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Consumer Reports: Apple's Maps not that bad after all

updated 10:12 pm EDT, Fri September 28, 2012

Testing limited to New York City area, however

Testing and recommendation magazine Consumer Reports has taken a closer look at Apple's Maps and compared it more closely with Google's Android Maps, specifically testing navigation features for driving. While initially condemning Apple's Maps as inferior last week, the more "thoroughly tested" Apple Maps has now been deemed to hold up well, though not quite up to the Google standard. Both, said CR writer Jeff Bartlett, "provide clear routing directions" that "route effectively, providing clear guidance and great points-of-interest integration."

It should be noted that Bartlett tested both products only in the New York City area. Outside major metropolitan areas, Apple's Maps in particular (though Google's maps are not exempt from issues) have been lambasted for inaccurate location data, missing information, cloudy satellite picture (completely obscuring the UK town of Colchester, for example) and the dropping of transit directions. Apple CEO Tim Cook earlier today issued an apology for the inconvenience caused to customers as Apple scrambles to correct issues and build out a mapping system that can fully compete with Google.

Consumer Reports' revised opinion reflects many reports seen mostly in comments on various stories about Apple Maps; for many in some areas (particularly cities and towns in North America), the program is working on the same level as the older Google-based Maps used to, albeit without Street View or transit directions. Quick tests various cities in Canada and the US by MacNN found that driving directions, like those tested by the magazine, still gives the edge to Google Maps but worked properly in all the areas tested.

While saying that both free services "lacks some of the features and integration found in dedicated portable navigators and other navigation apps from Garmin, Navigon and TomTom," Bartlett found that voice navigation between Apple and Google's mapping apps worked equally well. He added that traffic data was consistent and that signage and other graphic elements were on par between the rival services.

The Android phone used for testing was a Samsung Galaxy S III running version 4.0.4, with the magazine saying at the end of the tests that "Google provides a better overall package, but we feel that both provide a good solution for standard software." Apple Maps, while praised for impressing the staff with the "interface, results, signage and points of interest info" was dinged for not having as much "customization throughout" as Google -- but this was qualified as being "a mixed blessing while driving, where distractions can be dangerous. Google comes across as more business-like and less fun."

The report blamed the poor first impression rating it gave Apple Maps on having expected it to surpass dedicated GPS units and "match the state of the art and perhaps surpass it" which Bartlett says "it does not." However, he pointed out that "the large display for next-turn information (which looks like a familiar green-and-white highway-sign) is easy to read at a glance, and it compensates for a map design that is harder to interpret than that on Android."

Bartlett also pointed out that the 3D and "Flyover" features, while "rather intriguing representations that bring a map to life" are nonetheless a "novelty feature, not a component of navigation." Google has said it is adding a similar 45-degree overhead view to compete with Flyover. [via Consumer Reports]

by MacNN Staff



  1. Zanziboy

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 08-27-08

    Surprise, surprise! Much of the criticism has been generated by paid bloggers for Samsung and Nokia.

  1. namenotfound

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 01-28-10

    Yes, if Apple called it Apple Nav I would agree, it's pretty good.

    The issue with replacing Google Maps (and Mapkit) with Apple Maps is the loss of real functions real people actually used, like a decent POI database, street view, and transportation schedules. The dataset Apple is now using is years if not decades out of date. Street view has been replaced with Sky view, not helpful for us driving cars.

  1. Elmo151

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 09-23-09

    what I find missing are instructions for walking and public transportation. Both of which I rely on.

    I also think their route planning tries to minimize distance. This most definitely does not minimize time in transit.

  1. aepple

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 07-26-06

    i just tested mine in my area so i would know how good or how bad directions would be and i continuously made wrong turns. It worked perfect and FAST with recalculating my route, i was impress with the speed of re-routing.

  1. cgc

    Professional Poster

    Joined: 03-25-03

    Originally Posted by ZanziboyView Post

    Surprise, surprise! Much of the criticism has been generated by paid bloggers for Samsung and Nokia.

    Could you cite a source?

  1. Zanziboy

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 08-27-08

    It's a known fact that Samsung are famous for using paid bloggers (and paid "journalists") to cover news in the tech industry. Some people at Samsung refer to these people as "Samsung Mobilers".
    See the UK's Guardian or Daily Mail

    The organization tries to work in the background, but I uncovered a little controversy myself. When the new Apple iPhone 5 Geekbench benchmarks were leaked to the Internet, suddenly there were hundreds of faked Samsung Galaxy S III benchmarks posted to Geekbench to make the Galaxy S III appear faster even though none of the benchmarks could be reproduced on an actual phone. The work by the bloggers brought the "average" Galaxy S III benchmark up by over 20% in 48 hours. The fake information in the benchmark database caused some websites to publish erroneous articles claiming the iPhone 5 was slower than the Galaxy S III. It was only after journalists decided to test the phones themselves (rather than relying on the Geekbench database) that the controversy was resolved.

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    I've been chatting with friends around the US and Canada and most of us haven't seen a significant downgrade -- though I'm not counting the loss of transit directions* and Street View.

    In terms of driving from one place to another, all I see is IMPROVEMENT over Google Maps in terms of readability and utility. I'm not questioning, however, reports that some areas have old or outdated (or just plain inadequate) info.

    For the biggest cities, there are already existing transit apps that users preferred anyway (SF, NYC, DC, etc). I still think not having the transit directions was a serious misstep, though.

    For those of us who have our own vehicles and live in North America this seems mostly like much ado about little -- particularly when one remembers that Apple has been made aware of the issues and will likely fix them up in due course. I remember VERY WELL the number of times Google Maps crossed me up ... they ain't perfect either ... and I can recall how inadequate it was as a mapping solution when it first came out for the iPhone.

    Personally, I think we have the best of all worlds at the moment. Don't like Apple Maps? Use the Bing Maps app. Or the Nokia maps app. Or Google Maps' web app. Competition, as I've said numerous times here, is a Good Thing for all parties.

  1. pairof9s

    Senior User

    Joined: 01-03-08

    I used Apple Maps this past weekend to navigate out-of-state to an Atlanta event. It accomplished this very well, including providing an alternative route upon coming on a traffic jam. The rerouting function was indeed very fast, as someone else noted. This has also been the case for other small navs to more regional locations for me in northern SC and southern NC. So as a nav app, it seems to be quite functional.

    Nonetheless, the loss of public transit and street views is a major shortcoming. So I consider Apple Maps to be 60% as functional as Google Maps. But since Google seems to have no ambition to help iOS users, alternatives seem to be the requirement (sorry, not a believer in using the web Google Maps). In the end, I feel both Apple and Google have failed their customers with their quite public pissing contest!

  1. devopro

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 11-24-10

    There have been 6 generations of the iphone so I feel the complainers expected an app that had gone through 6 iterations.
    For a first gen app it's really good. does anyone remember how poor google maps was or how ridiculously slow it was? I've been in China since the first iphone was released and google maps didn't even really get going here until 2011. The only time I actually tried to use google maps was in 2010 to find a local business and the map overlay was about 1km off from the satellite image. That didn't change until a few months ago.
    I'm sure google maps is much better in areas google can make more advertising dollars.

    Apple didn't have to include a map app at all in iOS 6 (there's lots of free and pay nav apps), they did it as a courtesy.

  1. Athens

    Addicted to MacNN

    Joined: 01-15-03

    The only thing I would like to see in the new map software on iOS 6 is the ability to edit and correct or add items. If a gas station shows up one road to soon, I would like to be able to hit edit, move pin, submit correction, done. If a store is not listed I would like to be able to add it. A check in feature would be nice that linked back to Facebook or 4squares built right into the maps too.

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