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Apple Maps & the long road back

I had planned to write a short piece ridiculing iOS’s default mapping app.

The title? “Rural iPhone users should avoid Apple Maps.” I assumed that Apple couldn’t match Google’s ability to collect and crunch location data. Google Maps (I was certain) was superior—boasting faster routes, newer maps, and more accurate business listings.

I’d even identified the perfect test case. The West Virginia Division of Highways just opened a five-mile stretch of highway near our home in the Potomac Highlands. “Surely,” I thought, “Google will incorporate this new route before Apple.” Apple would ignore our remote swath of rural Appalachia, focusing its limited efforts on population-dense urban areas instead.

I was wrong. Firing up both apps on my iPhone last night, I was surprised to find that Apple had discovered the new four-lane stretch before Google. In the side-by-side comparison below, Apple Maps (on the left) correctly routes me to the north, onto the recently-completed US-48. Google Maps (on the right) steers me south, apparently unaware of the newly-opened section.

Apple and Google Maps
Apple (left) and Google (right) route around the Mount Storm Power Plant in West Virginia.

Can one Apple Maps victory woo me away from Google? Probably not; Google still boasts newer satellite imagery and slightly better point-of-interest data for our area. Plus, this correct route may not reflect any intensified mapping efforts on Apple’s part; the update might have come from partner TomTom (whose route planner also shows the change).

Still, at the very least, Apple’s no longer a punchline in the navigation space. I’m intrigued enough that I’ll continue to compare the two services’ results—instead of automatically defaulting to the Goog.