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Apple's Maps holds its own in head-to-head driving test

updated 11:14 pm EDT, Mon October 8, 2012

Faced off against Samsung Galaxy Note, GMC Terrain car nav

While Apple's new Maps application has taken a public drubbing over early inaccuracies, graphic anomalies, mislabelled places and the loss of essential features such as transit directions and a street view, there are areas in which the app has been an improvement over the old version since day one: maps are vector based and thus cleaner and more scalable, the maps use dramatically less 3G or LTE data than before, and Apple added turn-by-turn navigation (with voice and Siri integration on the iPhone 5) for drivers.

The combination means that if the user is primarily using Maps to drive from one place to another in urban locations, the program works as advertised most of the time. Writer David Thomas from Cars.com decided to pit Apple's Maps on an iPhone 5 head-on against both Google's Maps (as seen through a Samsung Galaxy Note using Android 4.0) and his vehicle's built-in optional navigation system, the GMC Terrain. In what might be a surprise to many, the iPhone 5 held its own -- perhaps due to rapid improvements being seen on Apple's end over the last week.

The tests were primarily done in and around the greater Chicagoland area, and the results were similar to tests done in New York City by Consumer Reports. Both found that the graphics quality of the signage and maps, in particular the range displayed offline and the scalability of the maps, was best on the iPhone. Thomas said that even the seven-inch display of the Terrain was no match for the iPhone 5's four-inch screen in terms of clarity, and noted that the iPhone 5 handled sun reflection better than the Galaxy Note (which has a 5.3-inch display).

Routing was generally a non-issue on all three devices. The iPhone 5 offers multiple route choices each time, whereas the Note needed a change in settings to allow that. Car navigation systems generally ask about whether the driver is okay with toll roads, or offering routes that are the fastest. Thomas tested the routing by using an alternate route he was unfamiliar with and did have some problems, largely due to a hidden left fork that also offered a way to keep driving straight (the start of a different road). Both the iPhone and the Note were able to re-route and get him back on track within seconds, while the GMC Terrain took longer.

Thomas noted that in landscape mode, the Apple Maps' tendency for large green turn-by-turn signs would sometimes obscure the part of the map that the vehicle's "tracker" was actually in, making it hard to judge an upcoming turn if there are several street turn-offs in the same general area. Portrait mode largely alleviated this problem but was judged inferior to both the Samsung and the GMC system. Both the iPhone and Note offered accurate, readable street names, while the GMC Terrain didn't offer as many names and wasn't as clear on the ones it did show.

Accuracy was not generally a problem either, with Thomas driving hundreds of miles to dozens of different destinations. The iPhone 5 missed one location, but the location was described as "a cow pasture in the far suburbs." Apple's Maps placed it about 50 feet away from where it actually was, while the Terrain system had it a full half-mile away. The Samsung got the cow pasture right, but was consistently wrong on the author's office location in downtown Chicago, off by several blocks. The iPhone 5 and the Terrain both had it exactly right.

Thomas related that after finishing the first draft of the article, he did experience an issue of severe inaccuracy with the iPhone 5, with it pointing to a Verizon store which was not where the app said it was. The Maps app said the store (which had initially been searched for by asking where the nearest Verizon store was) was three miles further east than it turned out to be. A later search on the exact street address was still inaccurate, putting it two miles in the opposite direction of where he had started his journey. Neither was correct.

Despite this issue, Thomas concluded that Apple's Maps turn-by-turn navigation overall was "as good as any I've seen," and noted that both the built-in car system and the Samsung Note also had errors in their maps. He preferred the voice navigation of the iPhone to that of the Samsung, saying the latter sounded "more robotic." The integration of the iPhone with his vehicle's USB port and car stereo system was also rated the best of the three systems. [via Cars.com]




By Electronista Staff
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  1. msuper69

    Professional Poster

    Joined: 01-16-00

    I've only used turn-by-turn a few times but it has been PERFECT each time.
    Worth the price of an iPhone 5 just for that feature.

  1. iphonerulez

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 11-28-08

    It's a shame if Apple's maps weren't as bad as the news media has made it out to be. The media has really gotten critical over everything that Apple does. They're trying to find flaws with Apple products and hardware and blow everything out of proportion. Weird stuff going on with Apple and the blogosphere.

  1. fractaledge

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 03-07-10

    Originally Posted by iphonerulezView Post

    They're trying to find flaws with Apple products and hardware and blow everything out of proportion. Weird stuff going on with Apple and the blogosphere.



    Nothing weird going on there. Professional bloggers, that is the ones that actually use blogging as their main source of income, make their money in one in two ways. Writing for a fee (advertorials, shill writing), or, more commonly, by placing advertising on their blogs. Naturally one can expect shill writers to be biased towards whoever pays them, but one can also expect the "independent" bloggers that rely on advertising money, to be, on average, biased towards whoever pays their bills. And in a modern world where Google holds a virtual monopoly in online advertising, that is almost invariably Google.

  1. Zanziboy

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 08-27-08

    There is a LOT of paid blogging out there by competitors that want Apple to fail. Nobody, including Apple, expected Flyover and Maps to be perfect on day one. Google and Bing didn't accomplish that feat on day one even though search is their core business. Most of the Maps criticism has been hysterical and unreasonable. Maps sets a high benchmark as a new mapping and search product and in terms of sheer mobile data efficiency, the competition may need to up their game to compete.

  1. Ω

    Mac Elite

    Joined: 11-18-03

    I gave my parents directions given by Google to get somewhere. Got the obligatory wrong directions bullshit.

    If we want to make maps better then the best thing to do is use it and fix it. If every mac user looked after their neighbourhood maps would be fixed in 1.7 weeks!*

    *may or may not represent true life.

  1. efithian

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 04-21-04

    I have tried the new Apple Maps program on both the iPhone 5 and iPad 3 and have had no problems. I also have the TomTom USA app and it is also pretty good, although it has occasionally put me in the middle of a field. My experience with a rental Garmin unit in Europe was not good, and it lost all of its maps one day.

    My best experience so far has been with the Navigation system built into my 2013 Audi. This unit uses T-Mobile to connect to Google Earth to give a realistic view of the route with buildings, trees, etc. A bonus is the wifi hotspot created by the Audi. Cost is $450 for three years. Speed is 3Mbps down, 1Mbps up with no data cap.

    My worst Navigation system experience has been with the 2011 BMW which often can't find where I want to go, and uses a tedious interface. I always use the Apple Maps on the iPad when we use that car.

  1. Sandman619

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 07-28-06

    A few days ago I had to drive to a nearby destination which I was unfamiliar with. I entered the address into Navigon,, which directed me to a location that seemed to be completely wrong. I managed my way out and to the correct location by switching to Apple's Maps app. I was able to search for the location and it brought me out of the hole I was in and right to where i needed to be. As a side note, Navigon's link to Google search has been down for nearly a week now. Making it impossible to search for a location. Rather, I have to enter the address backwards, as Navigon is well known for not being able to parse addresses, which makes it impossible to paste an address into Navigon and be done with it

    Cheers !

  1. daqman

    Junior Member

    Joined: 09-15-00

    Turn by turn is great but it's not that much use if you aren't actually in a car. The old App actually had trails in our local parks marked fairly accurately along with footbridges over the lake over drainage channels. Now all of them are missing. The park is just a green blob with only the main road marked. Similarly many landmarks were shown by the old App which was very useful when on vacation. For example historical houses, gardens, viewpoints, campsites and so on.

  1. daqman

    Junior Member

    Joined: 09-15-00

    It depends on where you live. For example in my area, south East Virginia, many businesses that used to be locatable on the old App are now missing. I used to rely on being able to put the name of a company in the search and having the pin drop. On the other hand the Blockbuster store that closed two years ago is back on the map though. Similarly many buildings and roads that were recently constructed were on the old App but are gone now.

    I guess what I'm blithering on about is that, yes the media did hype everything but the issues were real for many people and not made up.

  1. testudo

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 08-06-01

    Originally Posted by ZanziboyView Post

    There is a LOT of paid blogging out there by competitors that want Apple to fail.



    Paranoid much? Yes, there may be some people who 'hate' apple enough to want them to fail. but there's just as many who want Microsoft to fail, or google to fail.

    But you haven't just left it to plain bias. Nope. You've gone to the extent of arguing that the competitors of Apple (I'm guessing MS, Google, Samsung, Motorola) are paying bloggers to specifically target apple products. Yep.

    But we know Apple would never do the same thing. Only all the other companies do that.

    Nobody, including Apple, expected Flyover and Maps to be perfect on day one.

    I'm sorry, I don't expect 'perfect'. What I do expect is, if I upgrade an application, it will be BETTER than the one its replacing. Apple, on the other hand, believes 'updates' means 'lets rebuild it, add some new features, take out others, and call it 'new'! I'm not even sure the point of 'flyover'. I can't see any benefit except it might look 'cool' or it sells well.

    Google and Bing didn't accomplish that feat on day one even though search is their core business.

    Um, as you say "SEARCH IS THEIR CORE BUSINESS". What does that have to do with maps? And, no, they didn't do it from day one. But did they replace something that did work with something less so? Um, no.

    Most of the Maps criticism has been hysterical and unreasonable. Maps sets a high benchmark as a new mapping and search product and in terms of sheer mobile data efficiency, the competition may need to up their game to compete.

    Um, Maps sets no high benchmark. The "mobile data efficiency" you crow about already existed in google's mapping apps for Android (which is based on them using vector graphics, BTW, not some 'new' technology or anything). I'm not sure how a mapping app that lacks so many locations, sites, and businesses, sets the benchmark high.

    But I guess this is the kind of post you get from someone who must write to defend apple. "The naysayers are wrong! Here me out! Maps is great! I've used it, it works! Therefore anyone who has issues are making things up!"

  1. testudo

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 08-06-01

    Originally Posted by oView Post

    I gave my parents directions given by Google to get somewhere.  Got the obligatory wrong directions bullshit.  

    If we want to make maps better then the best thing to do is use it and fix it.  If every mac user looked after their neighbourhood maps would be fixed in 1.7 weeks!*



    And this is Apple's philosophy. Why should they spend their time and money to make a better product. Just have the fanboys go around and verify and fix the data points, and then we can have a kick-ass product! And, to top it off, they'll be excited to do it! (As I'm sure there have been many folks who have gone around and done this very thing).

    I guess that's where the paths split. In the old days (let's say late 1990s/early 2000s), if Apple came out with a mapping app or something for the mac, I would think some 50+% of the mac users would be diehard enough to do just that. Because at the time, mac users were generally apple loyalists and fans. (If you're looking for clues to such old loyalists, if you hear anyone tell Michael Dell to sell the stock and give the money back to the shareholders - that's a long-time fan. They're also the ones who tend to still think of Apple as a struggling, beleaguered small company fending off the behemoths of the industry! Oh, and the ones who'll stand in line for an Apple store opening).

    These days, the majority of apple users are iphone/ipod users, not mac users. And they aren't "fans" of apple as they are fans that Apple is the 'in' thing these days. They've never watched a Steve Jobs or any other Apple keynote or product announcement. They don't read the mac web sites. They see some commercials, they know what is 'hot', and they buy the things. This is how Apple has gotten so large. But they're the ones who don't brush the faults under the carpet, or go "We need to pull together and help Maps be the best mapping app out there!" They just want a maps app. And expect it to have at least the same information it had in iOS 4.0.

    And there's now far more people using Apple products who aren't from the old guard, who don't feel the need to defend. These are the people criticizing Apple.

    And, no, they aren't all being paid by Google or MS to complain about stuff.

  1. Spheric Harlot

    Clinically Insane

    Joined: 11-07-99

    Testudo, what you completely fail to see is that the ONLY WAY to get decent, accurate data is through mass deployment and feedback.

    The only reason Google maps was so good is because that's exactly what they've been doing for years. A large part of their success was due to the fact that they were mass-deployed on APPLE's devices for the last five years.

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