Apple Maps is one of a handful of apps (including Music and News) that benefits from a more colorful and legible design in iOS 10. And while Apple is quick to promote the new extensions and features like added pit stops (which Google Maps added months ago), questions still remain as to whether iPhone users can rely on Apple's app for direction assistance.
Given that Apple Maps gave me directions to Central Park, Washington, when I just wanted to get to the nearby Central Park in New York City, I have my doubts. To find out which app you should trust, we pitted Maps from the iOS 10 public beta 2 on an iPhone 6 Plus against Google Maps on a Samsung Galaxy Note 5.
Google Maps, the long-standing king of the mountain, offers a tried-and-true interface that is easy to use, but Apple Maps earns points for how much it offers in its launch screen. Apple Maps presents data with bigger text and larger buttons, though Google Maps' dense layout isn't bad. The two use similarly clean interfaces to present directions while you're driving, and there's no clean winner there.
Apple Maps' best design feature is that the app is so well-tied to your calendar that if you have an upcoming appointment, it will present the appointment's destination when you launch the app. I'm not sure why Google can't offer the same perk-and-pull information from Google Calendar, but Apple saves me at least a few taps in these circumstances.
Google Maps and Apple Maps present a similar amount of information regarding nearby recommendations, but Apple does it in a cleaner way. Apple Maps presents colorful icons — including utensils (for food), a gas station pump (for transportation) and a heart with pulse readout (for health) — that are slightly easier to read and to tap than Google's more-condensed, black-and-white icons.
We also like another little touch that Apple Maps adds: a small weather icon in the bottom right corner that informs you of the conditions and temperature of the area you're viewing. When you're plotting to go somewhere, this can help you decide if you need to layer up or down, and if you'll want to walk or use a car.
Winner: Apple Maps. It's amazing what a clean interface, friendly buttons and relevant information can do.
Both Apple Maps and Google Maps can receive directions from your desktop, a useful feature when you plot your journey in advance. Google Maps sends those routes from its website in browsers, and Apple Maps sends them through the share widget in the app's desktop equivalent.
While both Apple Maps and Google Maps allow you to share your current location via email, text and other apps, it's slightly easier to do this on Apple Maps, where you get a share button by simply tapping on the blue dot that represents your location. On Google Maps, you need to hold down on a location to drop a marker pin in order to share a location, which is how Apple Maps works when sharing locations other than where you are currently located.
Something funny happens when you send your location from Apple Maps to a PC or Android device. Since those devices don't have Apple Maps and Apple doesn't have a web version of the service, clicking on those links opens the location in Google Maps. This is a clever move on Apple's part, but I'd rather it not rely on another service.
Winner: Google Maps. While both run well, Google is doing Apple's work for it when it comes to inter-platform sharing.
Ease of Use
While both Apple Maps and Google Maps allow you to get directions for pit stops during your trip, only Google Maps allows you to create multistop trips. Google's app also allows you to share directions via a handful of apps, while trips plotted on Apple Maps can't move from your device.
The preloaded calendar apps on the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and iPhone 6 Plus we tested were integrated with Google Maps and Apple Maps, respectively, and each sends reminders for upcoming appointments. Apple Maps won some points here, though, because Apple Calendars sends alerts based on the estimated transit time, while the Samsung/Google notification occurred based only on the reminder setting in the appointment.
Winner: Google Maps. Not only are your rides easier to edit, but they can also be shared if you need to show others the best route.
Apple Maps failed a major evaluation during testing. When I asked Google Now to show me how to get to Central Park, it knew based on my NYC location that I wanted to go to the famed park in the middle of Manhattan. Apple Maps, though, gave me directions to the city of Central Park in Washington state when I asked Siri the same query.
While both Apple Maps and Google Maps gave me solid directions for how to get home, Apple Maps hit another bump in the road when I asked it to "show me how to get to the nearest barbecue restaurant." Google Maps suggested the nearby Hill Country Barbecue, a solid recommendation. Apple Maps told me to go to Yakiniku Futago, an upscale Japanese restaurant that lists itself as a barbecue restaurant but doesn't actually serve BBQ.
When I asked Siri and Google Now to "show me how to get to the Met," Google Maps guessed (correctly) that I was asking for help to get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Siri, ever curious, responded with the question "Directions to where?"
Winner: Google Maps. It won't send me on a wild goose chase, which Apple Maps still does.
In its current, beta form, Apple Maps doesn't allow you to access the third-party-extensions that would enable you to summon a ride from Uber or Lyft or make restaurant reservations via OpenTable. However, that functionality is expected in the fall. Google Maps users can currently pull off both tricks, except they can hail only Uber, not Lyft.
However, Apple Maps has a greater potential to engage with other platforms. For example, Pokémon Go could flag Pokéstops and other important locations, and you could buy tickets to a movie playing at a nearby theater through Fandango.
Google, on the other hand, hasn't shown any plans to expand beyond its Uber, Zagat and OpenTable integrations.
Winner: Tie. Until we see Apple Maps get a ton of extensions, it's matched by Google Maps.
This has long been the missing piece in the Apple Maps machine, but Apple added directions using subways, busses, light-rails and more in iOS 9. While Apple Maps is better at giving directions to stations, Google Maps is getting smarter about helping you avoid delays.
When Apple Maps gives you directions to a public transportation station, the app knows enough about that station to tell you which entrance to use. This is great when some entrances allow access only to uptown or downtown service, for example. Google Maps just sends you to its general location for the stop, and leaves the rest up to you. Apple Maps' public transit directions are also more granular, informing you of which entrance or exit is optimal.
Google Maps isn't slouching in this area, as it's currently testing notifications for mass-transit delays. Users will soon be able to set Google Maps to alert them if there are reported delays or modifications on the subway lines of their choice. This feature is currently only in testing, but it seems like the kind of option we'd like to see roll out to all users.
Winner: Tie. Both apps can save you time, with neither holding a significant lead.
While Apple worked to get public transit directions onto its devices, Google Maps became a savvy option for cyclists. Not only does Google Maps offer directions based on cyclist-friendly routes, but a Biking map option highlights green lanes that cars are supposed to stay out of.
Winner: Google Maps. Hopefully, Apple Maps learns about two-wheeled transportation in iOS 11.
Overall Winner: Google Maps, 6-3
Apple Maps is adding new tricks, but it still needs to fix its core competence in directions. What use are a pretty design and extensions to other apps when Apple Maps sends you around the country instead of uptown? At the same time, we'd like to see Google Maps sharpen its public transit tools.