Thursday, June 14, 2012

Apple Maps may be poor imitation of Google Maps

Apple have announced that they are to ditch Google Maps in favour of  "an entire new mapping solution", but many users may find they are getting an inferior product as Apple seeks to further wall in their garden.

Although Apple's mapping application will feature turn-by-turn directions, 'Flyover' and an improved Siri interface, the real question is how Apple's maps will compare to Google's maps.

Poor imitation

A side-by-side comparison of the two reveal that Apple's offering is a pale imitation of Google Maps. While the new mapping application has yet to be fully launched, and remains in beta, the showing on Apple's own website reveal a less informative and useful tool, compared to that provided by Google.

While Apple's maps look crisp and clean it appears almost completely devoid of useful information. Compare the side-by-side images, above, and it's clear that Google Maps gives the user more information in terms of street names, street directions, subway stops, emphasis on major streets and so on.

Apple Maps will give users turn-by-turn directions, whether walking or driving, however they have yet to announce transit directions, a feature that has been integrated in Google Maps for some time.

Reduced traffic data

For those hitting the streets in their cars, those using Apple Maps may well run into gridlock as data seems far less comprehensive than seen in Google Maps. Of course such issues may well be resolved, in time, but for Apple to launch a product that is only half-baked will likely disappoint and aggravate users who have become accustomed to the features in Google's product.

Other features such as satellite image overlays may not be used that much, but Apple's imaging is extremely poor compared to Google's. Furthermore, Apple has yet to announced any alternative to Streetview, which is a useful feature for many mobile.

Lacking features

Another feature which will also be lost to Apple Maps users will be the feature of adding favourites to their maps. Those with a Google account are able to 'star' an item found in Google Maps at their desktop. This is then synced with their mobile device, making the finding of a favourite restaurant or venue that much easier.

Google Maps is of course tied into other services provided by the search giant such as Latitude and the revamped Google Places, recently replaced by Google+ Local. Latitude is unlikely to be integrated into Apple Maps, and Apple have already announced that Yelp will provide data for restaurant reviews. That will be little use to those in many worldwide locations, since outside Canada and the US, Yelp only covers a few European countries.

Tailored for China

Even in China, where Google has certainly run into problems with the government concerning censorship, Google Maps works extremely well. It remains to be seen if navigation, reviews and search work as well on Apple's new mapping app in places like Beijing as it does on Google Maps. Apple claims that the new iOS has been tailored specifically for China. "You can now do local search even in China," says senior vice president of iOS Software at Apple Scott Forstall.

One area which may see an improvement is in terms of language input. Siri is set to be updated to incorporate voice-recognition for Cantonese and Mandarin speakers. Apple is "really improving our Chinese input method" with a better dictionary and special fonts for characters, Apple executive Craig Federighi said. While both Android and iPhones have facilitated Chinese input for some time, Google have had voice input built-in to its Android devices for several years.

Forstall claims the new operating system for the iPhone and iPad will include "an entire new mapping solution from the ground up, and it is beautiful." But aesthetics aren't everything. Usability, practicality and informative are the watchwords here. It remains to be seen if Apple Maps compares favourably to Google Maps once iOS 6 officially launches. Google may make their Maps app available through iTunes, though there is no word on this as yet.

Should such a facility not be available, it may become another excuse for people to switch to Android which now has more than 50% of the worldwide market in smartphone ownership [BBC / BBC video / Gizmodo / ZDNet / Mashable / AFP].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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