Apple's Maps May Not Be Amazing, but Neither Are Google's

Apple's new Google-free maps are the current laughing stock of the internet. But while Google Maps might be the gold standard, it's far from perfect, as I was reminded tonight.

I was on my way to an event in East Nashville, an area I'm not terribly familiar with. If you're not familiar with the city, it's the "bad side" of town, though it's currently experiencing a renaissance, and despite its rough edges, it's home to some of the finest cooks, beer brewers, and coffee roasters in the nation.

Despite that, it's still a place where you do not want to make a wrong turn.

Google sent me on that wrong turn tonight. The good news is that my common sense prevailed, and I was able to figure out where to go.

Other than telling me the right exit, Google Maps was useless. This isn't an isolated incident, but rather the latest in years of crappy computerized directions. Google might be the best, but it's often wrong.

The old Maps app was five years old, a mobile Methuselah. It was long overdue for a rewrite.

It wasn't just archaic, it could be downright dangerous. The interface was driver hostile; no speech interface, nothing automated. It's all visual and all manual; your eyes and fingers were needed at all times, when they should have been on the steering wheel.

But to overhaul that app, they had to dump Google. This isn't just the fulfillment of the Apple/Google grudge match: Navigation is forbidden in Google Maps' terms of service. Free turn by turn navigation is a signature Android feature, and I can't blame Google for wanting it all to themselves.

Apple spent $267 million on mapping company C3 technologies alone. They also bought mapping companies Poly9 and Placebase for untold amounts. Then they had to make deals with Waze, TomTom, and Yelp, not to mention hire more people to piece it all together.

To top it off, they probably knew they wouldn't have something as good as Google at first. That's a lot of money to burn just for bad publicity.

Google's search engine is still the iOS 6 default. If Apple were going thermonuclear on Google, wouldn't search be the first thing to go? The internal politics are unknown, but all signs point to Apple's hand being forced.

Regardless of fault, it stinks for users, but the maps will get better with time. In my experience on an iPad, they've been pretty good. And I live in the backwoods of rural Tennessee. Roads seem accurate, search works just fine, navigation routes seem okay, and overall it's faster and easier to read. But your mileage may vary.

Even as I see examples of what's wrong, I see a lot that's right. Look at this comparison screenshot of LSU. Yes, Apple's maps are missing the building names, but Google's maps are missing a ton of street names. Where's Dalrymple Dr or Powerhouse Ln? Maybe they're available if I zoom in, but the last thing I want to do is fiddle with a map while I'm driving.

For me, this story has a happy ending. I made it to the event, met some cool people, drank some good beer, and learned about a great charity with terrific design sense. Hopefully this map story has a happy ending as well, for Apple and its customers.

As for rumors of Apple holding back a Google-developed maps app: Nope.