 and in select additional markets next year. That means Look Around may only be available in the US until further notice.
Apple's new Collections feature might also sound familiar to those who frequently use Google Maps. That's because the search giant launched the ability for users to compile lists of places and share them with friends back in 2017. The option to share your estimated time of arrival with a designated contact, another new feature coming in the next version of Apple Maps, is also already available in Google Maps.
With its next Maps update, Apple is realizing that people like to use navigation apps for much more than just fetching directions. Google Maps has evolved into a Yelp-like tool for discovery and exploration in recent years, as evidenced by the redesigned Explore tab it announced last year that puts nearby events and activities front and center in addition to points of interest.
The ability to create your own lists of favorite places and easily share them will certainly make Apple Maps more useful as a trip-planning app. But even so, Google Maps still offers richer data about points of interest, such as how long the wait typically is at a restaurant at certain times of day. Apple Maps displays helpful details too, such as whether or not a place accepts reservations, but alongside Google Maps it still feels a little bare-bones.
Making up for Apple Maps’ rocky start
Apple launched its Google Maps alternative nearly seven years ago in 2012 as part of its iOS 6 software update for iPhones and iPads, and faced criticism for the app's functionality almost immediately. Users complained that the map was lacking detail and was in some cases inaccurate, prompting a rare apology from CEO Tim Cook.
Apple has been hard at work redeeming its navigation app following its turbulent launch. Even though the company's redesigned map hasn't launched yet, Apple has slowly began rolling out a revised map that provides more detailed coverage to more accurately depict even seemingly minor landscape elements, like grassy areas between highways, as The Verge noted last year. Apple said to Tech Crunch in 2018 that it's been significantly investing in rebuilding its Maps app, and it looks like iOS 13 will provide a look at the culmination of those efforts.
Apple has also added several other minor enhancements to Maps over the years that makes it a more capable alternative to Google Maps, even if it's still not quite as comprehensive. In 2017, for example it brought lane guidance and expanded indoor navigation.
But iOS 13 represents a critical turning point for Apple's navigation app that could redefine its reputation. Even with this new update, Apple Maps may not have as much to offer as Google Maps. But the company's presentation at its Worldwide Developers Conference gives iPhone owners confidence that it may be able execute certain features better than Google Maps, which could prove to be more important in the long run.
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