Maps on iOS6: Pretty good around here

With the removal of Google apps from iOS, Apple had to find alternate data sources for their mapping application. Although they have data from over 10 different sources, their data has been found to be inferior to that of Google. Let’s look at why.

Data Inaccuracies

While TomTom and Yelp (the two biggest data sources in Apple Maps) are huge in the GPS and business location industries, TomTom usage is actually quite low when compared to the number of smartphone users on Google Maps. Yelp location data can often be innaccurate. They may have large data accumulated, but their location data can be ‘off’ and in the past it didn’t matter. Why? Because Google already had the location info and people only wanted Yelp for the reviews. Now the location data matters.

“So what!” people keep saying. Apple should have perfected this data before forcefully switching their users to an inferior product. I believe this argument is invalid. As easy as it is for us to say that, think about how  impossible that action actually is: it’s a chicken and egg scenario.

The accuracy of global location and mapping data is almost entirely dependent upon its users; this is the only reason Google’s mapping data is so accurate after 7 years of public consumption. If your data comes from a source where there are less users than your competitor, then you’re going to end up with less accurate data. According to TomTom’s Map Share service website (for reporting inaccuracies in maps), they currently have about 20,000,000 registered users. Engadget tells us that in 2011, Google reported 150,000,000 users. In terms of unanalyzed numbers, Google already has 7.5x the number of users who can report map discrepancies.

While I don’t have hard data to support the following assumption, I think it’s a safe bet to assume that the majority of Google Maps users use maps on an Internet connected device where it’s easy to report discrepancies (computer, smartphone or tablet). On the other hand I would guess that the majority of TomTom users are using a TomTom device in their car that is not connected to the Internet, meaning those users will need to either whip out their phone, head to the TomTom website, login and report the issue, or remember the issue, wait to get home to their computer, then report the problem there. Either way, it’s much more difficult for the average user to report a TomTom mapping data issue than it is for users of Google Maps and because of this, there is likely to be more user-reported mapping errors on Google Maps than there has been on the TomTom database.

If this hasn’t highlighted the issue yet, then let me spell it out. Google’s data has had 7 years of a minimum of 7 times the number of users reporting data in a simple manner. TomTom has not benefited from the same arrangement and they never would have if Apple had not pushed out TomTom powered maps to their users and asked them to do the same for them that they did for Google over the past seven years: help us out! Because the source of accurate mapping data comes from its users, it would have been impossible for Apple to obtain the same level of data accuracy as Google without first launching a potentially inferior product to its customers for them to help improve.

Transit directions removed? How ever will I find my way without Google?

Have we really become that dependant on core apps? 3rd party apps have been available for the majority of the life of the iPhone and all of the life of Windows Phone and Android. There are dozens of transit apps on the App Store and yet the only one people think they can use is Apple’s Maps app? I don’t think so.

I remember when the App Store first launched in iOS 2 after months (a year?) of jailbroken apps being the only way to get anything other than the stock Apple applications. In those days, 3rd party apps were king; everyone wanted an app that did things better than the built-in Apple apps. I also remember when Apple was blocking apps because they were too similar to existing Apple-created applications and the outrage people expressed towards this level of control over their apps. Yet when Apple tries to open up channels for competition, for better data, for better apps, it’s a bad thing? Sounds like we’re all hypocrites.

After examining and using a number of 3rd party apps for transit, I found them to be considerably better at transit directions than Google. For example, the Hop Stop app is well-designed and extremely accurate both in Halifax and Vancouter (according to a friend now living there). I’ve used the Red Rocket app every time I’m in Toronto and it is orders of magnitude better than Google’s Transit directions.

How have we become so dependant on Google that we can’t stop for a second and think to load a different app that finds more accurate directions in less time? Whatever happened to the expression of freedom that comes from using 3rd party apps? Do we simply reserve that judgement only for Apple and not for Google? I hope not, but it certainly seems that way from the way the media and users of iOS6 are presenting this ‘issue’.

It’s turned into a problem of convenience; we prefer convenience over quality and we’re OK with that as long as it comes from Google and not a company like Apple.

StreetView no longer

Here is where we get to the one legitimate complaint. The only way to get StreetView is by using Google Maps. They’re the only ones (I know of) who sent vehicles around to every city in North America to take pictures of streets for their maps and because of this, it’s likely that we will never see this in Apple’s maps app.

I’m sure we’ll get a Google Maps app soon for those who absolutely must have StreetView, however until then there is no replacement aside from Google’s slow web app.

Location Dependant

Let’s not rush to any rash conclusions just because some people, in a sea of 7 billion, are finding problems with Apple’s new Maps. When I first heard of these issues, I had already updated to iOS6 and I happened to be near someone who had not yet updated here in downtown Halifax. To judge whether or not she should upgrade, we both launched the maps app and compared results. Not only did she find that Maps on iOS6 had at least equivalent data points for the downtown area of Halifax, but tapping on them revealed considerably more useful information (thanks Yelp!)

Obviously these results vary depending upon location. I suspect due to the size of larger cities like NYC and San Francisco (which are the homes to pretty much every tech reporter in the US) the results are less consistent. But here’s the thing: now that Tom Tom mapping reports are built in to iOS, the data being shown will only improve. Not only that, it should improve at a pretty rapid pace since Apple essentially just added hundreds of millions of iPhone users to the TomTom database on a device which provides easy reporting of inaccurate data.


Apple couldn’t possibly have waited to launch a better product; it simply would not have been possible. They are now waiting on us to do the same duty we provided for free to Google for the past 7 years and provide them with accurate data; why don’t you get on that rather than whine about it?

A lack of in-app transit directions opens up a great opportunity for transit app developers and allows us users to eventually have more accurate, better transit data. Let’s help them out by using their apps, rather than complaining about the lack of Google’s omnipresence that everyone seems to love.

If you’re holding back because you love StreetView, then I certainly can’t argue with that; wait until Google releases their mapping app. But if you’re holding back from updating to iOS6 because of a lack of transit or possibly innacurrate info, don’t!  The 3rd party transit apps are fabulous and Apple needs you to help report inaccuracies to make their app better.


  1. Jehaan on September 23, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    Excellently written and said!!! I will do my best to help out iOS6 for sure!!!

  2. Mark on September 23, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    interesting article

  3. Jon on September 27, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    You raise some good points about the history of google maps success, and its reliance on the free labour of its users. However, I don’t think people care that google had people improve accuracy over the last 7 years for free. That was at a time when there was really nothing better, so people were helping improve the best map available to them. A logical choice. 

    With apple maps, people are expected to help improve a second tier map (in many locations) just because of apple loyalties? It doesn’t sound as logical. Do I think people are over-reacting? Yes. You are right to say there are plenty of 3rd party apps to fill in the blanks. But I can understand their frustration. Apple is testing its consumer loyalties as it tries to diversify into markets previously dominated by google.

    • Jordan on September 28, 2012 at 2:59 pm

      I don’t disagree, but I think we can simplify the argument to the following question. Do we:

      1. Sit back and allow Google to pompously parade the (currently) only viable mapping option as they monopolize their market only after years of our help, or
      2. Stand up in defiance and help TomTom (and Apple in suit) to become a better product that could potentially dethrone the pompous Google.

      I, for one, choose option two.

      I would like to think that when we can do our part to help create/improve competition in any industry, as a democratic society, we should opt to do so for the betterment of all. This is just yet another small way we can do this and, in five years, I’d feel better if I could say I contributed in some tiny part to a better Google Maps and a better TomTom/Apple Maps (through increased competition) when everyone else was vying for Apple to simply dump them and revert back to Google’s monopoly.

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