new* maps and where maps is going

Justin O’Berine – this amazing author who does pretty darn incredible comparisons and analysis of Apple Maps vs Google Maps, has just released another monster blog post with a gazillion comparison images and details on how a new version of Apple Maps released alongside iOS 12 (or something, I don’t track Apple numbers), has evolved differently, especially in California, USA. 

[It’s actually rather odd to think of it as a new version of maps because Apple does things in block releases, while Google is more on this eternal evolving single pane of glass, with ever updating Google Maps data, design and features. After all, it’s a product that doesn’t have any hardware release requirement. ]

So Justin O’Beirne remarked how Google Maps is going down a path where user location history, user current location, user preferences, and all that data is used to predict and customize maps displays, suggested places and many other navigational, directional and suggestion features. This is different from Apple’s approach where they are more on the anonymous user end and being more of a navigational tool. It’s amusing to see how Apple has worked so much on fixing greenery, 3D buildings. Probably looks nice but really how useful is that.

The hilarious part is that Justin pointed out one unique strong point of Google Maps over Apple, and that’s Google’s Local Guides program, where volunteers edit and correct map information all over the world. Millions of active volunteer users who are the best information source about their hometown and where they are at presently. The only other major crowdsourced map info is OpenStreetMaps, but that’s a little different in design. So with this, Google has markedly superior updated local information that is not bought from mapping providers, or algorithmically generated from satellite imagery. It might account for more accurate data points compared to Apple in POI data, and info within buildings etc. Maps data has historically depended majorly on buying map info, using satellite imagery, then using streetview(tm) cars. Now that HERE and Apple both have street cars, what else can they not catch up on? – Local Guides. Would Apple ever be able to get this community going? I highly doubt it, it’s just not the right culture and motivation.

He is right that Maps is becoming less of just a navigational tool and more of a destination in itself to discover places, suggest places, and a bigger community in itself. Almost like a different window or gateway to services. It makes great sense as physical location informs many choices, and after that all of Google’s great scope of business, pricing, photography, search, review, metadata, all come together to provide a great business listing. It’s fundamentally quite different from a Facebook page.

It’s nice to know that someone ought there noticed and attributed a strength of Google Maps to the Local Guides program and the other millions of ongoing or potential contributors out there. The Maps team is right to maintain and support this as there is a huge synergistic symbiosis here – better map data draws more users and features. 

Detractors believe that Google Maps is a proprietary database as compared to OpenStreetMap, but while OSM is a great free resource, it just isn’t as well integrated, convenient and well marketed as Google Maps in the eyes of basic end users. It’s like how you see a “rough” map loaded on your car built-in navigation or shopping mall display, and you just know it’s a less complete or detailed map than the Google Maps you are used to in your daily life. Sometimes the map you are very familiar with, is easier to navigate in.

I would not say Google Maps is perfect – it’s got so many darn problems and is weaker in transit than CityMapper, weaker in restaurant listings than websites/blogs/Yelp/Facebook, weaker in community than Facebook/Instagram, and often not catering enough for local markets. StreetView app is also horrendously slow buggy and tedious at submissions. 

But yeah, I still encourage everyone to start putting reviews into Google Maps, and then maybe photos, and before you know it you’ll find contributing addictive and fun.

Useful links:
follow @googlelocalguides on twitter or instagram
search for #localguides, or #singaporelocalguides, or #letsguide

new* maps and where maps is going

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