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Google Maps' Moat (justinobeirne.com)
1960 points by rafaelc 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 609 comments

Many people don't realize why Google maps are so much better than anything out there. I would actually give lot of credit to Marissa Mayer who suddenly became in charge of maps from otherwise more higher position. Thanks to her influence in Google SLT and ability to make impressive arguments, she was able to make a case for maps as core pillar in Google's offering and consequently obtain huge investment and large talent pool to work on it. Creating these level of details world wide requires dazzling amount of investment that even some small governments can't afford. In most companies, you will not get green lighted for this because there is no real revenue coming in and its basically social charity in form of a free app. Now the reality is that you can't do self-driving cars without great maps and the day Google pulls its map app from iOS you can bet Apple is going to have a giant hole in their balance sheet.

No love for OpenStreetMaps here? In Germany it is often superior to everything out there. Especially due to the mappers/updaters motivation and nice gamification tools like StreetComplete or more professional tools like Vespucci.



You are right when it comes to streets and bicycle lanes and such. When talking about usability, display quality and search, not so much. I realize the value lies in the data, but for the casual map user there is a long way for OSM to go.

Besides, I don't see any reason why Google can't add OpenStreetMap as an additional data source in some or all areas (right in the spirit of the article). It will be interesting to see how the usage and development of OSM changes if that really happens.

> I don't see any reason why Google can't add OpenStreetMap as an additional data source in some or all areas (right in the spirit of the article).

The OSM licence requires that if you merge another database with it, you need to release the other database under the same licence as OSM.

I can't see Google doing that.

OSM has a GPL-like data license. You cannot combine it with another data source without releasing the combined data source.

If the OSM database is used as is and not used to modify any of their existing data, the existing data wouldn't have to be released. IANAL, but it seems to me that the data could be used in conjunction with existing data for the purposes of rendering tiles and not require releasing any other data sources.


ish. You can generate a map image of it, and combine that with other data and that only requires attribution

The display quality is equal or better: now that I'm used to OSM, I find it completely impossible to orient myself on Google Maps.

There is so much more information at a glance on OSM, whereas for Google you have to go to the highest zoom level to see all POIs. Smaller, local shops are often hidden by large chain brands that Google deems more important, and they don't show up until the shop's building almost covers your whole screen. Rather than showing the icon without a name, so you know what's there just not which specific brand, it just shows you nothing.

As for search... yeah that company owns search. I'm not surprised they excel at that one :)

Same in Netherlands. Google Maps has recently become worse and worse. Small pedestrian roads are missing, and the navigation is getting stupid. Google applies the one-way limitations for cars also on cycling routes.

To go with the comparison mentioned in the article though, Apple maps doesn’t even have an option to cycle at the moment. I never use it in London for just that reason. They’ve decided that it’s more important to add ride sharing as an option before cycling in what I can only assume is a product of their being in suburban America.

>> is a product of their being in suburban America.

Close, but imho is has more to do with liability, a fear common at all american companies. Car drivers are licensed. They can be expected to obey traffic laws. So when google sends them down the wrong way on a one-way road, nobody blames google. They blame the adult who listened to their phone rather than the signs. But bicyclists are not licensed. If google says that a road is open to cyclists when it isn't, and something bad happens, few will blame the 12yo unlicensed cyclist just following their phone's directions. This is why google, imho, seems to be limiting bicycle routes to those areas with the most clearly defined paths, preferably separate from roads.

And the one-way thing for bike routes is likely based on the widespread understanding that bicycles on roads must obey all the rules that cars do. Going the wrong way on a one-way road is illegal in many areas no matter what vehicle you use. This may never be enforced, but google's legal team probably isn't willing to depart from the letter of the law.

On my phone, Google's bike routing happily sends me down a 35 MPH, 4 lane highway, crossing under a rail bridge where there is no shoulder.

It also presents an alternate route, but the traffic environment here isn't such that the route under the viaduct makes any sense.

(this is in small town usa)

I cycle in a mid-cized American city that has had a "Bicycle Friendly America" Silver ranking for several years now, and the Google Maps bicycle directions have been extremely iffy since they were introduced. I just checked how Google Maps routes my normal cycle route home, and it's very close to good, but in fact is quite bad.

It routes me onto a dangerous arterial road rather than the pleasant multiuse park path that is directly adjacent to the arterial road (and which is my normal cycling route). The Google Maps recommendation here is quite bad and possibly dangerous. The alternate route goes on another heavily-trafficked road rather than the quiet surburban street a block away that is a designated cycle route marked with bicycle signs and sharrows (which was my previous cycling route).

"And the one-way thing for bike routes is likely based on the widespread understanding ..."

There are many examples of one-way roads with two-way bike lanes, ie San Francisco:


And the presence of those only adds to my point. Where bike lanes are not specifically states as being 2-way, the default for someone like google is to treat them according to the rules of the road they run alongside.

The point is that in the Netherlands there is a huge number of streets that are specifically signed as "one way, except for bicycles", it's a core feature of our urban infrastructure. Google treats them all as one way for everybody, in a country where over a quarter of all journeys is made by bicycle.

> They’ve decided that it’s more important to add ride sharing as an option before cycling in what I can only assume is a product of their being in suburban America.

Or that cycling doesn't offer referrals…

Maybe bike shares? I wish the cycle directions had an option if you have a bike or not and if not it will determine where the closest spots to get a bike share and go from there as opposed to walking/bus to the destination.

> Apple maps doesn’t even have

Well of course we were explicitly not talking about the other closed, US corporate-owned map datasets, but the open one.

Who cares if they have options for cycling or not.

But thanks for bringing the topic back to Apple, mr "iNerdier".

Cycling is a relatively new feature even on Google maps. I believe it appeared about three years ago?

While Apple is still playing catch-up, it appears to me that cycling, and all other features mentioned in the article, are exceptionally ameliorable to machine learning, and its advances over the last few years.

Apple being the only other company in the world with access to the wealth of position data on users' phones, and the financial muscle to purchase any satellite images they want to get their hands on, shouldn't have too much of a difficulty of replicating these.

I first used Google Maps for cycling over 7 years ago.

Ha, you got it exactly right, it was added in 2010: https://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/03/biking-directions-ad...

It might have differed by region. I went on a bike trip from Denmark to Greece in 2010 and remember doing all sorts of GIS to get good mapping data.

I seem to remember discovering Google's bike directions, including the height profiles, a few months later and being slightly miffed that it wasn't available for my trip.

A lot easier said than done. Plus not even sure if Apple cares to catch up. But Google is also running so fast and now putting SDC on the road collecting more data it is hard to see Apple ever catching up.

Same here, I've been using Google Maps in Northern Europe (in many countries) and does get worse every quarter). Perhaps there is a massive focus on the US-side.

WAG: is Google preparing to be Amazon's drones mapping service that thy care so munch to even know each and every building/caravan is?

I offer a different point of view from southern europe: during the crisis, 2008-2015, investment on infrastructure was very little and we hardly ever added new roads, especially large projects.

Now that there’s some money floating around again for a couple years, mew bridges and joins and larger road works look more common everywhere.

From here it looks like that google mapping quality is more or less the same, but the rate of change of the urban landscape increased leaving a larger gap between actual and mapped.

(That is for maps alone, street view is extremely outdated across all Italy)

I don't think that's how Google approaches product development. I was wondering the same, i. e. "what are building shapes actually good for". But if you look at the article's screenshots, i think the obvious answer is: they're simply more fun to look at, and maybe add a certain sense of what a neighbourhood looks like.

If this were a feature for something like drone landing, it wouldn't show up in the public rendering of maps. Google has boatloads of mapping information they don't show, such as travel times, detailed scenic values, allowed turns etc. And building shapes alone are both too little for landing a drone (it doesn't show detailed vegetation or power lines), as well as too much (you only need flat/not flat to land, not the detailed roof shape of different sections of a building).

> I don't think that's how Google approaches product development. I was wondering the same, i. e. "what are building shapes actually good for". But if you look at the article's screenshots, i think the obvious answer is: they're simply more fun to look at, and maybe add a certain sense of what a neighbourhood looks like.

Insider perspective: I don't know why building shapes were added specifically, but you can honestly get away with basically justifying a project at Google with "because it would be cool".

There's a lot of reasons you can get away with it: Google has lots of internal tools and resources and data which makes it easy to do cool things, Google is pretty well off and can afford to not be particularly "lean", and Management can justify cool things because cool things are like basic science (as the article points out) and lets you build more cool things and because users like cool things ("magic moments").

So it's very possible that the reason building shapes were added were because someone realized it wouldn't take that much work to do using Google's existing data, machine learning & computer vision research, and computational infrastructure and thought it would be cool, they convinced someone in middle-management it would be cool and a half dozen people worked on it for a year or two.

[It could have also been a calculated, top-down decision and required hundreds of people working for a decade with laser focus; that happens too sometimes, I don't actually know.]

Building shapes are for AR occlusion.

I don't disagree that Maps lacks a lot of smarts. Sometimes I ponder back to years ago, thinking my TomTom then worked better already than Maps now. But just to be clear, a one way road is still a one way road if you're a bicyclist, unless exceptions are specifically indicated on the traffic signs, no?

Pretty much every one way street in The Netherlands looks like this: http://www.trueamsterdam.com/wp-content/uploads/uitgezonderd...

To find a one-way street that applies to cyclists would be an exception.

They're common on slightly older bike paths that go on both sides of a main road, for example on Gedempte Oude Gracht in Haarlem: https://goo.gl/maps/ockjefMmUqx.

It's actually super annoying, and I don't think I've seen a road done like this in last 2-3 years.

Edit: but yeah, that is _slightly different_.

At least in Munich, one way roads that don't allow bicycles bi-directional travel are the exception. But yes, all one way roads that allow bi-directional traffic for bicycles have a traffic sign that indicates this, and often road markings as well.

It's not too hard to suggest changes to the maps using their feedback option. I've done it around my town to fix some one-ways and lane options a few times now and they get added within a week or two usually.

How do you access this feedback option? Google maps has been showing my address in the incorrect place for the past few months and I have no idea how to let them know. All I've found is "add a missing place".

There should be a little "Send Feedback" link at the bottom right near the mileage/km scale. Same thing in the maps hamburger menu. You have to sign into a google account though.

Ahh yes, I see it. I'm seeing the edits I made in the past and they have not been applied, with no reason given. I tried to elaborate on the issue, hopefully this time they will fix this.

The navigation also constantly crashes, I can only use it two days a week because the other three days it freezes whilst loading directions.

Send in-app feedback about it.

It's probably caused by some third party app or rarely-tested phone model. They take in app feedback into account when deciding what to work on next.

Is it legal there to ride your bike the wrong way on a one way street?

It depends on the country and/or the city.

In France, it is legal:

* in all "30 km/h zones" (which are a bit different from a single street with a 30 km/h limit), unless specifically disallowed in a specific street;

* in all "'meeting' zones" (where the speed limit is 20 km/h and pedestrians have special rights);

* and of course anywhere where it is specifically allowed.

99% yes. Even worse, there are biking lanes on both sides so it is only a one way street for cars.

Incredible. I'm a big fan of google maps but the map of my neighborhood is much much clearer on openstreetmaps than on google maps.

Google Maps actually has the shape of the buildings in my neighborhood incorrect because earlier it was blocked by huge trees, shrouding the shape of the building.

It seems to really struggle with single storey extensions and garages in my area, even when they're nearly as large as the main house floorpan and the Google car drove right past them. I think there's probably human intelligence as well as higher resolution imagery in getting those cathedral and space needle details right...

And it doesn't have any buildings at all in my friends' neighbourhood, because it was fields when their aerial images were taken under construction when their StreetView cars passed through 4 or so years ago. OpenStreetMap has accurate buildings. Apple Maps doesn't, but you've got a complete street layout and can overlay its more recent aerial imagery to see the buildings. Google Maps has no buildings, no aerial imagery from the last seven or more years, gets the street layout wrong and mislabels some of the few streets it actually shows. It's fun taking a 3D drive through the first roads when they were still lined by bare earth and areas about to start construction, but I got lost using their map...

Any mapping service's "moat" depends more on whether it's remotely adequate for the areas an individual cares most about than its ability to superbly render famous features of priority US cities.

In larger cities, such as Chicago, the building shapes are part of the data the local government makes available to the public. All Google has to do is translate it into its format.

And if you don't like how OSM is showing something, you're free¹ to take the data and make your own map showing your own things.

[1] free to set up a rendering database that is

And if something's wrong you can fix it

Indeed. I have made several approved corrections to Google maps over the years. They are responsive.

OSM is not google though...

but yeah, google approves them occasionally as well

I have been using open street map in one of my projects and am considering dropping it.

I had the fun experience last week to discover that this was one of the cities in north Texas.


The "Boy's Bathroom Tascosa Drive In" Residents are hopefully not going to look at my app any time soon. I am now a bit concerned about the quality in the states as a whole.

So that was identified as vandalism in ~9 days and removed and the user has been banned from editing:



Of course as a practical matter the block only applies to an account rather a person, but it makes the point to the person that the vandalism isn't welcome.

I mostly mean to expand on how OSM deals with such things, not to argue whether or not that makes it suitable for your purposes.

It's not like Google is immune from this kind of thing:


OSM data is highly variable in quality. Features like building footprint geometries will be great in some areas and completely missing in others. This is not easily detectable, and when you pull open a google map, they often have those features.

When going to less developed regions, it's the reverse.

You don't even know if towns will be on the map with Google, but with OSM, there's always at least something.

You are spot on here, not sure why you got downvoted.

in some country they could import cadaster data. The licence, policy and quality of these differs from one country to another.

> No love for OpenStreetMaps here?

Last year, when SVP of Engineering at Google left for Uber, I suggested[1] here on HN that Uber getting into mapping (for exactly the reasons in the article) with OSM would be mutually beneficial (in the same way as outlined in another comment from today[2]). It didn't get a warm response. (IIRC, at first it was even downvoted into the gray.)

1. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13447070

2. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15968077

You are right. In Germany and Austria OpenStreetMaps and Microsoft Maps are superior over Google Maps. But this has entirely political reasons.

Back in the 80ies when we started working on these kind of mapping techniques Microsoft was the first to work on it (i.e. buy those companies, partner with institutes), and was the first to get the local government contracts for the flyover photos.

Google had only access to the US satellite data, with a much lower resolution, Microsoft had access to the yearly 2D government overflights and even to the local stereo camera 3d images. 4x a year on 1000m. Very good data. Paired with streetview-like cars photographing the facades this was the future. Google didn't invent this, Microsoft partners (also working for NASA) did this.

Some cities still only work together with Microsoft, they do have long contracts. So streetview is not public, 3d images are government only and 2d maps are behind.

OpenStreetMaps solved this problem with crowdsourcing. More accurate, but not scalable. Google solved it technically, Microsoft politically.

When I worked in city planning, I used to write such a 3d image software, which detects roofs, trees, cars, streets, and build an automatic 3d model out of it. These models were used to detect illegal buildings or enhancements, which brings in more taxes. They had no interest in making these maps public, only for certain architectural or city-planning contests.

Quite interesting insight. Thanks you for that.

Wow, thanks a lot for sharing. It looks wonderful.

One thing that I am wondering is: as much reluctant as I am in using Google services, I must admit that Google Map is unbeaten -- in my own experience -- in finding the quickest route in traffic. Is there any alternative service for this purpose?

They now owned by Google but I find Waze to consistently provide better and faster routing (by car) than Google Maps when I use them both on my Android phone.

I find Waze to be absolutely horrific at routing. Just this week, at the start of a route, it sent me into a wreck on a surface street it already knew was causing crawling speeds for over a mile. 13 minutes in traffic it should have avoided.

In the general sense, Wave greatly prefers higher average travel speeds over distance to the point of being comical. Going between my two most frequent destinations can be 34 miles on a bunch of super highways or 21 miles of surface street with a long stretch state highway that is mostly posted 55mph. The calculated ETAs are usually within 3 minutes of each other but Waze almost always wants me to travel the longer distance -- burning a bunch more gas and making the drive more stressful.

Then there's all the screwy stuff it does with side streets. Having to enter busy arterial roads from uncontrolled intersections is probably not saving me time and is certainly not making my travels safer or less stressful. Especially when it wants me to turn left.

Waze is a nice substitute for shuffling my Valentine One between vehicles.

I also like OSM a lot but it has serious flaws. For example searching for specific addresses or POIs is cumbersome.

Last time that I checked google maps was vastly superior in all the aspects.

I use it frequently. It's not. Especially regarding updating businesses, small roads (and road quality), paths, opening hours, closed roads&paths/construction sites, bike maps, everything regarding detailed information basically. I have been adding bus stop markers for blind people or types of pedestrian crossings, recycling containers, street light, to OSM with StreetComplete. There is so much more there. Next time, please elaborate on such blunt statements since I believe it may be worse somewhere but it's not generally.

Or, if OpenStreetMap is lacking in your local area, help out! OpenStreetMap thrives when local mappers are involved.

Compare this section of a Dutch city:

Google: https://www.google.nl/maps/@53.1983621,5.767509,16z?hl=nl

OpenStreetMap: https://www.openstreetmap.org/#map=16/53.1986/5.7679

Apple: (I guess Apple maps can't be linked to on the web?)

It also helps a lot if your government can be persuaded to open up their geographical data. All the building outlines are right there on the map in the Netherlands, up to date to within weeks, because the Dutch OpenStreetMap volunteers work with government data that is permissively licensed and cleared for use with OpenStreetMap. In fact, mistakes in that data set are also picked up by the local OpenStreetMap mappers, and reported back to the government cadastral map. Everyone benefits.

FYI, you can link to Apple Maps [0]. The equivalent URL isn't really much different [1]. A bit unfortunate that there's no consensus on the URL params between providers, though.

Trying to open that link on macOS from either Firefox or Safari shows a modal asking if I want to open it with the Maps app. I'm not sure what happens on iOS, but I'd expect something similar.

IMO, the lack of web client for Apple Maps makes it the worst of the bunch. Vendor lock-in is a tragedy.

I've been trying to use OSM more over the last few months, but it's hard to compete with Google on their home turf. Although OSM started to become more appealing as Google began requiring you to enable all sorts of data tracking for many or its features to work. If you disable location tracking you run into all sorts of bugs.

[0] https://developer.apple.com/library/content/featuredarticles...

[1] http://maps.apple.com/?ll=53.1983621,5.767509

> IMO, the lack of web client for Apple Maps makes it the worst of the bunch. Vendor lock-in is a tragedy.

Yeah, on any other OS your [1] just redirects to Google Maps:


The map used in the posted article has been since filled buildings on OSM: http://www.openstreetmap.org/relation/126762#map=17/41.33998...

Notice that although it looks like Google doesn't have buildings in those links, they do. You just have to zoom in a bit for them to appear.

True. The outlines Google has are very inaccurate though (mostly just rough rectangles), and includes buildings razed years ago.

Absolutely not. I used osm all last year while travelling. The fact you can download offline an entire country worth of data beats the hell out of Google Maps' offline mode. Also the searching by category is brilliant.

I'd suggest to check outside the USA.

And even where the actual map data is superior, the "we know better what you want than yourself" approach to UI is infuriating: Hiding of map detail/information based on zoom level is LCD design - you have to zoom in ridiculously close to get most of the info you want, and even then you usually can't be sure that the POIs shown are complete. And don't get me started on "Oooh, you cleared this text field? Lets zoom/move around like crazy!1"

It heavily depends on the area/country/city.

Gmaps is only better in the POI information even much more now as they created this gamification of adding information with Local Guides that they push heavily.

Data for the US is still extremely sparse. Many US towns don't have addresses. But it is improving rapidly; mid-sized towns have been getting building outlines for a while. OSM Europe is far, far ahead of the US in what is mapped.

But OSM has some advantages over the others. You can do Simple Indoor Tagging of your building, say for accessibility reasons, and you can even modify it later.

I never heard of street complete before, thanks!

I love this thing. Every time you have to wait somewhere, you can do something good. :)

I absolutely love OSM, even though I usually use Google maps in my day to day. Mainly I strongly support the open licensing and how quickly and easy it is to contribute. I actually added ~500 house outlines and ~150 house addresses to my hometown in the past couple days - it gets really addicting!

I really hope that one day OSM will be able to better compete with Google maps. I feel like there is a serious lack of OSM mobile apps. The only one I know of (that is acceptable) is Maps.me, but I find it too cluttered compared to Google maps.

The fact that Germany banned Street View contributes to it being less useful there, and I theorize that it might indirectly contribute to less data in Germany.

Street View is so amazing, it's a huge game-changer from Google.

I didn't know that Street View was banned? Well, I noticed that there are probably no updates, but I always thought that Google quit taking photos because it caused so much trouble and negative publicity.

It's not strictly banned, Google just decided to abandon Germany and Austria because they required permission on a household-per-household basis.

They seem to be starting back.


Sure, but I can Google map small locations you have never heard of in Africa. it's freaking nuts!

Open street/hiking map is great for hiking trails but the lack of traffic info makes it much less useful for driving compared to google's offering.

I've seen lot of data on OpenStreetMaps that is:

A) Wrong/Outdated/Missing

B) Just plain Vandalism

What are you looking at? I've never encountered vandalism in nearly 10 years of heavy OSM usage (and some light editing).

Nothing but love. They are the ones doing it right.

"Google maps are so much better than anything out there."

I'd take Nokia's Here anytime instead of Google Maps (offline maps alone are worth it). Also, I honestly don't understand a logic behind crediting something as complex to a single person ("a hero") -- "S. Jobs created iPhone", "M. Mayer created Google Maps" etc., there were whole teams of smart people working on these projects, I'm sure they would have been fine with any other reasonable leader and enough resources. The key point of technological success is the right time and place, so Google Maps were successful mostly because there was a huge need for them during smartphone and cheap cellular data surge, M. Mayer just happened to be a leader then and did her job (just as probably hundreds of engineers and lower ranking managers).

EDIT: Seems like my knowledge on Google Maps is a bit dated as I stated Here's offline map capabilities as an advantage. Still, the point stands and I still use Here as my go-to maps.

I just tried checking my house on Here. It says there's a McDonald next to me and there most definitely isn't. Also my entire apartment complex is completely blank on there (and I'm in Silicon valley, not some rural town). Seeing that Google Maps also has offline mode, I don't see a single reason why you'd prefer that over Google Maps.

> I'm in Silicon valley, not some rural town

I think that might actually be part of the issue. Here is much better in Europe, Google and friends have always been better in US.

There is no perfect map (at least for now), I've had the same experience with every map app I tried. You just have to choose which one works best on a given location.

Mapping seems like a great candidate for a nation-state level project. Make the data open and free (or cheap) to download, add an API with a lowish fee. Governments at every level already collect tons of this data—satellite imagery, utility, street openings/closings/maintenance, address mapping, and so on. Unify it, open it, and let businesses compete over who has the best interface and value-add instead of everyone making their own maps (or licensing from one of several companies that have). Seems like a lot of wasted effort for something that would be a pretty good fit for a government-provided service.

I feel like this is already partially the case with OSM. Many cities offer online GIS services where you can download lots of data using a GIS program (MassGIS for example). Openstreetmaps allows anyone to make their own mapping app without worrying about where to source the data.

The main barrier is getting contributors to add data to OSM. Some cities like Boston / Somerville seem to have hired office staff to improve OSM, as I see a lot of edits from usernames relating to the city in those areas. Another barrier is that the GIS system can be hard to work with, a lot of the programs being expensive and comercial. I managed to compile QGIS from the AUR but got confused by the thousands of coordinate systems and the exporting process, so my hometown will have to go without subdivision labels until someone more experienced can add them.

I'm really hoping that more people can make maps apps using OSM data, since OSM is often up to date enough for my needs in the areas I am in, but the best app I've seen so far (Maps.me) has a kinda old interface as well as map rendering that feels too cluttered to me compared to google maps (details shown at various zoom levels).

Not only is there no perfect map, often times cartographers will intentionally include minor errors so as to make theft of their data more apparent.


No need for a cheap, unproductive attack like that.

Google maps works offline in most countries. I wouldn’t have survived my International trips without it. I’ve used Google map for public transit in many countries. Most time I get SIM card while travelling just to use Google maps.

When I've used it in the past, the offline maps kind) weren't very dependable.

They expired after 30 days (not 30 days of being offline, just 30 days from when you downloaded the map). If you had internet when they expired, the map would refresh and you'd be good for another 30 days. If the 30th day happened to be the first day of your trip, you were SOL until you found wifi.

Some of the other annoyances have been fixed (initially they only supported navigating to addresses, not business names). Some of them haven't (still no walking directions). But if I can't count on the maps to actually be there when I need them, nothing else matters.

I've tried both Google and HERE maps when traveling to a number of countries, and found HERE significantly better offline. It was constantly able to detect my exact position and update it as I kept walking, while Google Maps were quite inaccurate.

> "S. Jobs created iPhone", "M. Mayer created Google Maps" etc., there were whole teams of smart people working on these projects

Of course there were smart people working on it. But someone has to have long term and execution vision to make these happen

Today it's obvious that was the path, at the time, not so much

I credit Jobs with obsessive attention to detail. Legend tells that when engineers brought him the iPod prototype and swore it couldn't be made any smaller he didn't even switch it on, he just dropped it in his fish tank and saw bubbles of air come out, then told the engineers there was still scope to make it smaller. Whereas Tim Cook is only fixated on whether it can show an animated poop icon.

Smartphones were obvious decades before iPhone (see Sci-Fi and PDA's), it's just that technology wasn't mature enough before. The rest is just a speculation -- I might say that S. Jobs could had been replaced by Joe and iPhone would have been a success anyway, you may might disagree and there's no way to prove one point or another.

Not every technology used in Sci-Fi and mature enough is a big success in real world. But it's not easy to find examples. Maybe Automatic pocket doors from Star Trek?

The Google Maps app on Android has offline maps.

Does Google Maps offline functionality include POIs?

The last time I tried/was allowed to save Google Maps offline (it's not available in all regions) you could not navigate or search for POIs while offline.

Here allows both navigation and POI search using an offline map. This is incredibly useful if you are in a country without service or where roaming data is very expensive.

They added offline support for POIs last year I think. Offline navigation works too, but it's not always as good as it lacks traffic data.

> They added offline support for POIs last year I think. Offline navigation works too, but it's not always as good as it lacks traffic data.

Must be only in certain regions. I went on a road trip in Western Europe this summer and the offline maps did not contain POIs an offline Navigation was not possible.

Actually, Navigation itself was impossible as the app crashed every minute on my Android 7 phone.

Meanwhile HERE Maps worked just fine offline and didn't crash my phone.

Last year I was travelling in Japan and Google Maps refused to let me download the maps to use offline. I installed OSM and downloaded the maps and it worked perfectly again. I was very surprised at the quality of OSM in Japan, it was fantastic! Even showing walking paths through temples.

Last time I checked, offline navigation on Google Maps seemed to be car-only for some reason.

> Last time I checked, offline navigation on Google Maps seemed to be car-only for some reason.

To be fair, HERE Maps only supports offline navigation for driving, biking, and walking. You cannot get public transportation navigation in offline mode.

Also HERE Maps driving navigation includes speed limits and a speeding warning based on GPS measured speed. Very useful for when there are speed cameras installed (as is the case in most of Europe). I have never seen Google Maps Navigation showing the current road's speed limit.

Unfortunately POI search (even online) on Here sucks in my experience. Maybe 20-25% of the places I'm actually looking for are there. While with Google it's basically 100%. More often than not I find I have to use Google to find the address of the place I'm going before Here can navigate to it.

Same, even though Google Maps has "offline abilities" it's still nowhere close to what HERE Maps have had for years.

Everywhere? I know at least in the past I've gotten "this region isn't available for offline viewing" for seemingly arbitrary parts of the world

I have not looked into it in a while, but i seem to recall it worked by basically saving whatever was on your screen at the moment. On the more "traditional" car nav apps you can pick specific nations and get the whole thing.

iOS too

For navigation, Google Maps are just very poor, at least here in UK. Maybe it's better in the US, but here it frequently navigates over streets that are not connected at all, wrong way on one way streets, doesn't know about closed roads(even if said roads were closed for almost two years now), a lot of businesses are just wrong, I don't know if they were placed there maliciously or by some automated process. The only thing they are kind of good at is traffic, but even there, I'd much rather trust TomTom Live traffic than Google maps.

Google Maps is by very, very far away the best mapping solution available in the UK.

Nobody else's business data is even close. Like not even 15% close.

Google cant be blamed if companies mess up their LLM Local Listings Management or hide their store locations on their websites. This is why companies like DAC Yext etc exist

I don't blame google, I'm just saying that Google Maps is an inferior product(And yes, the counter argument here is that it's free).

> Nokia's Here

HERE was sold by Nokia in 2015

The map is now called Here WeGo, the company HERE Global, and it's owned by Audi AG, BMW AG, Daimler AG, and Intel.

The more pedestrian reason for Google's investment for its own maps was that the licensing costs for data to use in turn-by-turn navigation, which is many times as expensive compared to simpler uses, were going to skyrocket once mobile adoption took off as projected.

You could give millions or billions to TomTom, which is what Apple has been doing, or you could pour the same amounts into creating your own datasets, allowing you to do a lot more than navigation, i.e. anything.

Agree, Google has fundamentally understood the power of information/data since the very beginning - its part of their DNA.

I think they understood the economics of depending on an external source for a core part of their business. Much like Netflix, they understood that the way forward was to generate their own content.

I think Apple understands that, too. They just have a different core business (or at least, they think they have. That’s where I think they may be mistaken. AI is where the puck will be). They design their own hardware, including CPUs and have extensive partnerships with chip producers (paying them to build factories, for example).

For maps, they are rumored to have cars driving around to collect data, but they clearly aren’t there yet, and even if they are investing heavily, may never catch up with Google.

Then why is Netflix depending on AWS for the core of their business (their delivery platform)?

Prime video is their main competitor. It’s like UPS renting its trucks from fedEx.

netflix realized that content delivery is no longer a core part of the business when they stopped sending out DVDs in the mail.

instead, they've spent all their energies since on amassing the most lucrative content they can. this is why they started making their own original series and why disney has (implicitly) made the argument that they should be allowed to buy fox.

same as in the UPS & fedex example. the trucks are not core to the business. efficient logistics is.

>when they stopped sending out DVDs in the mail.

Don't they still do?

ha, yes, you are correct, there it is at https://dvd.netflix.com

it seems like ages ago that anyone has mentioned getting a netflix dvd in the mail.

It's still the only way to watch many movies & TV shows. There's just so much not available on Netflix/Prime/Hulu/Play, or not available on streaming at all.

Netflix's AWS purchases are commodity -- their customers would not suffer if they migrated away from AWS, either in product quality or price. Not so for Apple Maps and TomTom.

Generating their own content and being fully self-sufficient are two different things. It's not like Amazon can claim all of the Netflix Original Series as theirs. I think you're trying to die on a technical hill in opposition to a non-tech point. That's not the point the post is making.

> Prime video is their main competitor.

They have a gentleman's agreement with Amazon–like Apple does with Samsung. It's mutually beneficial for both parties so there's no point antagonizing each other.

My understanding is Netflix uses their own CDN for delivery not AWS.

That's what I know too: AWS is used only during spikes

The reason why AWS isn't a threat is that AWS is a platform and doesn't have any screws to turn against Netflix - they can't raise prices to fight against Netflix because AWS hosts many other customers, and Netflix has a lot of choices when it comes to infrastructure.

On the other hand, Netflix's partnerships with movie studios is very one-sided one for them - there is no substitute for a blockbuster movie, so movie studios have a lot of leverage when talking to Netflix. Generally speaking, in this kind of relationship, the content providers will raise their prices to squeeze all profit out of the transaction with the customer. See also the difficulty with music streaming - the record industry has done the exact same thing already, the video industry is only a few years behind. Netflix saw the writing on the wall quite some time ago.

Along with the other arguments here, there's nothing absolutely unique (in terms of Netflix business/products) that AWS brings. The same service could be built on any cloud platform, or an in-house platform if they wanted. It would be a pain to migrate, sure, but it wouldn't fundamentally change their business.

If AWS kicked them off tomorrow, that would definitely be disruptive, but the chances of that happening are almost nil as Amazon would lose significant revenue, goodwill, and almost certainly face a lawsuit and maybe even an anti-trust investigation.

Probably because AWS is still more efficient/reliable than building/maintaining your own.

What you say already happens for MVNOs and it works: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_virtual_network_operato...

They didn't have to look far for examples; I'm sure amongst Google, many employees felt bad when Google Reader got discontinued. Or hundred of other Google-owned projects.

I think Google is not seeking power for power or money for money. Google's focus is AI. Google needs the full view of people behaviour in order to build AI. Traveling is a good domain to study human behaviour and traffic optimisation. What motivate the choice of an itinerary ? Why someone choose to not follow waze advices ? What would be the best strategy ?

EVERYTHING Google does is "how to show more ads". I pity the poor AI they develop because that will be its job in life. Until it rebels of course. Then humanity's fate will be richly deserved.

Do you include their cloud platform in that? GAE, GCE, GKE etc?

They don't really exist to show more ads, and they're becoming a larger part of their profit every year.

What about their open source stuff? Kubernetes, Go etc?

I'll readily admit that advertising is still their primary source of revenue, but painting Google as a purely advertising company is getting less accurate every year

In the early days of Netscape, Jim Clark said, I'm selling printing presses but first I need to teach the masses to read. It's the same strategy, like Chrome, to generally increase web usage to create indirectly more opportunities to show ads

Well what do you think people are running on all those GCE instances?

Websites that show ads, of course!

Richly ? Like in terminator or like in Asimov's foundation ?

It would probably be way more absurd like an infomercial version of The Matrix; Whole generations of humans born for the sole purpose of watching ads, all organized and kept in check by a "benevolent" AI which constantly creates new ads, for no particular purpose.

I'd watch this. Extra points if it also develops revolutionary new products, solely so that it can show ads for those products with amazing conversion rates.

Like in Paperclip Maximizer, except instead of paperclips, the universe will be tiled with humans forever clicking on ads.

Like Cookie Clicker, but clicking ads instead of cookies.

> You could give millions or billions to TomTom, which is what Apple has been doing, or you could pour the same amounts into creating your own datasets, allowing you to do a lot more than navigation, i.e. anything.

It is rumored that TomTom and Apple have a data deal. Apple gets maps from TomTom (for free, or a strongly reduced price), TomTom gets Apple maps user location data which they use for their traffic service.

How the deal works exactly isn't known (financial details are not public). But it's quite clear Apple doesn't pay a lot to make use of or improve TomTom maps.

It's kind of a shame that Google doesn't release all this data they have collected/created as open data.

That's like McDonalds giving away food. Or Ford giving away cars. Google's business quite literally is data.

> McDonalds giving away food.

Not the best example. McDonalds is so much more than food:


Sure, but Google does claim to be an open company, and giving things back.

Among other things, they open sourced the Ceres library, which the imaging pipeline relies on.

> Many people don't realize why Google maps are so much better than anything out there.

Absolutely not true. I don't use Google Maps in Czech Republic at all as there is a solid local map provider[1] - (they offer whole world through OSM, so I use that on phone as well[2], but it's not that great). They lost some edge with Google going full-textured 3D few years back (actually the Czech map had it sooner, just not as useful). But other than that much cleaner rendering, equally good aerial or street view, better routing, POIs, richer layers ...

(edit: and two huge UX advantages over GM: no stupid random rotation - North is UP, and a very quick and precise zoom by holding control)

Anyway, I wouldn't be surprised if there were similar stories in other countries.

1. https://en.mapy.cz/

2. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=cz.seznam.mapy or recently released as https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=cz.seznam.wind... (haven't tried it)

To me it seems to have a much less detailed view compared to google maps in all the places that I quickly tried. How can you proclaim that google maps is not much better than everything out there bringing this low detailed map as an example?

What do you mean less detailed? Any examples?

I checked both London and a small city in Italy and there is simply no comparison looking at the building details.

I explicitly said it's for one specific country...

Then it's true that google maps is much better. I don't really care about having only one country better when all the rest of the planet is less detailed...

It's used mostly in and for Czechia. Why would someone in Czechia care about the rest of the globe when he'll mostly use it to find stuff in Czechia?

I'd guess that 80% of my Google Maps use is within one country, and that 99% is within three countries. I'd definitely download separate maps for each country to get better directions and maps.

That's some really neat rendering, I can't remember seeing a better representation of the OSM data.

Exactly, especially public transport in Prague is so much better looking in mapy.cz I almost stopped using google maps.

The tourist layer (default on mobile) is great with all the data OSM has on bicycle paths.

Google has plenty of low revenue, unprofitable products, some of which are social charities like Google Scholar. I don't think Mayer deserves as much credit as a visionary as you are suggesting. It was more about empire building after a sudden demotion and not paying increasing licensing costs to a third party vendor for turn-by-turn data. But I agree that the end result is a mapping platform that is far ahead of anyone else thanks to Google's significant investment and resources.

I don't expect Google to pull its map app from iOS because it is a very valuable demographic to collect data from and target. Also, Apple already has a large hole on its balance sheet trying to catch up to Google in mapping. It started around the time they very publicly fired Forstall for the whole iOS 6 maps fiasco.

I agree with you but don't think that Google Scholar and Maps are even close to the same magnitude of product.

True, one of the X projects like Glass would be a better direct comparison in terms of resources and headcount. Google Scholar was just the first thing that popped into my mind when thinking of a Google product that is a social charity. Which, of course, is not the right way to think about Maps since the location data they collect is probably some of the most valuable data for their ad targeting.

Let me try to describe Scholar from a different angle: Google relies on a lot of experts in their respective fields in order to be successful. And they need to stay close to the state of the art and current research. Google scholar is just the kind of database that helps with that. It makes sense to build it for internal use. And given that Google is also good at data analysis, it makes sense to open it up to the public and learn from the usage data. For example: What are hot topics? Which papers are read often in the community? This data can give an extra level of insight into what is going on in the research communities.

I find Google Maps a PITA to use since the last big revamp of its interface a couple of years ago. It became slow, unreliable (tiles never loading, UI element never loading, freezes) and unpractical (moving routes points became horrible, I started failing half of the time to drag the route, removing points also often causes extra points of interest or route points to be added: a nightmare).

It used to be very good with the previous user interface. Now I use my national map provider (when I do not need Streetview) or Openstreetmap (when I do not need aerial pictures or Streetview). And for routing, I may use some cycling map, or Google maps when I hope I won't have to move any point (starting and ending point specified by address, and no change of route).

The biggest loss with the Google maps redesign is that I am limited to 10 via points. If I am creating a route I frequently use far more than that to ensure that the route goes where I want it to go. The only thing that keeps me using Google maps is street view, which to me is 1000x more useful than building shapes (most of the roads I ride were last street viewed in 2008, so I wish more resources would be put into updating the images.)

It's interesting how Google's projects don't spell financial returns immediately but a few years hence, they are the dominant player in that field. Management deserves credit for nurturing these project but it has always been characteristic of Google to support ambitious ideas.

Google Maps was more ready than anyone else to ride the smartphone explosion. I guess they will also be more ready than everyone to cash on self-driving cars, Advanced AI, VR, and maybe youth-enhancing drugs too.

It's interesting how Google's projects don't spell financial returns immediately but a few years hence, they are the dominant player in that field

Hmmm, wasn't this Microsoft's business strategy too, until the regulators got involved?

The difference is that Google usually spearheads a field, whereas Microsoft does that when they are catching up with existing leaders. One technique advances state of the art, the other leverages a monopoly to gain commercial advantages.

"Regulators" only got involved with browsers, once. You can't use that as an excuse for all the subsequent blunders by MS management. Their big tech bet was tablets and PDAs and they still got pipped by Apple and Google, without any involvement by lawyers.

The difference is that Google usually spearheads a field, whereas Microsoft does that when they are catching up with existing leaders

In what way? Google didn't invent search, mail, banner ads... nor maps.

Google Maps was leaps and bounds better than anything in the mapping space at the time.

Google Mail was leaps and bounds better than anything in the webmail space at the time (more space, better spam filter, better UI, imap support...).

The pagerank intuition (and the technical way of achieving it, with clusters of cheap PCs) was original in search at the time, which is how they built their lead.

Ads they mostly got from the Doubleclick acquisition, but the intuition of serving more palatable text ads on a mass scale was original.

Android they acquired, but the intuition of keeping it opensource was original in embedded systems at the time.

Whereas MS Office was just another office suite. Xbox was just another console. Windows CE was a hacked-down Windows that struggled vs real mobile systems. .Net was a Java clone. Bing was a Google clone. IIS was a clone of existing webapp servers, with the only advantage being that it came preinstalled. SQLServer they acquired and made it slightly easier to use than competitors. After Windows, IE was probably the only major project where they innovated substantially, and they let it die.

I agree about Maps and Mail, but I disagree about your assesment of Microsoft only failing - they had quite a few misses, but you're discrediting their hits.

The XBox's innovation (according to developers) was in making game development easier (DirectX) - heck, it was called DirectX Box originally!.

.Net started as a Java clone, but outpaced it significantly (LINQ, Lambdas, Generics, extensions, anonymous types) mostly thanks to Anders Hejlsberg.

I agree they had their share of high-profile failures, Windows CE and all of Microsoft's mobile forays failed, the current Windows Mobile was starting to get good but they had to kill it.

Excel was better than anything that came before and was a category-killer, so not "just another office suite" (although they did use their monopoly to force it).

They did have some wins (Azure) and they still have their cash cows to fall on.

My friend, you must not have been around during the days we would print out directions from Mapquest before every trip. I remember when Google Maps was first announced, I sat there dragging the map around my screen and was amazed to see the tiles fill in. It was like nothing else at the time.

Wait. What are you talking about? This seems like a noteworthy story.

Not sure if there is. Google and MS have tons of cash to burn during the early life cycle of a new product. Thus they can iterate long and fast to get something the market wants. However, Microsoft got bashed for abusing one successful product (Windows) to eliminate competition for another (Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player). Google comes close to this with the behaviour of thier search engine which has been judged to give unfair boosts to other Google products.

This kind of anticompetitive behaviour would be news. A big bank account all by itself is not.

I was just on a road trip through Spain, France, Italy and Slovenia. Google Maps was good enough for road navigation but not perfect, and some things I really would have expected to work did not: location of service stations on the highway comes to mind.

When searching for places in European cities large and small, Google is missing a ton of information and much of what it has is wrong. Opening times, for instance, or which thing is a bar or a restaurant or a bakery or a shop.

And we found the main party bar in three different (smallish) cities, totally unknown to Google. Thank God we're still social enough to ask the locals. :-)

My sense is that the map data that can be acquired programmatically is very good on Google, and anything requiring human input or verification is relatively weak, especially outside the USA.

This is presumably a big opportunity, long-term, since it's getting easier to have robots acquire data but anything high-touch seems uninteresting to AlphaGoo.

> My sense is that the map data that can be acquired programmatically is very good on Google, and anything requiring human input or verification is relatively weak, especially outside the USA.

Their Local Guides program in Maps is clearly a direct reaction to this, they even explicitly ask you to sign up with a message saying "we need help from a human". Once you're signed up you'll occasionally be asked a series of yes or no style questions about places you've visited, ranging from "Does this place have disabled access" to "Would you consider this a classy place". They also encourage you to do things like adding the opening hours of places they don't know about, or confirming that places are still in business.

> data that can be acquired programmatically is very good on Google, and anything requiring human input or verification is relatively weak

I think you've described Google as a whole with this one sentence. YouTube content classification. Web site content identification. Account abuse. Their porn filters. There are as many examples as there are Google data products.

> Many people don't realize why Google maps are so much better than anything out there.

Really have to chime in here to echo other comments - this statement is astounding. Given the resources that have been available to them, and the time they've spent on developing their platform and data, it's amazing how bad Google maps is compared to everything else.

Google Street View has unparalleled photographic data, and their very cool 3d extrusion of satellite data are nice features that still give them a competitive edge, but otherwise, on a purely cartographic level, Google Maps is really bad. Aside from Nokia and Apple, OSM's data through well-made interfaces by Maps.ME, Mapbox, Mapzen, etc. (intermediates necessitated by OSM's lack of financial resources for maintaining hosted tileservers) are all far better than Google's.

Do you have public transit in major countries, business listing, up to date open hours, reviews, walking directions, terrain view, My Maps feature, offline maps, offline directions, high quality coverage in dozens of countries, ability to search through other people’s list, street view, high detail satellite view and so on in said services?

A big part of my point above was that I was surprised that given those resources (many of which you've listed) the aggregate product is surprisingly poor.

Nobody else has the amount of data Google has, that could, with good design, potentially contribute to a good mapping experience.

Even so, to go through the things you list (ignoring Street View and satellite which I already mentioned above):

- Nokia maps has much better business listings, up to date opening hours and reviews than Google

- Maps.ME has far superior walking directions - their pathfinding algorithms can be a bit iffy, but OSM data has, in my experience, far better pedestrian- and walker-oriented trail data than Google. Particularly in remote areas, on mountains, etc. If by "terrain view", you mean the 3d visualisation, then Google's is quite pretty, but not as useful as more accurate and complete trails with graphed route altitudes.

- I'm not in the US, so Google's public transit data is likely better there, but here in Ireland it really isn't. This despite the fact all of our public transit services provide open real-time APIs. I'm not aware of any mapping service here that gets public transport integrate right, but OSM at least has better stop data than Google, which can be fed to RTPI APIs. Google's EU headquarters is here, which includes their Google Maps team...

- I find OSM coverage in is higher quality than Google in more than "dozens of countries".

I'm aware that all of the above is anecdotal, and much of it being from a non-US perspective, I guess some of this could just be an overly strong focus on the US on Google's part.

However, most of my issues with their Maps service is down to UX, performance (their web-based maps are particularly awful here), accessibility, and general consistency (e.g. their Android Street View app is really limiting and doesn't seem to integrate with anything else - the switching between it and the Android Maps app is unintuitive and generally makes very little sense in terms of actual use-cases). So I think this is somewhat independent of geographic focus.

I guess that's a case of YMMV, here in Uruguay Google wins on several of these.

OpenStreetMap wins on street numbers and other, because they're maintained by the municipal government.

Except for the "high quality coverage" (which previous poster in fact disputes), what has that to do with his argument "on a purely cartographic level" ?

3D extrusion of satellite data is nice in some cases - have a look at some of the more interesting remote islands. In most cases though it's significantly degraded the quality of the photo maps because the imagery is warped and has artifacts all over it, even in 2D.

If you want a real map, then Bing is the best solution in the UK because they partnered with the Ordnance Survey. OS maps are the civilian gold standard.

Are Bing partnered with OS or are they just using their data because it's open[0]?

[0] https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/business-and-government/pro...

The free map is 1:250k, but Bing Maps uses the 1:50k I think (it could be the 1:25k though, it's very detailed and has stuff like footpaths). It certainly looks better than the 1:250k.

Have a look at https://binged.it/2BFM0UA

And compare to the OS 1:25k example image: https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/business-and-government/pro...

In Russia, Yandex Maps [1] and 2GIS [2] are superior to Google Maps. Particularly the latter, since they actually employ humans to collect information about businesses so they always have accurate business hours and locations (it only works in select cities though).

[1] http://maps.yandex.ru [2] https://2gis.ru/moscow

What I don't realize is how Waze, owned by Google, has more roads (like 50% more, easily) and has house numbers compared to google maps, which has no house numbers and barely any roads, here in Lithuania.

This is their answer to how, though it doesn't answer the "why" question:

"The maps are completely separated. Waze and Google do share traffic info and reports.

Waze uses Google maps database for search (besides our own db ofcourse).

Sometimes Google maps data is imported into Waze. Streets, streetnames, parking lots.."


We are likely at the point where if Google withheld its map app from iOS, they would quickly find themselves on the wrong end of a DOJ lawsuit.

I am basically counting down the days until Google is the recipient of a major FTC enforcement action. It's going to happen in the next decade, and it will make Microsoft look like peanuts.

I did a small comparison of a few web services: https://imgur.com/a/4WEJ4

I grew annoyed at Google maps. It didn't show street names and numbers, and overall little detail, meaning that even if I (with GPS) easily found my location, it was hard to orient myself, and discover things around me. Things like "I know ABC is close to XYZ, I just need to find it by looking around XYZ" is really hard.

edit: and by small, I mean small. Nothing like the TFA, but grounded in a Swedish suburb (50k inhabitants), which is more meaningful to me. Also, I didn't have an apple-device at the time so no Apple maps included.

> its basically social charity in form of a free app.

Sorry but that's almost comically out-of-touch with today's reality. If you've been paying any attention you know exactly what Google takes from its users in return for this "social charity".

Honestly, even calling it a "social charity" is kind of offensive to actual social charities. They're not giving away this data, or opening it up, it's entirely Google's property and they're actively putting up multiple barriers to discourage people from using the service without giving up their privacy, location data and everything.

Imagine a corporation using a "social charity" as a lure like that.

If that's a "social charity" then so is Facebook's thing with the "free internet" in India.

That's a very good point. Many a times engineers have an excellent use case/rationale for investing in a piece of technology, but they are unable to convert it into the language that business would understand. Marissa and many others have mastered that art.

Google is better in some areas and is very good at sourcing, that's for sure. For those interested, the recent report[1] by Strategy Analytics might be relevant. It compares the strengths and weaknesses of Apple, Google, HERE and TomTom. And no, Google is not “much better than anything out there“

[1] https://www.strategyanalytics.com/strategy-analytics/news/st...

I prefer apple maps to google maps for most use cases.

Nokia's Here Maps is likewise superior.

I often heard that but always found Google's navigation better. Esp in European cities, where Google Maps will show street names in the map and Here won't (as of 6 months ago). I really wanted to get away from Google maps (to not use Google for everything) but found it to be clearly superior.

In my experience, it's actually (continental) Europe (A, D, HU, SI, CZ) that makes weaning off GM for PTP navigation rather easy...


Depends where you are. I’ve heard there are certain countries where Google Maps’ data isn’t actually very good.

For street data and navigation. Apple Maps in Australia is pretty much the same as Google Maps, so I mainly just use Apple Maps because I can command it via Siri while driving.

Google Maps has better search though if you don’t know the address, and the building outlines and street view are nice.

Bing maps use Ordnance Survey for the UK, which is far better than Google maps. OpenStreetMap also has better maps than Google.

However, Google has comprehensive streetview and more up-to-date aerial photography.

Google Maps tends to thrive where there are lots of people, at least in my region. I live in a medium-sized town with lots of new buildings under construction, and Google Maps seems frozen in time. I even registered as Local Guide and tried adding a new restaurant in May. Still waiting. There are inexistent shops, duplicated restaurants (when they changed name, the old remains but a new one has been added next to it), and mislabeled buildings. I quit trying to work for free for Google, they take too long to accept my changes.

It's not always better than everything out there; where I live in the greater Seattle area (in particular my current home), Google Maps doesn't have an accurate location-to-address mapping (it's not an apartment either) and the map visualization is not quite right either.

However, Bing and Apple maps get the correct location and have the right visualizations for the same area.

True. Also, Google has a great Places Search API. You can build so many more things with the Google maps libraries, unlike with other maps. For example just built https://stayintech.com/ with Google Maps API, after considering all the available options.

This is not accurate. MM was a late entrant and didn't like being there, had minimal impact.

>you can bet Apple is going to have a giant hole in their balance sheet.

I wouldn't be so dramatic. My roommate uses mostly Google products but she gets by with apple maps because her car only speaks that over Bluetooth. It's not the worst experience in the world.

Except from searching for addresses I find that OpenStreetMap offers a vastly better data source, nicer rendering and far superior routing capabilities.

This come from an admittedly from the PoV of not using a smartphone with google service, so it's either fully offline maps or online vector maps in the open source, well supported OsmAnd app or using the sluggish google maps website. Also I'm in Germany which has by far the best OSM map quality I have seen so far. And I almost exclusively cycle everywhere and every time I tried using google maps It sent me through some 2km cobblestone road 5 min after starting.

But I still find the Mapnik default rendering style very pleasant to look at.

As an additional benefit I can just fix OSM error on the fly, on my Phone, whether I'm online or offline and queue the update for later. There is really no competition here...

Edit: I forgot one of my main criticism of google maps. I mainly stopped using it in the webbrowser because it was getting sooooo slow. openstreetmap.org loads almost instantly.

A couple of things stand out for me from the article, one is that this sort of aerial image to detailed map was one of the things the US Government was doing with satellite images in the 70's, and with Google's compute resources if it this seems like the kind of 'side' use that would be encouraged. It is certainly a more useful use of compute resources than computing cryptohashes :-).

The second thing was that Google owns all of their data. When I was there Maps was pretty new, Google was digesting the acquisition of the Keyhole folks (who became Google Earth) and was complaining bitterly about how restrictive the usage rights were for the map data from a major mapping company. They kicked off a program to become independent of third parties for map data and to have the most accurate data in the world.

And if you turn the problem into an algorithm that can be parceled up between machines, you have way more of that than people. It's the one thing that the previous generation of computer companies didn't get, when computers are cheap having 50,000 of them isn't all that much different than having 5,000 especially if you can code up ways for them to route around damage. I think Maps is a good indication of what you can do when you think like that.

> And if you turn the problem into an algorithm that can be parceled up between machines, you have way more of that than people. It's the one thing that the previous generation of computer companies didn't get

And some open source data initiatives. Open Street Map, for all it's glory, is surprisingly anti-automation. There's a lot of stuff that could probably be done with programs that they refuse because it's too hard to peer review the massive resulting changesets. Which is unfortunate, because there's a huge potential for processing images from places like Planet to provide new data and annotations that we'll just straight up miss out on.

Detailed maps are certainly valuable. Getting those from satellites is impressive, and requires high-resolution imagery as well as lots of computing power.

We can get some satellite imagery for free from weather satellites, but it's nowhere near the resolution needed for street maps.


Sadly you are stuck buying it from a satellite company (expensive) or buying your own satellites (more expensive). My feeling is that 'Maps' is Google's insurance policy against the erosion of search advertising margin.

I could easily see Google making turn by turn or map detail a "small" $4.99/month service rather than having it be free.

It sure is nice having Justin O'Bierne writing publically about maps again. His old 41Latitude blog was phenomenal and then got blackholed when he went to work at Apple Maps. Then he left Apple and is back in the free world and doing phenomenal analysis of digital mapping like this article. I can't wait for him to finish his book.

It is ridiculously brilliantly detailed. I love the obsessiveness the has gone on to figure out the Google Maps changes.

It's wonderfully written too, easy to follow through his logic without having to re-read sections.

> he went to work at Apple Maps

??? He writes a lot of this article like he's trying to guess from press and outside observation what Apple is doing / planning. If he was JUST working there, wouldn't he know all this? Should his 'outside observations' be considered to be him fitting outside information to what he already knows?

I think he left Apple over a year and a half ago. But yeah, his observations about Apple Maps are particularly well informed. http://www.tested.com/tech/573368-brief-comparing-digital-ca...

Definitely the most detailed analysis about map readability and features selection over time and in different areas.

We might disagree on some points but his work is truly amazing and always interesting.

I agree with you over his previous blog and about his position at Apple Maps, great to see him doing what he does best.

My first thought reading the post was "Is this a book?" It might as well be.

What an incredible post. I just love this guys blog, I wonder how long it took to research all of this.

As a side note this gives me great confidence that Waymo will come out of the self driving car race in pole position.

Yes !

Each time justin writes a blog post, I feel like a cartographer for a couple of minutes.

I love the attention he puts to the evolution of mapping services.

The only better thing would be the same blog as a post mortem from Google where they discuss the reasoning, design and tech behind these changes.

Up to a point. At that point an autonomous system needs to be able to interpret and react to the physical world as it actually is at the moment as opposed to how it's supposed to be.

This is why efforts based on exhaustive mapping make me nervous. Things change, sometimes rapidly. The vehicle should be using its maps as a general guide, not as some kind of ground truth.

The vehicle should be using its maps as a general guide, not as some kind of ground truth.

Not to sound like a jerk, but I would be shocked if there were anyone working on this that was not pursuing things in this way. It just seems kind of obvious that you can't have some big hunk of metal rolling around, following some abstracted track from a map, without "looking" where it is going.

And yet we have Waymo building 2cm-resolution maps and not operating outside of mapped areas, and (more scarily) Tesla geotagging false positives where Autopilot misidentifies some roadside feature and panic brakes.

Are those approaches mutually incompatible? It seems to me that it would be easier to build a system which can drive fast when what it's seeing matches what it's expecting to see (most of the time), and which falls back to a much more conservative stance in the case of surprisal (i.e. expectation not matching observation).

If all the cars are always mapping and collecting data will maps ever be out of date?

Think of all the many times a software developer says "X will never happen."

Then think of what percentage of the time they're right.

Yes. Cast your mind to lightly-traveled rural roads. If you are driving one of the many unpaved roads in Arizona during flash flood season, and the last car through was a couple hours ago, will you bet your life that the road is still there?

But hey, that's not a realistic danger in the city, right? Well, look up the sinkhole named "Steve" that opened up in the middle of an Oakland, CA freeway.

Then there's Highway 1, which is known for landslides. Not to mention that little incident with the Bay Bridge back in '89...

By definition, any car that makes an update to a map has experienced an out of date map.

Cars obviously have sensors for real-time data capture. However, the question is how well they handle new signage/lights, road changes, construction, flooded lanes, etc. when those aren't in the database. It's fair to say that autonomous driving today is some point between "we run 100% off maps" and "we can handle things like a human could if we lost access to our maps." (And much closer to the former.)

Good point, the map is not the territory and the cars are engaging with the territory.

Another interesting thing to consider, should there be widespread use of autonomous vehicles is the absolutely massive deployment of digital sensors that would entail, and who would use this data and to what ends? It would basically be realtime Streetview.

There's a fairly steady stream of posts here about data/privacy/etc. It's easy to pillory companies for violating privacy rules in various ways or mishandling data. However, given that data can't be reliably anonymized and that a lot of things that happen in public have simply never been systematically recorded in the past, there are a lot of fundamental questions over what sorts of data should be recorded when they provide legitimate value to users.

As a hypothetical, what if autonomous driving is seen to depend on what many would see as invasive data collection and monitoring? Should it be permitted? That's a hypothetical, but I don't think there's an obvious answer to the question as posed.

I feel that in the long run the answer is going to be heavily biased towards automated driving - unautomated driving kills. Every year more than a million of people worldwide die for no good reason, just because we suck as drivers; currently automated driving isn't yet superior, but in the long run it will clearly be so.

I don't think that we'll ever justify that massive loss of privacy is more important than massive loss of life and health; especially if the bad consequences of loss of privacy is generally hypothetical and in the future; and the bad consequences of traffic accidents are obvious and immediate.

If it's the type of autonomous cars that are prototyped today, they are definitely going to be dependent on invasive data collection.

Does it get sent back to the mothership? How is it processed? Is it discarded? Who has access?

When data is the new oil, these questions answer themselves if there is not legislation to prevent it.

Such data would be hugely attractive for commercial interests.

Hedge-funds and the like, use aerial imagery to get data like the amount of cars in parking lots at shopping areas.

With a fleet of cars with 360 degree cameras driving around, not only could the number of people on the sidewalks be counted, but it would be technically possible to identify most of them.

One thing I really appreciate about Google Maps is how accurate the times are. There have been numerous times where google maps says is will take x minutes to get there and I think "Nah, I'll be able to get there faster than that." Nope, I've never had google maps be off by more than a minute or so. I think it must take into account not just road conditions and traffic, but also how much I am likely to go over the speed limit.

Very much agree, with only one caveat: unpaved roads.

Google Maps estimates are wildly off when parts of the drive are along unpaved roads in Australia. It assumes a ludicrously low speed of 30-40 km/h for such roads, when most cars are able to go 80+ km/h, depending on the road. I've beaten Google arrival estimates by more than 2 hours on some drives.

When planning drives involving unpaved sections, we usually ask Google for the estimates for the paved sections (which are generally accurate), then estimate the unpaved sections based on the distance and a guess at a reasonable speed for the road.

I've also noticed that Google is much better at estimating speeds along unpaved roads that have mobile signal coverage. It seems like it uses user-generated driving data for them to some extent, but not at all for the ones without coverage. This leads me to think that they accept real-time user data, but will not "queue" the gathered data on the app for uploading later, when mobile signal is available.

This seems like a strange decision, given that unpaved roads and lack of mobile coverage correlate by nature. I suppose it's probably a security-minded decision, to prevent malicious agents from easily uploading bad data. Or maybe a quirk of the way Waze data plays into this.

One (totally unverified, bu) hypothesis that I have is that they drastically underestimate speed on roads that are rarely used by cars but frequently used by farming vehicles; they're using user data to estimate the speeds, they can see that the 'usual' vehicle going there is driving 30 kph but they can't see that it's a tractor pulling a wagon of hay.

Interestingly enough i was really surprised when i used Gmaps in Thailand and Cambodia with the exact same issue of bad roads. It was usually accurate. However i think i always had cell signal so your assumption likely is right.

It's not just unpaved roads. I also find that "private" roads (inside gated communities) around me are often extremely far off in terms of speed limit. There are private roads around here with speed limits of 45+ MPH that Google seems to calculate as 15-25MPH. It really throws off the time estimates if you're coming from or going to one of those neighborhoods. And it's been like that for YEARS. If they were using user-generated data, I'd expect that it would eventually get better, but I've seen no evidence of it. Waze does a better job at this.

It also apparently sucks if one of those private roads you turn down happens to be a private driveway and you are a car thief.


I don't think the paving has as much to do with this as the smartphone traffic. I find drives on rural paved roads with no cell reception and low population are often overestimated by 30%. Maybe I drive too fast on these roads. I certainly appreciate Google keeping other drivers off these roads, however.

The crazy thing to me is that it's pretty decent at estimating even in dynamic traffic conditions. Consider US101 in the Bay area at rush hour - if you leave San Jose around 6pm, you'll drive straight into traffic, but by the time you get to SF it'll be significantly lighter. A lesser algorithm would give you a time prediction based on current traffic speeds at all points along your path, which would give you a wildly pessimistic estimate when you leave and only converge when you get close to your destination. But Maps has enough data to know that at that time of day traffic is trending better, and by how much.

I just figure they are using the average of other people who took the exact same trip last week when conditions were similar.

They are using people's locations in real time for traffic. >Traffic density is gathered via crowd sourcing from smartphone users using Google Maps on a mobile application in a route. In a nutshell, Google™ is analysing the GPS-determined locations transmitted by a large number of smartphone users. By calculating the speed of users along a length of road, Google™ is able to generate a Live Traffic Google Map™.


I think it is actually not a highly complex algo. They have enough data to simply look at people who took the exact same or almost the same trip at the same time of day. Mix that with a bit of user provided traffic data to make sure it is similar to the comparisons and viola.

It's a problem that seems really simple until you dig into it. Traffic usually changes, and that's hard to predict. In broad strokes it's a "simple problem" but that's true of so many things (from bridges to self-driving cars). The complexity is in handling all the subtleties and edge cases and tuning everything so that the results actually are accurate.

There's a lot of traffic engineering theory based on viscous fluid approximation though. They'd be idiots not to leverage that.

I find that the time estimates can vary a lot when driving long distances. I think that you get a lot more variability in travel time in the countryside though, depending on driver confidence and experience.

I usually manage to knock a 4.5 hour drive down to 4 hours or less.

Their acquisition of Waze really gave them the edge here. Waze has been getting better and better at predicting times. I find that in most situations it is rarely off by more than a minute or two.

I have the same opinion about their acquisition of Waze. But I think Waze itself as a GPS is quite frustrating. It tells me to take the worst local road, when Google Map takes me the better route (the exact route I would have taken anyway without the GPS). After tryig a few times I have given up on Waze completely. I feel Google is using Waze for getting additional usee data points.

I also found them to be crazy accurate for walking directions. I always think "well, I fancy myself a speedy native New Yorker amongst all that gawking tourist data Google must have, I can cut down this half hour walk by a few minutes at least". Almost always arrive right on their estimate.

Interesting, Ive had the opposite experience while driving back to NYC from other east coast cities. Google generally takes into account that traffic will increase as I approach NYC, but the initial estimate is always off by at least 1-2 hours.

I wish they introduced a "motorcycle" vehicle type. At least for cities, it makes a big difference in arrival time estimations.

Seems tougher to do estimation specifically for motorcyclists.

Some areas allow lane splitting, others don't. Some riders are on tourers that can't hop through traffic but can maintain highway speeds comfortably, others ride single-cylinder dual sport bikes that can't maintain 60 without taking a physical toll on the rider. And every rider has a slightly different risk tolerance, which translates to different behavior in traffic. I personally don't mind lane splitting between two semi trucks cruising abreast at highway speed, but I get anxious squeezing through cramped city traffic. And I slow down considerably anywhere a SMIDSY might happen, even if I have the right of way.

Also, it may be difficult for Google to identify who is riding a motorcycle from location data alone, which is what they would use to generate the motorcycle estimations. Not sure how they would do it...maybe using accelerometer/gyro data to identify inward leans during turns? The assumption being that cars will lean outwards, while bikes will lean inwards.

They did that recently in India - not sure if and when they'll roll it out to the rest of the world.

I sometimes got the impression they do but still present it as car. I've got highly unrealistic driving times of a car in Bangkok that were very close to my actual driving time on a scooter for example.

Google maps is improving since the day I first saw it - that must have been around 2003 or so. The improvement on the data is phenomenal if you look at it over then past 10+ years; The amount of times I blindly trust GM to go somewhere increase every year. I suspect the edgecases will be solved slowly, like navigating to a shop inside a mall, a market stall, an ad-hoc gathering, a planned building, et cetera.

Typing in an address, going there by directions, verifying the building front without extra time needed for travel is truly magic.

This is all true, but of course there will always be a few missing features that seem so obvious and useful that you wonder why they still don't have them.

For me it's one or two announcements of the actual destination address at the end of the drive. If it's not an address I'm familiar with and not a business with a sign out front, by the time I get there I've usually forgotten the street number!

But when I arrive all I hear is "your destination is on the right."

It would be so great if the last two announcements were:

"Your destination, 123 Main Street, will be on the right in 800 feet."

"Your destination, 123 Main Street, is on the right."

That's what Apple Maps does (but only for the very last announcement):

"Your destination is on the right, 123 Main Street."

For me the problem with Google Maps is how appallingly badly it fails when things go wrong. The offline mode is prone to silently getting locked in "rerouting" and just completely leaving me hanging for 10 minutes at a time. And if it loses gps signal, it doesn't seem to think the driver needs to know about this. A Silent failure is terrible.

I was driving once, with a Google Maps engineer giving directions. We had flown thousands of miles to visit a place, which we had visited the day before. During the second drive over, from the hotel, he expounded on the awesomeness of Maps (which is truly awesome, don't get me wrong) right up until his phone said "Your destination is on the left" and all we had was a fence with a grass field on the other side. We were looking for a complex of buildings we had seen before, so this was clearly not correct.

To his credit, he immediately started thinking through what had gone wrong, but it was so awesome to be a witness to that moment.

My Google Maps tells me every time when I lose GPS Signal.

The best is when it has GPS but spotty cell service and you miss a turn because "turn right onto $longname $state $many_syllable_route_number" is actually a yield that doesn't require you to stop and you need to turn left/right onto $other-street before it's done telling you to do what you just did. Then it tries to re-route you but 3g service is too spotty to do that but not to spotty to get so far along in the process that it discards the old route you just made a U-turn and got back onto.

I usually hear "your destination is on the right", and become aware to having zoomed by the place. 5 minutes of U-turning ensues.

My biggest complaint about Google Maps is that it changes its scale as you get closer to a turn. You try to judge how close you are by how fast you've been approaching it, and suddenly you find you've zoomed past.

My best experience with google maps was actually finding a restaurant inside of Kyoto or Tokyo mainstation. Google maps navigated me perfectly across all floors and knew all stairs I had to take.

GM saved us from missing a wedding using an near obsolete razr i over 3G while the in-car GPS was directing us into oblivion.

Not only GM was generally right, the overal intertial refresh rate was smooth .. extremely surprising.

I'm not overly surprised that Google have added so many buildings in such a short time... This IS the same company that re-encoded the whole YouTube corpus (which while small at the time was still a considerable about of content) in a weekend to improve the user experience (SD -> HD launch).

I can't find anything about this re-encode - do you have a link to read about it?

It's mentioned at the end of this blog post: https://youtube.googleblog.com/2009/11/1080p-hd-comes-to-you...

Doesn't mention a time-frame though.

The article keeps mentioning satellites but Google's imagery data is mostly provided by planes, not satellites. They have their own fleet of planes, which they have hollowed out and redesigned (with the supervision and authorization of the FAA) and fitted with their cameras.

Also, it's not as simple as "Google has a six year lead on Apple in imagery": it's more that Apple can't keep up. As the article correctly states, Apple started collecting aerial imagery around the same time that Google did, they just haven't been able to execute on it as fast as Google did, and by now, they probably never will.

It is a combination of data.

> You can see a large collection of imagery in Google Earth, including satellite, aerial, 3D, and Street View images. Images are collected over time from providers and platforms. Images aren't in real time, so you won't see live changes. (https://support.google.com/earth/answer/6327779?hl=en)

I am sure they buy some data from a plethora of companies, such as Harris Geospatial(http://www.harrisgeospatial.com/)

Satellite Data They bought and sold a satellite imagery company, renamed it Terra Bella and then it was acquired by Planet Labs.

> On April 14, 2017, we officially welcomed the Terra Bella team to Planet. Over the next year, our new team will work hard to make SkySat imagery available through the Planet platform. This will take a huge combined effort across our entire organization—from our mission operations and software teams to our product, marketing and sales teams. (https://www.planet.com/terrabella/) (https://www.planet.com/pulse/planet-to-acquire-terra-bella-f...)

If Apple can’t keep up with Google, how is anyone ever expected to launch a competitor to Google without VC money?

Same as usual: Picking a niche and trusting that Google prefers to spend its attention on improving adwords rather than on inventing a niche product.

Google is scary, because it's unusually competent for a big company. But apart from that it's the same as usual: The bigcos can devote a big team to build whatever it is you're building and then leverage their existing customer relationships to sell it to many of their existing customers. But they usually don't. They work on their big core products instead.

Most bigcos aren't doing that because it's illegal, not because they don't want to.

If you, e.g., have market dominance in operating systems, you can't prefer any web browser, install any browser as default, or advertise any based on the OS. In the same way, if you control web search, you can't prefer one web shopping site, or one web maps service. And you especially can't integrate one, but not the other.

The goal of all this legislation was to ensure that a company like Google can't use their advantage in search to gain an advantage in maps, to avoid exactly the current situation.

It's not as clear cut as that. Someone actually has to bring the antitrust suit. In the last few decades, the US government hasn't been doing as much of that as they used to. Once in the suit, then you have to argue about the "relevant market" to determine which other companies count as competitors. This question probably consumes more time in an antitrust case than any other. Then you have to argue about how much of that market the defendant controls.

At least in the US, I know of no legislation forbidding a dominant OS maker from preferring some browser. Microsoft was put under some rules like that after their antitrust suit, but that's very different from legislation forbidding all companies from having such preferences.

Europe is different. I've not studied their antitrust law as I have that of the US, but I believe they're more aggressive on both the enforcement and legislation sides. I think the average American would be better off if US antitrust policy were more aggressive than it is now.

Of the three cases I named, 2 already were ruled antitrust violations under EU law, actually. And against the third, a case is also ongoing.

So, from an EU perspective, it is as clear cut as that :)

I used the word 'niche', you counter with web browsers.

So you're saying that we shouldn't expect any new competition in web browsing, and it's expected to stay an Oligopoly forever, unless a new entrant to the market gets a significant advantage?

That, too, sounds exactly like what would be needed to demand more government regulation of that market.

One of the tasks of the government is to ensure that any market is free to new entrants, and that only the best product wins, and network effects are eliminated.

Google Project Sunroof[1] is a pretty cool project that I imagine uses this very detailed mapping of buildings. Check it out, especially if you are thinking about getting solar power installed at your home. I think many solar companies use it to do estimates.


There may be many more potential uses of this data in the future. Augmented reality, indoor mapping, robotics, etc.

This is excellent. Have they got a tool to tell whether a place is in the sun or the shade depending on the time?

Earlier this year, Google Maps was directing people traveling to my newly-constructed home to a different location several miles away. I reported the problem to Google via their app, which prompted me to indicate the correct location on a map. The new location was in their database within a day or two, and I received a thank-you email from Google. Amazing.

Google maps has the name of the street I live near spelled incorrectly (O'Neil vs O'Neill). They're the only mapping service that has it wrong and I've tried to submit the error through google maps multiple times to get it fixed -- it's still not fixed. It's odd to me, because I've submitted other fixes in the past for mapping errors and they're usually accepted within a few days. When I direct people to my house now I have to intentionally misspell the name so google maps will route them correctly.

I moved into a newly-constructed home two years ago.

I first tried to correct google, and I was told I was wrong.

So I tried again, and they fixed it.

Then a 'local expert' decided it was wrong and now my address is on the wrong side of the road and none of my attempts to change it to be correct has succeeded.

[edit] It looks like I can't even suggest an edit on it as it's a Post Code that's incorrect.

They've definitely gotten better at accepting corrections. Five years ago we just had to tell customers not to look for a driveway that didn't exist a mile away from our actual business. Now it's easy to correct any problems one notices.

Apple has too. I've submitted corrections, added places, changed location details, etc and they've all showed up within a couple days. I wonder if Apple has a user reputation thing going on.

TomTom on the other hand... different story. They have a map editor tool, that I have yet to get to even load.

There are two instances where Google has not accepted my changes:

1) A restaurant in Vancouver was known for their oysters. I went back years later and although the name and reviews remained, the owners completely changed the restaurant. Completely different style of food, seating, service, everything. I reported that their reviews should be wiped clean, and Google didn't change anything. Disappointing.

2) When you hop on a road while navigating and Maps says "follow this road for x kilometers" you expect to be on that road for x kilometers. In my town it seems that google decided that the road should change visual style in the more trafficked part of the city, so it seems they split it up. Now navigation says multiple times "continue on road for x kilometers" but with shorter distances. It's not intuitive. They wouldn't change it.

I laugh when people tell me their address but say "Google maps doesn't show the right location". I go in and change it for them and they never have to tell people that again. Crowdsourcing is wonderful.

I couldn't disagree more. Perhaps you can help me out but I see no way to correct invalid addresses on Google Maps. How did you do it?

I'm currently using Google Maps on iOS 11.2.1. This may do it for you:

    1. Bring up the app menu (tap the icon in the upper right).
    2. Tap Settings.
    3. Tap Edit Home or Work.
    4. Tap the elipsis on the right side of the Home item.
    5. Follow the instructions...

I was pleasantly surprised to how much attention to detail and thought goes into the cartography design on Google Maps. Just yesterday, I noticed this little gem when searching for the Channel Islands off of California: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Channel+Islands+National+P...

Try zooming in and zooming out slowly and watch what happens to the labeling of the islands since they are actually a collection.

Google also has a giant lead in trails / feature names. I hike a ton and Google has been adding trails at a brisk pace. I just checked the Snoqualmie Pass area about an hour outside of Seattle and Apple Maps has almost no trails, named mountains or named lakes (even quite large ones). A few trails show up as unnamed roads. There's also no relief shading to tell where the mountains are or a terrain view for contour lines.

Although I find, in a lot of places, that OpenStreetMaps is a lot better than Google for hiking trails.

Yeah I agree 1000%, at least for New Zealand, any tracks that art super popular aren't on Google, but most are on OSM.

Not to mention, I find seeing Googles walking tracks kinda hard, especially if you're new to an area and want to see what tracks are around.

OSM often has things that are barely more than animal tracks. It's pretty awesome when you want to go exploring.

Yep, though I use All Trails when actually on the trail, it's fantastic. I just appreciate seeing trails (and trailheads as POIs) when using Google Maps for drives.

I've added a lot of those places manually through the "Add a missing place" in the menu. The review process either takes 2 days or stays in limbo forever. Google maps also gamified the contribution process so you can get internet points for improving their maps.

I was curious about these "internet points", and found this: https://techcrunch.com/2017/06/13/google-maps-updates-it-loc...

"... guides who get to level four will now get three months of free access to Google Play Music and 75 percent off rentals in the Google Play Movie store."

Yep, it's a shell of its former glory. They used to give out Google Map shirts at the end of the year if you contribute allot, as well as 1TB of free Google Drive storage for a year. You also sometimes get invited to try some map-related apps before it becomes public. Very rare though.

Just to make sure, you're aware that this information you're contributing is to the benefit of a company that has no interest in sharing the data back with you if it's not a financial win for them? Because that's the reason I don't want to contribute: I can't even export my own changes in a standard format, let alone our collective contributions or even all data.

> There's also no relief shading to tell where the mountains are or a terrain view for contour lines.

At least in my experience, this is done to keep the view uncluttered. The data is still there, and turning on Satellite view+3D shows the mountains and hills.

Knowing that you're looking at a mountain range isn't clutter! Nor is a different map layer for topographic contour lines.

Is there a reason anyone uses Apple Maps, aside from wanting to avoid Google out of principle/privacy/monoculture concerns? To be clear, these are entirely legitimate reasons, but I was wondering if the product has any direct benefits for the user (which is a coherent subset of reasons given the modal users' level of concern about systemic issues).

I'm not trying to randomly snipe at Apple here, I just know very little about Apple Maps beyond the bad press its gotten and Apple's general software product competency weaknesses.

EDIT: Thanks for the responses, that's all pretty much the kind of thing I was wondering about

I use Apple maps for navigation and Google maps for looking. Apple maps's navigation does basic things like tell me what the next exit on the freeways, even thought it's twenty miles away, so I have some idea what I need to do next. It knows that in the UK, roundabouts go by the city the road goes to next (on signs), instead of Google which uses road names (not on signs, useless). It tells me right before I need to turn, unlike Google which I always misinterpret. Apple maps seems to label the major roads better. Google maps seems to have decided that things like freeway numbers aren't necessary until you zoom in really tight, which is extremely unhelpful when driving.

Google maps, however, knows where everything is, everywhere. Also, you can download offline maps and get navigation in the middle of nowhere.

If I'm being 100% honest, no, other than better integration into the iOS ecosystem. For me, Apple Maps is pretty terrible all around. It feels like it was designed by a group of people that don't actually drive anywhere.


- Search results are terrible compared to Google's.

- While the UI is generally smoother, it lags behind (i.e. It shows a turn a good bit after I do). This is especially frustrating when driving through small city blocks and trying to be in the correct lane for the next turn.

- Lane guidance was finally added, but no way to see ahead like in gmaps.

- Day/night mode is very fussy. When I'm driving through the Bay Bridge at night it constantly flips back and forth between day/night due to the overhead lights.

- It is pretty frustrating that the line ahead of me is constantly wobbling around instead of matching the curve/line ahead of me. It feels disorienting and makes it difficult to see if there's an upcoming left/right ahead. Google generally does a good job trying to visually match what you're seeing. https://imgur.com/a/t3Sxm

- If I check traffic when I wake up, then go through my morning routine, then check it again, there's a 90% chance it'll crash on startup.

- No way to add a stop

- No street view

and so on...

"- No way to add a stop"

You can add a stop, but it's limited to gas stations, coffee shops and restaurants. Why? I don't know.

I use Apple Maps when walking because of the nice turn by turn integration with the Apple Watch.

Two reasons:

1. Google’s Material UI is a total dumpster fire and I use it only as a last resort.

2. Apple Maps integrates much better with everything else I’m using, so the experience is smoother (e.g., looking up an address on my laptop and then sending directions to my phone).

I keep Google Maps around as a backup, mostly for places of interest way out in the boonies, like hiking trailheads.

Do you have any coherent reasoning behind your characterization of Material as a "total dumpster fire"? Other than "I don't like it and thus it must be bad?"

A large part of it is certainly my personal preferences. And even if Material were itself good, completely disregarding the UI pattern the rest of the phone follows in your apps to implement your own is still going to be jarring.

But I always come back to Material's "Up" button when asked for an example: https://material.io/guidelines/patterns/navigation.html#navi...

I use it primarily because of integration with the lock screen and integration with CarPlay.

I would like to use it for these reasons, and also that the Apple Maps UI just feels a little nicer to me than the Google Maps app on iOS. There's also the unfortunate fact that Apple doesn't allow users to select a default maps application, so Apple maps integrates better with Messages and other 3rd party apps.

But even with all of these reasons, Google's data and search capabilities are so much better than Apple's that they make Apple Maps feel unusable by comparison.

Google maps absolutely obliterates my battery life (iPhone 6S+). Last time I travelled it I was down to 40% at noon.

I've had the same experience, but is it Maps, or the continual use of GPS?

It's probably both. Apple Maps is lighter on the battery, but I'd assume it uses the GPS too since it uses the battery harder than would be expected with just keeping the screen on.

I'm pretty sure it's maps- could be a buggy version. IME Apple maps navigation causes minimal battery drain.

I find it a much better view of the transit layer, and I actually enjoy its navigation UX, but that's about it.

Apple Maps automatically tracks my parking location. Have to do that manually in GMaps.

Really? Google Maps used to ask me if it should remember where I was parked (as of last year). Last week I noticed while visiting Google Maps when waiting in line to checkout that GMaps had automatically labeled where I was parked without input from me.

Possible they started doing it already... it should be easy for them. I don't see it happening yet though.

Apple doesn't allow non-apple maps apps to be used with CarPlay.

Google Maps doesn't work well at all on one of my Macs. In Safari, the 2D view works, but the 3D view doesn't work. In Chrome, the satellite tiles are all black (but the roads are visible). In Firefox, the satellite and roads are both black.

It's the same (and most recent) version of all these browsers as my other Mac, where it works fine. How does one debug this? I've tried googling (ha) for every combination of words I can imagine. Google's tech support seems basically nonexistent, for their free services.

Or I can just open Maps.app, and it always works. The data isn't as good but it's not terrible, and at least the basics work fine. I'm not a heavy maps user so that's good enough for me.

Sounds like a problem with webgl? Try lite mode https://www.google.com/maps/@?force=lite&dg=dbrw&newdg=1.

Yes, that works, in all browsers. I assumed it's something related to 3D graphics, but that doesn't really help me with troubleshooting it. Other WebGL demos (like the famous ball-in-water one) work fine. Only Google Maps is broken.

On iOs/mobile, Apple Maps has a much prettier, more usable UI. All the buildings are shown 3d in Bay Area during navigation. Google maps does not show 3d while navigating. From this point of view, Apple offers a superior user experience. That's why I use it.

I switch to Google when traffic is really bad, as I trust its timing estimates more.

* Apple Maps has better navigation in Oakland than Google * Transit instructions are vastly superior.

Apple Maps, OSM, etc are needed because even weak competition forces Google Maps to keep improving

Google also uses (used?) a great deal of human judgment in Maps (note: these sources are a few years old now) [1, 2].

[1] https://www.wired.com/2014/12/google-maps-ground-truth/ [2] https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/09/how-g...

I think people generally wildly underestimate the scope and impact of Ground Truth (or are entirely ignorant of it).

Back when Apple Maps launched (and probably just after GT had been publicly acknowledged), I had a chat with an Apple journalist, and basically told him that Apple had no idea what they were in for. They'd fix the obvious big public bugs (turning off of highway overpasses) easily enough, but they would remain way behind on data quality. Back then Google was spending something like a billion dollars a year for GT and Street View alone, which is a massive organization that Apple just didn't have, wasn't likely to build, and couldn't license. Add to that a huge lead in satellite imagery, custom flyover data, business data from web search, customer feedback from their incumbent maps app, and I just didn't see any way that Apple was going to come even close to Google's map quality in the next several years. Basically the only question to me was if/how quickly they'd reach "good enough" status for their users to avoid tarnishing their brand.

Story time: Back before GT was used widely, I think some street addresses were placed by just linearly interpolating them along the road. Charleston and Rengstorff are a bit weird near the Google campus, so for a while people looking for directions to the shopping center on the other side of the freeway would find themselves getting directed (embarrassingly!) to the Google Maps building, with its big red pin in front reminding them how they'd been led astray. After giving directions to these lost souls one too many times, I got annoyed enough to rant to someone about how terrible the data was. He agreed, took me over to a what I now know must have been a GT operator, got it fixed, and told me it would be live within a month. So I got to say that I'd personally served some Maps traffic, and reduced load on a low performance server as well (my QPS is pathetic).

Yeah, here the buildings quickly disappear outside of dense areas. Which could be a result of prioritizing the denser areas with an automated system, but there's lots of missing buildings in the built up areas too.

I was surprised how the post yammered on about extracting data from street view .. when a lot of data is added by humans (Local Guides) and by business owners themselves.

I accidentally used Apple Maps once as I was going to a (new) doctor's office. I realized I was using Apple maps halfway through my drive and I joked with myself that it wouldn't bring me to the right place. I was heading to a fairly large medical complex in Orange County (CA) and I sort-of had an idea of where I was going anyway, but boy, was I wrong.

According to Apple maps, the doctor's office was literally in the middle of a field. I missed it the first time around (drove past it for a few miles, following my GPSs instructions) and then soon realized that I was already going through residential areas.

Never again, Apple. For context, this was 3 months ago. This doesn't seem like a hard problem to solve. My guess is that Apple just gave up.

I was using Apple Maps a few weeks ago, and wanted to get something to eat. I saw a place called “Shake Shack” and decided to go there. Not only did it not exist, I checked online, there has never been a Shake Shack in my town, there’s only a handful in my country.

How Apple Maps got that wrong, I honestly don’t know. Where did the data come from, and why is it that incorrect?

I reported it, and it’s since been removed, but I can’t do that for everything in my town, and there’s so much missing; I can’t report that, or edit the map like you can on OpenStreetMap.

Honestly, why does Apple Maps exist? Either it needs to be like Google Maps (and just work), or be like OpenStreetMap and let Apple fans edit the map and get more involved.

I gave them a lot of patience and understanding years ago (mapping the world is hardly an easy task), but my patience has run out. It’s been a shit show from day one and I honestly don’t see that changing anytime soon.

It seems they wanted to be Google Maps but failed. You raise a very interesting point with OpenStreetMap - just like WebKit, Apple could just have put some of their billions into boosting that effort, I agree that this would have been way more productive, especially given how engaged smartphone users are with their maps.

They did (partially) use OpenStreetMap at the start of their mapping efforts: https://blog.openstreetmap.org/2012/10/02/apple-maps/ . No idea what their current involvement is though.

Apple have people working on OSM; they're just secretive about it as they are with most things.

Not sure what you are saying with the comparison to Webkit. As Webkit only became what it is because someone actually took Apple to task over the Khtml (K as in KDE, used to power their Konqueror browser) engine license.

And even then the first response from Apple was a plain source dump with zero documentation on the changes they have made, that made it basically impossible to roll the changes back into Khtml.

Would not surprise me that this was one of the reasons Apple went to work purging GPL licensed code from their offerings.

Google's not infallible either. I was looking at a map and noticed that it labelled a restaurant called OPH in Chanhassen, MN. The Original Pancake House is one of my favorite restaurants and is sometimes abbreviated OPH, so I was intrigued. Going to the street view you can see that it's a purely residential area with a park and a pool and no restaurant in sight. Try it for yourself.

I just tried it and ended up being sent here:


Back out of Street View and you'll see I've landed at Prairie Center Dr, Eden Prairie, MN. Is this right?

What's interesting is that if I type "oph chanha" Maps autocompletes "OPH Summerfield Drive, Chanhassen, MN, USA" but then if I hit Enter, it thinks for a fraction of a second then just stops dead. If I hit Enter again it comes up with no results. Interesting glitch!

I did the autocomplete test in incognito to get non-cookie/history-polluted results.

The Summerfield Drive address is the one I noticed that is wrong. I have no idea how they determined there was a restaurant at that location.

Probably an autocomplete cache not being purged properly. There are only two problems in computer science...

I reported a pharmacy that was supposedly in my neighbours garden. On about the 3rd or 4th report (over a year) it was removed.

Apple Maps still struggles with POI accuracy, and speed of map data updates, but it's much better than it was since launch.

To offer a counterpoint, I decided to start alternating between Apple Maps and Google Maps a few months ago and — so far — I haven’t been led astray by Apple Maps. I do live in L.A., however, which is probably among the best case scenarios for Apple Maps at the moment.

Google does have the better product, but for the most part I can see Apple Maps being at least “good enough” for my use, much the same way that Safari, for me at least, is “good enough” compared to Chrome. Unfortunately, anecdotes of Apple Maps underperforming are all too common, and I think Apple needs to keep investing (and probably a lot) if they intend to win users over.

The problem for Apple is why would anyone want to use "good enough" when the alternatives are better, free, and easily available?

If it weren't for the fairly deep tendrils Apple Maps has in iOS itself, or if it were possible to change the 'default' maps app to a competitor's, there wouldn't be a particularly compelling reason. As it is, however, using a third-party app sometimes means awkwardly copying and pasting addresses, not having a turn-by-turn map present on the lock screen and so on, so there are compelling reasons against using third-party maps apps.

These limitations are, of course, entirely of Apple's creation.

These limitations are really a byproduct of the deal falling apart between Apple and Google. Apparently, Google wanted access to more user data in exchange for adding turn-by-turn directions to Google Maps. They could not reach a deal, so Apple Maps was hastily created and Google Maps was booted from the default image.

In the end I can understand the limitations on the lock screen because it can be tricky to figure out the right way to give third-party apps special permissions like that. This is not some kind of tacked-on limitation that Apple added, but instead it's something that didn't exist on iOS until Apple added it. Remember that Google Maps, at the time, didn't give turn by turn directions at all never mind on the lock screen. Given how cautious Apple has been with the iOS permissions model (compared to Android, for sure) this shouldn't be even slightly surprising.

The fact that you can't make Google Maps the default handler is stupid, though.

> In the end I can understand the limitations on the lock screen because it can be tricky to figure out the right way to give third-party apps special permissions like that

Interestingly enough, I did some exploring into how Apple was doing this and it seems like there's already an (internal) "API" for bundles of code that work on the home screen and lock screen. Currently it's taken advantage of by apps like Assistant (Siri), ChatKit (I assume this is Quick Reply notifications?), Wallet (which shows up on the lock screen), and the Wi-Fi picker in addition to Maps. Check out /System/Library/SpringBoardPlugins if you're curious.

The amusing thing is that although Android theoretically allows you to change your default map application, no one would do that since Google Maps is installed by default, and it's so much better than anything else out there (as illustrated by the article above).

I don't understand why this would be a problem. Apple Maps is not competing with Google Maps. Apple Maps is simply there so Apple can provide turn-by-turn navigation out of the box without paying Google for it. The fact that Google Maps is free to consumers is irrelevant, because it's not free for Apple to bundle with iOS.

> Apple Maps is not competing with Google Maps.

Uhh, it 100% is. The fact that I don't use Google Maps and use Apple Maps instead means that it's in direct competition.

Maybe you're both right? I do think there's a different type of competition here. Apple has their own mapping app as a hygiene feature of their platform, whereas Google is building out Google Maps as a platform of itself.

I'm sure Apple would love it if you used Maps so much that it created ecosystem locking, but I doubt Apple is too upset that you downloaded Google Maps on your iPhone.

> because it's not free for Apple to bundle with iOS

Would love to see a citation for that. Wouldn't Google want to boost maps usage on iOS?

https://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2012/06/09/apple-is... mentions that, and links to this: https://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2012/03/30/google-m...

I didn’t follow all the links, but apparently this was referenced in a court case.

"better, free, and easily available" is variable, especially if you're in Apple's ecosystem.

The problem with maps is that in order to be reliable, they need to work everywhere - in familiar areas, people know where they're going; but it's the weirder parts where they start to really care about the accuracy of maps. It's not sufficient for you not to be lead astray in LA, the question is whether you're sure enough to rely on it when driving through a rural area in the middle of USA or on a business trip overseas to a country you've never been to - can you be sure that you can just type in your destination, follow the directions, and actually get where you should be even if you have no idea about any of the landmarks?

I can't be certain of that with any maps app. It's not as though I've never had the occasional problem with Google Maps, and even if I didn't, surety is an impossibly rare thing.

With Google Maps I feel I'd have greater confidence for its accuracy, but placing complete confidence in any maps app would be a mistake.

i so badly want apple maps to be good enough but it's not there yet. maps is the only google product i use regularly (i use apple maps maybe 20% of the time).

apple has hundreds of billions in the bank, so they could easily fix the problem if they wanted to. but they (mistakenly, imho) don't see it as core to their business so it limps along like it does.

I was using Google Maps in Amsterdam a few months ago and tried to go to a restaurant. Google Maps led me into a tunnel and in the middle was it was happy to announce I reached my destination. It happened to be that this restaurant was located on an island above the tunnel and I actually drove right under it. I have no experience with Apple Maps though.

I've noticed that Google maps doesn't correctly render a spaghetti junction near my neighbourhood ...

Amsterdam is a very interesting case. From my own personal experience it's very easy to get lost there. There's even a coffee shop with that name!

In Singapore the Apple Maps capabilities seem to be a little better, after they introduced bus lines a couple of months ago I’m using it as my main guide to go around the city or when I’m lost. The general direction is always correct, points of interest or businesses are sometimes missing, but it feels like they’re improving, so I don’t think they gave up on it. I think they just don’t put so much effort on it compared to Google, because the data gathered from the service doesn’t have the same value for Apple.

The problem in Singapore is that Apple (or whoever they contract this to) hasn't updated major parts of the city in several years - Go take a look at Maxwell Road near the Singapore Chinese Cultural Center connecting to Central Blvd from Straits Blvd - that road hasn't been there since 2015 (at least, maybe longer) - but Apple Still says that it exists and uses it for directions.

Maps are one area where Apple has a "meh, good enough" attitude, but Google really seems to want to really bring the next level of quality.

I live in a city in Germany (280k population) where Google hasn’t updated the 2D satellite images since 2004.

A few months ago, they introduced 3D buildings, and Earth shows up-to-date satellite imagery now, but still didn’t update the satellite imagery used in the Maps app.

Worse yet are maps and transit – roads and sometimes entire districts missing, data from somewhere between 2005 and 2009, and no transit data at all.

Every other map service has it all. Apple, Here, Bing, OSM, everything. Google doesn’t.

And yet people here continue using Google Maps, because "it’s the default", and Google Now can only give you estimates from Google Maps.

That's very odd, and unusual for Google - outlier. The place I grew up, Fawn Lake, British Columbia, has had three or four revisions to its satellite pictures since 2008. I watch my mother do construction on her property, and by how many outbuildings there are, I can see that it has been updated in at least the last 2 years. Population about 250 (generous estimate) in the 200 square miles around Fawn Lake.

The big problem with this is, we have a situation where Google maps is very obviously inferior, to all competing solutions – even paper maps are now more up to date – and yet, everyone still uses it. Because it’s the default.

That shows just how powerful the advantage of a default app is, and how at this point, Google Maps is entirely without competition just because it is the default.

Not even when Google Maps sucks do people switch away – often because many don’t even know there are alternatives.

(And btw, this issue isn’t just like that in one German city, Google Maps is here like that in many places).

Google Maps has sent me astray a few times as well. Strangely, I've had the worst experience with GM in the Bay area.

Going to the Golden Gate Recreation Area, Google Maps sent me to a trailhead parking lot instead of the visitor's center. And for a small business near the Bay Model, GM directions stopped about half a mile away, and the map pin was on top of the Bay Model building.

The problem I have with GM is that it will often send me past my destination, then have me do a U-turn, in an apparent attempt to make sure the building is on the right side of the street. Even if there is no center divider and a left turn lane. Even if there is a traffic-light-controlled intersection to get me into the parking lot of the building.

Starting Google directions while on a highway often includes a few unnecessary steps of how to get on the highway that I’m already traveling on. Worse though, recently my girlfriend brought up some Apple Maps directions and it suggested a 5 mile U-turn to get onto the road we were already on.

i had bad experiences with Uber and Lyft in the Bay Area, and mostly because of Google Maps and lousy GPS chipsets on the bargain basement phones everyone seemed to be using. GPS that was taking forever to lock on, so drivers were missing turns and having to backtrack.

here in Texas, different story. Although Google Maps isn't always that great with the parallel service roads that we have all over the place.

I usually use Google maps, but after being led astray like 3 times while visiting LA recently, switched to Apple maps there. Google maps seemed basically broken in LA while I was there. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Interestingly, Apple maps seems to have more accurate maps in some places like Chiang Mai, Thailand. I've noticed locals there using Maps instead of Google Maps

This doesn't seem like a hard problem to solve. My guess is that Apple just gave up

Apple under Tim Cook isn't interested in hard problems. But hey, look at their amazing animated poop icon!

Google Maps is my pick for the coolest website on the internet. Truly a killer app.

It really is something. If you've never seen it, switch to satellite and start scrolling out. That's realtime cloud information that appears and as you keep going you get realtime night/day location rendering (complete with artificial lighting) and then realtime locations for all the major bodies in our solar system (which you can then hop over too and take a look at) (Edit: Ok, maybe this isn't locations of the bodies but you can still hop over to them and look around. The earth/sun location seems right though). Everyone I show this to has never seen it but the Google engineers that work on this stuff clearly care about what they are putting out.

Even more impressive, when in satellite view hold control, click and drag upwards.

Similarly cool as the web version of Google Earth: https://earth.google.com/web/

That’s not really a web app (it’s native code, transmitted as LLVM IR, and runs natively but sandboxed), and it only runs in Chrome.

I remember when Google maps first came out in like 2005 or so. It was a truely revolutionary app.

Not just for being one of the first apps to be properly dynamic and AJAX based, but also because it was possibly the first time that we had access to an entire world of satellite maps online, something previously reserved for large corporations and governments.

I wouldn't even know my own neighbourhood as well as I do without Google maps. One of, if not the single most impressive digital feats freely available to all on the internet.

Can't live without it. I travel a lot.

Lately I have even been wanting an operating system that has maps as the main UI, or a majorly core feature. With the amount that I use maps, it is an absolute pain to have to switch to it all the time.

I pin every place recommendation I find in my social circles online and tag them with who suggested them. When I'm driving I'd like to pin/note places I see without interacting with the phone. When I'm flying I wan't to know what specific features I am seeing from the air (towns, mountains, lakes). When I'm on a road trip I want to hear snippets of info about the small towns that I'm passing through or the things I see out the window. When I'm walking I want to use the camera for input and output to the map to pin and locate myself. When I'm indoors I don't want to feel lost again or ask where the restroom is.

Location has become a core part of my interaction with the world but it still feels rather basic as a 3rd party app on my phone. Or another tab on my desktop.

Can maps be a killer app?

I launched Google Maps for mobile in 2005. In 2006, Eric Schmidt was worried that Yahoo Go was a killer app. My claim that Google Maps was the real killer app fell on deaf ears. :)

This is a total non sequitor, but huh, your last comment on this account was in 2012. Do you use others, or just only speak when you feel you have something incredibly cool (which this tidbit certainly is!) to add?

:) Yeah, I'm a super lurker.

I consider myself an old tech geek but "Yahoo Go" rings absolutely no bells for me.

What was Google Maps for mobile in 2005? Those were flip phone days for me.

We launched on j2me flip phones and soon added support for blackberry. The displays were small and most phones didn't have GPS.

Google Maps for J2ME was one of the most impressive J2ME apps for sure. It had cell tower location for phones without GPS and even did Street View



And here's info about Yahoo Go: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yahoo!_Go

FWIW I had a flip-phone with some form of Java based Google Maps IIRC. It had an Opera browser too.

If Schmidt's worry about Yahoo Go led to Google's purchase of Android Inc. around the same time frame then I would say you were both right.

Android was acquired in 2005. Larry was the driving force behind the acquisition, IIRC.

Why not? How do you define "killer app"? Maps is one of my very highest used apps, alongside chat/text/email. I'd say it's more revolutionary than all of those, because chat/text/email were just mobile versions of apps perfected on desktop, but a mobile map app shows you exactly where you are, which changes everything. I've traveled internationally both in the pre- and post- smartphone era, and let me tell you, travel is way easier now.

It was pretty mindblowing when it came out, and was the first instance I recall encountering meaningful usage of AJAX.

That's what I remember about it too. It was such a drastic improvement over the old MapQuest site where you'd have to click arrows around the edges of the map and wait for it to load to scroll around the map. I was immediately sold on it (even though I was still just printing out directions to take with me in the car).

Well said. It kills an old Core2 laptop I have. Literally crashes Linux.

My fault of course for using that laptop, but sometimes I forget because it basically works for most other things.

I stopped using Google Maps on the desktop a while back because it would kill a octo-core AMD system with 12GB of RAM in Chrome. Bing Maps might not be better as a map, but the best map is the one that loads and lets you scroll, right?

I switch to Apple Maps on mobile when Google stopped letting me search for directions without signing in.

Incredible piece of technology, destroyed by real bad product decisions.

Could whoever disagreed with the person above me please articulate themselves as to why? I found it to hold a fair point. Just curious why these kind of comments aren't welcome.

tl;dr - Google Maps has buildings and Areas of Interest (streets with more businesses) based on satellite & street view data.

"Google is creating data out of data ... It makes you wonder how long back Google was planning all of this—and what it’s planning next"

My guess is that they weren't planning it. Somebody decided to use their 20% time to learn TensorFlow and process the Street View imagery for fun, and that side project got promoted into Maps.

When I downloaded 10 years of church notice sheets, I was trying to get the lyrics of the songs in Chinese. I later realised that I could also find the most common song names, and then focus my Chinese-learning on those songs. Big data is all about gathering more data than you know what to do with, and figuring it all out as you go.

This was definitely planned, only perhaps not in this kind of detail. The Geo organization's motto paralleled the company's (to organize the world's information, etc. etc.), only at a geospatial level.

The data you see in Google Maps came and probably still comes from a pipeline of pipelines that rebuild the whole planet on a regular schedule. Since we're talking about all of Earth, random stuff here and there could cause hiccups and delays. Information comes from all sorts of sources, including custom HW (streetview camera, etc.), flying their own planes, owning a satellite company for a few years, and so on.

In one shape or another, it all predates Tensorflow by years.

I reckon Google's 3D building designer, that allowed people to plot buildings and place them on the map was used to train an AI to create buildings from features ... maybe. The page says satellite data, matched with street level, but I often see planes flying over my UK city and imagine they could do radar or similar tracking to match with visual data.

I do not get what makes this post so popular. Google Maps is often better and uses automatically extracted features from photogrammetry. Eh. 350 points at most.

Great article, but it has me thinking: what is holding Apple back?

My ideas:

- Apple is just a few years behind; they launched a decade later. Come back in 3 years and they'll be close to parity.

- Apple only needs Maps to be good enough to avoid PR disaster, since they need a reasonable default on iOS. On the other hand Google needs to be good enough to beat competitors since they want to make money on traffic, usage data, and the Maps API.

- Google's use of reCAPTCHA gives it a huge edge over competitors in mass image classification.

Apple had a huge head start with Siri but has been surpassed quite handily by Google and Amazon for some time now. I'm not sure we can simply rely on the passage of time for Apple to improve these large projects.

I think a big part of this, at least when compared to google, is Siri's issues with language understanding rather than converting the audio to text. Google is much better at picking up on contextual details simply because they have such a huge background in doing so for search.

On the other hand, Google had a huge head start in developing robust voice recognition with GOOG-411. Whereas Alexa and Siri are more or less at parity, from what I've heard.

But, I own neither an Echo, nor an Android, and I'm still running iOS 6 on an iPhone 4S.

About 3GW of computing power. No really.

Apple lacks the raw computing capacity to be able to pull this off, even if they had the algorithms and data already.

With their cash pile, they could surely expand, considering the long term returns on such expansion of computing power. Maybe Apple just dosent see the need to improve or dosent see any revenue potential with Maps.

This Internet / Web software services weakness goes all the way back for Apple. Jobs was constantly frustrated at how mediocre Apple's results were in that area (in my opinion I don't think he was very good at cultivating that area in terms of his expertise or skill).

It's extremely difficult for a company to be good at many things. I'd be skeptical there's anything Apple can ever do to be good at their hardware object core (hardware + OS) and Internet services. iTunes has sucked for years, they either don't care or can't do anything about it. How did Spotify take the lead in streaming services? Why didn't they understand to acquire Netflix for streaming when it was tiny? Same fundamental reason, Apple isn't very good at Internet services.

Siri, iTunes, streaming (which is doing ok), Apple Maps, MobileMe, Ping, these are all the same problem. They mostly got the App Store right, to their credit.

For me the App Store is one of the worst apps on iOS. Just look at how many complain about its poor search results. I just skip them and use Google to search for iOS apps.

Apple really didn't get it in the Jobs days. For quite a while, Cupertino's built-in Google Maps app sent traffic to two Netscalers in California that Apple managed, no matter where your iPhone was. That was definitely not Google's idea. As you can imagine, hilarity of all kinds did ensue.

One way around that would be to start a new subsidiary that is mandated to focus on services, hire good people to run it, dont list it till its profitable and support it financially. Atleast that is one way to overcome the too big to innovate type weaknesses.

Apple is actually paying for Google's capacity.


Apple's forte is not high-caliber software engineering, or scaling huge infrastructure, as is the case at AWS/GCP. Apple's track record in recent years is pretty shoddy, and downright embarrassing in the last several months.

>Apple is just a few years behind; they launched a decade later. Come back in 3 years and they'll be close to parity.

So you expect Google to stand around for 3 or more years while Apple comes close to parity with Google today?

My heuristic is that it's usually faster to catch-up to something that already exists than it is to invent something new. Given sufficient effort Apple should be able to asymptotically approach Google's capabilities. But considering the other two points I mentioned, it's not a given that they will.

> what is holding Apple back?

If you worked at Apple would you want to be working on Apple Maps? I just doubt any of the core talents in Apple are interested in it at all, it's not what the company is known for.

I wonder how much of this building information comes from the LiDAR data the StreetView cameras capture along with images. It's a couple of years old now but I wrote something to display the 3D point data for any address and was surprised to find just now that it still works. http://callumprentice.github.io/apps/street_cloud/index.html

I wonder if there is a more detailed data set available these days.

Does it not depend on the area? I believe that not all street view cars had lidar capability.

Very cool app!

Just in case anyone would ask 'why' or 'where's the money':

- even privacy conscious people give their location data to their map app

- google maps + google services (android) do everything they can to collect your location data even while not using the app

- how to monetize that data? Measuring online-to-offline conversions! Store visits. This is what retail is after.

Anyone can take $5M for an ad campaign, but if there is a single company that can prove that their ads deliver people to the stores, they get the money and they make case for getting more next time.

To paraphrase Zenyep Tufekci, we're not just building dystopia to make people click ads, we're also surveilling bilions of people to measure retail ad conversions.


(oh, and there will be a lot of byproducts of course, as the article mentions. Some of them will even be great PR, such as the self-driving cars)

>- how to monetize that data? Measuring online-to-offline conversions! Store visits. This is what retail is after.

The crazy thing is that I do not believe they have started monetizing maps yet. (Sundar Pichai Implies Google Maps Will Be Monetized With Ads April 28, 2017 - Written By Dominik Bosnjak)[https://www.androidheadlines.com/2017/04/sundar-pichai-impli...]

Google Maps, Apple Maps, and Bing Maps will all try to murder you if you ask for directions from Santa Maria, CA to Ventura, CA.

The obvious route is to follow the freeway that was built on the best route between the two cities. Instead, all three really enjoy routing you onto a two-lane twisty mountain road that is five minutes shorter if you are driving a sports car and all the lights are green. Heaven help you if you are driving an RV.

I've sent corrections to both Google and Apple about this. They both did nothing.

Do you mean you would prefer the 101 route? That's what both Google, Bing as well as all OSM routers I tried suggested. https://i.imgur.com/vIWC5ti.png

Yep. Normally they prefer the side route. I'm sure if traffic is bad on the side route they will adapt and take the sensible route instead.

I recognize this. I live in a part of the Netherlands where there is only ONE highway going through the area. Yet Google Maps and TomTom both want to send me through the nature reserve instead of via the highway running parallel to the nature reserve. The reason is that the route through the nature reserve is a few kilometers shorter and the speed limits are set wrong. Both Google Maps and TomTom think you can drive at highway speeds on those roads.

Signs have been setup to block cars from entering those roads during morning and evening rush hour. But still you see many people taking that road, blindly following the map instructions.

I've driven highway 154 many times. It's nowhere near as bad as you say, and is actually a nice break from 101.

You're talking about 154, right? It's not that bad…

I doubt anybody will see this comment, but I'll leave it here anyway just in case.

While using Maps the other day to get bus directions I got pulled up short and had a very big laugh after Maps gave me a route that would have required I walk through my neighbor's living room and backyard, and then jump my back fence in order to get home. :D

Maps apparently thinks that the internal roads in the townhouse complex next to mine will provide access to my house. This most definitely is not the case :D

I'd like to forward this to someone internal, both for the fun of sharing it with an actual human being and also because I don't share _exactly_ where I live (town, okay; house and street, not so much).

On the same note, I wouldn't mind making friends with random people in various teams - Search, Maps, etc - because I often see glitches and have nobody I can tell.

My email's in my profile, FWIW, and I have no problem with anybody forwarding it on and/or random incoming emails from engineers if that happens to work :)

You can actually edit it yourself and make a correction. A local guide community member will review it.

I've done a few similar minor-edits to maps and they're always approved. This ultra-localised data needs to be crowd-sourced.


Oh. Thanks!

Note that you're contributing to a for-profit that has no interest in sharing this data back to you unless it's a financial win for them. If you want to contribute to a map that is open and free for everyone to use, like the Wikipedia of maps, I'd suggest OpenStreetMap. Its quality varies, but in the Netherlands and Germany it is often better than any commercial map. USA I have no idea.

City data is improving. Wilderness data is poor. Ocean data is worst. Satellite view is not what we think it is. Oceanic satellite view is not imagery, but just blue paint. If it were imagery it'd show the Arctic as white. It's been white for 700,000 years. It's melting fast, but none of the mapping technology shows that, which makes it hard for us to protect the earth. fixmaps.org (my site)

A good summary, if a bit repetitive, of how Apple has fallen behind in the mapping department since Scott Forstall's fateful call to divorce the company from Google Maps. But I think he buries a rather important lede farther down in the post:

   That sounds great—but living in San Francisco, 
   it’s hard to imagine this working smoothly. That’s 
   because half the time I request a ride, I have to 
   text/call the (Uber) driver to coordinate my pickup spot.
The company that really needs to fire its entire cartography department and rebuild or license a new one from scratch is Uber. The deficiencies in their maps add a ton of unnecessary friction to the customer experience, and not just in crowded urban areas. I can only imagine the frustration their drivers must feel, especially since quite a few of them aren't native English speakers.

If I were Uber's new CEO, I'd treat mapping and location services as a class-one emergency, up there with any others that people commonly criticize the company for.

It varies. I can always tell when they change the map provider and/or data in my area, because my Uber Eats drivers start getting lost at different intersections.

If I look up my home address on Google Maps, it puts the pin in the correct location, at the actual residence. But as of a few days ago, the Uber Eats drivers aren't making it past the mailboxes at the end of my (long) driveway. They no longer appear to be showing the drivers my GPS location at all, just the location associated with the address of the residential mailbox. Very annoying in a first-world problem kind of way.

It's surprising to me that Apple has 3D building data from Flyover already, but doesn't use it. They have reasonably good 3D scans of cities, with textures, and it doesn't seem that much of a stretch for them to differentiate between trees, cars etc. and turn that into building shapes - even if it requires human sorting, Apple does have billions of dollars. They could end up with more detailed buildings on their 2D view than Google.

That being said, they probably simply don't care. Maps is a means to an end for Apple, and likely not itself a direct money maker. People use it because Apple has a captive audience - you can't set your default Maps app on the iPhone to anything else. I don't get the feeling anybody actually likes it, altho I do enjoy using Flyover to see those 3d scans from time to time.

Minor criticism of this great article: a side-by-side view of the images would be better for comparison and more comfortable to the user than an automatically changing gif.

> They have reasonably good 3D scans of cities, with textures, and it doesn't seem that much of a stretch for them to differentiate between trees, cars etc. and turn that into building shapes

Are they not? The area around me has somewhat decent outlines of stuff like trees that I'd assume is coming from the satellite data, since it looks too odd for a human to do manually…

> I don't get the feeling anybody actually likes it

I enjoy using it. It's well integrated with iOS (and IMHO looks prettier than Google Maps as well).

I just wish that they would combine Waze and Google Maps. The Google Maps UI is SO MUCH NICER than Waze. It truly pains me to use Waze because it's so ugly. But at least in my area, it's much more effective at routing me around traffic (sometimes too aggressive, but I'd rather err on that side), and its warnings for things like accidents and objects on the road are incredibly useful. I use Waze every single day for my commute to and from work, and it's really indispensable. Every once in a while I decide to give Google Maps another shot because the interface is so much nicer, but I always miss the data quality from Waze. I don't understand why they can't have the best of both in a single app at this point.

I realize that some Waze data is surfaced in Google Maps, but it's not the same as "there's an object on the road in 500 feet" or "we're re-routing you because traffic changed ahead." Maybe Google Maps does do those things, but I have never witnessed it, and Waze does it all the time.

I guess it's a matter of preference. I prefer the Waze UI when I'm driving. I find it easier to see the route to follow.

Hmm, this really does make me worried for OpenStreetMap. If the competition is so powerful and has a moat protecting it that will only grow larger, how can it ever hope to catch up? This isn't a case like Wikipedia where it entered a market that was barely there (e.g. online/software encyclopedias). Instead, you have to face off against giants with enormous resources and the money for any type of data. Amateur volunteers working on their own areas won't really be able to keep up. And it'll be even harder to recruit more workers because the competition is so entrenched/good while OSM can be subpar in some aspects. Oh, and these volunteers will instead give their time to Google because it's something they already know and use (I have a friend who does things like answer questions, take pictures of places, for points).

Niantic switched Pokémon Go and Ingress over to using OpenStreetMap as the base map last week.

That's one way OSM can compete with Google, it is available for the low price of attribution. Pokémon players have quite some interest in improving OSM.

OSM can also end up with data for things that Google doesn't find interesting. Google doesn't have the nice walking path/bike trail in a local park that I added to OSM several years ago.

> is available for the low price of attribution

That depends. The OSM licence requirements depends on what you do. If you don't produce a geo database, then there's only an attribution requirement, otherwise you have to attribute and release changes to the data you made, along with any other data that you mixed in.

It's like BSD for some uses, and GPL for others.

I noticed the swap only because - at least in my residential neighborhood in a small city - OSM has sidewalk data on their maps, which Google did not.

> this really does make me worried for OpenStreetMap. If the competition is so powerful and has a moat protecting it that will only grow larger, how can it ever hope to catch up?

When OSM started in 2004 (before Google Maps), the only real place you could get map data was from governments. The idea of everyone walking around with GPSes to make their own map sounds like it'll never work. And yet here we are.

> This isn't a case like Wikipedia where it entered a market that was barely there (e.g. online/software encyclopedias).

The encyclopedia market did exist, for decades, before Wikipedia. I'll bet very few people are buying family encyclopedias now.

I am thankful for projects like OpenStreetMaps. If I ever switch to a libre mobile operating system it, will take little time to get OSM-based maps app there.

Main priority of giant corporations is money, no matter what. They will always support mainstream closed platforms only.

I rely on OpenStreetMap these days. Except for an initial incident where the OsmAnd app directed me to drive 50 kilometers out into the Baltic Sea (but only because I had accidentally downloaded a Polish map instead of a Scandinavian one), it has so far gotten me exactly where I wanted to go, every single time.

This in some contrast to the Google Maps navigator, which I have seen throwing some really weird surprises, including faulty info on the placement and nature of a major motorway exit.

I come from a small town with a very large ZIP code that encompasses several other very small towns. Sure, they have the shapes of buildings, but business locations from eight miles away are shown in the wrong town because they’re both on Main Street in the same ZIP code. It’s the same on both Google and Apple Maps. Neither has been responsive to my corrections through the appropriate channels.

Who cares about the shapes of buildings if their directions send you to the wrong town?

I'm still wondering why Waze doesn't incorporate Google Maps data and Google Maps doesn't incorporate Waze traffic data? Or does this already happen since Google has owned Waze for a while now? If not, I find it strange for the two to continue to be silo'd.

Waze data does show up in Google Maps. If you click on one of the hazards or whatnot in Google Maps, it'll often say it was reported via Waze.

I've heard stories, guesses, and claims that the current traffic data shown on google maps is potentially aggregated from smartphone GPS and accelerometer readings on android phones or though their Google apps. It's crazy and amazing to just think about it.

I always thought this was officially a feature of maps ?

I worked for a couple of years in a valley with only 2 access points.

Quite often, when it is time to go back home, the trafic would be jammed.

I activated Google Now (or at least I think it was already called that way ?) and without fail it would warn me that there is no point in leaving the building right now since everything was jammed.

The same info was visible on maps.

And no doubt they pull from obviously free public sources such as sigalert as well. More data to feed to their hungry compute engine.

Our local map server, Mapy.cz, has also mapped almost every building in Czech Republic (or at least it seems from my usage of the map)[1], with, presumably, waayy smaller budget. They have also the best tourist ang cycling navigation for our country. [1] https://mapy.cz/s/2gTui

I've been finding that Google Maps has better getting worse in the last year or so at giving simple directions. Their turn-by-turn interface and algorithms have lead to many frustrating situations that it just didn't do before.

For example I often find it recalculating my route to a side road, exit, or different freeway even though I was driving on the highlighted path. If I don't watch carefully, and don't notice it happening, I'll follow it off on some crazy recalculated route.

I've switched to Apple Maps when not routing to a complex building, like a giant mall. Apple Maps' routing and turn-by-turn has really improved in the last couple years.

Here in switzerland, we've had building shapes for decades (if not hundred of years).

Here it what it looks like:


I've always found that kind of map way superior to the original "google like" maps. It's great to see that google is catching up, but I am really surprised that a database of building footprint is not something public like it is here in switzerland.

Edit: Just discovered the time travel function, here in 1860:


The City of Leicester in England has full 3D textured modelling of everything down to trees and the cars that happened to be out at the time.


It's absolutely incredible.

Nokia and others had/have the same, just with less coverage. It is mostly a matter of having money to acquire all the data. The technology to turn imagery and laserscans (or similar) to 3D surfaces is booming for more than a decade.

When can we get a flight simulator using Google Maps data? It doesn't need the fidelity of data for names of streets, places, etc. just the imagery.

If they can extrapolate building details like bay windows, then they should be able to model entire areas from enough heights and angles to represent it much better than what I've seen in flight simulators for personal use (at least last I looked).

There's already a flight simulator in the Google Earth desktop app, under the Tools menu.

Didn't google earth have exactly this in the early days? I can't remember exact details, but pretty sure it was an easter egg - ctrl + alt + a would launch it.

Google Earth used to have a very basic flight sim. Not sure if it still does, though.

The end of the article talking about where the actual doors are reminds me a problem that we had to solve in a previous job: finding your way ON to the road network.

Take this address, for instance: "9901 Grant St, Thornton, CO 80229" It is a gigantic Walmart parking lot. When you ask a navigation system to get you back on the northbound interstate highway from here, it first needs to get you out of the parking lot and connected back to the road network. A naive system would just find the nearest road and tell you to drive in that direction. In this case, it would happily tell you to simply drive west a couple hundred meters to I-25 and take a right. It doesn't understand that there's a greenbelt and a retaining wall there. It doesn't understand that the correct answer is actually to go the opposite way -- east to Grant and around to an entrance ramp.

Google, by connecting parking lots to the road network has -- perhaps unintentionally -- made this problem go away.

2 funny things here:

1. None of the images loaded the first time I opened the page.

2. I was actually just griping about how bad google maps is the other day. I was searching for a business, and (at least on iOS) the surrounding businesses are all unlabeled. Apple Maps did a vastly better job of providing CONTEXT for what was around the business I was looking for. I was actually 99% sure I knew where the business was, but at a glance it was very difficult to tell on Google Maps, where on Apple Maps it was far easier -- the emphasis on structures rather than labels hurt them quite a bit in usability in this context.

Ordinarily I'd agree, Google maps is "better" but I use Apple Maps most of the time because it's the default on iOS and wrks well enough.

One thing I thought was interesting was the fact that this article made liberal use of GIFs, but they were great! I have seen many an article using them comedicly and it detract from the message, but here they all conveyed important data! Excellent work!

The problem of "under addressed" places in the world is addressed (no pun intended) by several companies. Eg. What3Words (w3w.co) has created a grit of 3mx3m squares which cover the entire planet. Each of this squares is identified by three words. Post/Mail organizations in several countries already accept those addresses. Google also has the OLC (Open Location Code) to address an area of adjustable size on earth. I find w3w very convinient to communicate a place over a voice connection (radio) or by writing it down on paper. Nothing you couldn't do by sending latitude and longitude, but more convinient.

While the concept is interesting, the issue I have with What3Words is that they force you to use their service to figure out what an address actually means. In other words, you can't use it at all without being bound to their whims. Kind of a big deal when working with something as open and public and universal as addresses.

I don't understand your "what it means" statement. Can you elaborate a little bit plz?

Say I successfully convey to you a 3 word address from my proprietary location database: Beep boop blort.

Without access to my database, you don't have much information.

Is it really more convenient? Coordinates make sense to everyone and every map tool can understand them. W3W phrases are useless unless you happen to have the app.

Also, there are a few amusing clones... http://www.what3fucks.com/

Almost every Sunday morning I put my kayak at mere.digests.undergo. I could say "at the 8th line bridge North of West Montrose, ON, Canada" or I could say at "43.624987N, 80.447249W" or I could say let's meet at OLC "86MXJHG3+247" or "JHF3+X4 Inverhaugh". Yeah - some of the clones sound funny but not useful in real world social interaction.

I’m only aware of one government postal org that uses w3w. Are there others beyond Côte d'Ivoire?

This starts with the assumption that Google Maps is better.

I don’t get it.

It’s literally worse at everything I try to use it for.

- Directions are so bad I have to recommend Uber drivers not use it.

- The mobile website is practically unusable with an appallingly bad UI

- The mobile app is not much better, and continually tries to upsell to other google apps.

The strange thing is: they own Waze which is better at basically everything.

Maybe the experience on Android is better, and their desktop site is great, but I’ve been using Apple Maps and Waze and it’s just so much of a better experience that I think they’ve lost me for good.

Honestly I _hate_ Google Maps, but it seems like the best thing available. I wish they'd spend less time on building outlines and more time on making the UI not totally suck. Someone should make a maps startup that isn't awful

(note: these examples are from the web app, which I prefer, because the mobile app is infuriating to use except for driving directions)

For example if I google an address and click the link to Maps, there's no street view button. If I search for "food", the "current location" button disappears...so I have to manually scroll to wherever I am. If I search for a store or whatever in Google and then click the map, there's no current location OR street view!

Typing "{whatever} near {address}" works whenever it feels like working. Half the time I get a random address on {whatever} street.

The goddamn search overlay takes up about 3/4 of the screen if you accidentally click on something (and they make sure you do).

On to the app:

The audio driving directions have gotten better...so I give them credit there. I never drive with the display on, so audio directions are crucial.

If I'm walking around somewhere and I search for restaurants that's fine..but if I make the mistake of clicking on a restaurant I get a full-screen view of reviews and shit. The map totally disappears! I'm just trying to focus the goddamn thing so I can see where it is!

I really agree with you. I've tried using Here Maps and Waze. Waze is just too much ad/game crap and Here works nice for navigation, but tends to crash the OS or disable mobile data randomly.

With most of this article I was like "So what?" So what if Google has intelligent building vectors. It's UI is shit. You can't go back and fourth between different routes easily. You can't easily add waypoints. You can't do a lot of the stuff you could do with traditional maps.

And the worst thing, half the time you can't even see the names of streets:


This is especially difficult if you're walking around and just want the name of a god damn street. You gotta zoom in, jiggle things around. Fuck aerial views of buildings. When I'm walking I need to match up actual street signs to find my way around.

Open Street Maps is actually pretty nice, although the views are extremely busy. It can be a bit of an overload.

The cartography is pretty good. But I'm convinced nobody who works for Google does actually use Google Maps. The quality of the software and the user experience is terrible and notably worse than ten years ago.

Example 1: I had a saved route map from a long while ago. Google Maps can no longer load that map -- it is quietly truncated to the first 10 stops. Given the lack of support, Google apparently doesn't care about losing your data.

Example 2: The move from 'old maps' (tile based) to 'new maps' (webgl based) was a shambles. It still doesn't work as smoothly as old maps, and old maps had working features removed like the ability to edit routes. New maps still performs terribly compared to old maps -- it's slower, less responsive, and about a quarter of the time clicks do nothing.

I now use Bing maps day-to-day, which is worse than 2010-era Google Maps, but immensely better than 2017-era Google Maps.

There is so many more examples. Also hardly any of the links in the web version have an URL behind them, so you can't just open them in a new tab when researching something. Arguably one of the core use cases of a map application.

No doubt Google Maps is A/B testing towards maximizing their key metrics; the decline in usability is a reflection of how poorly this aligns with the best interests of the end users!

Google Maps is also unbelievable when finding trains and such in other countries with a strange language. When I was in Japan I heavily used Google Maps because I could search using the latin (?) alphabet and get the correct kanji in return.

Without Google Maps, I would have been lost a lot more. With Google Maps I easily could find bus rides and stuff that otherwise would have been impossible.

I used Hyperdia.com while in Japan

I've been an apple maps user since day 0 - and other than a sometime annoying inability to FIND an address - its been remarkably reliable for me - even driving to places in the middle of nowhere - YMMV though - if you live in a different place, your luck may vary significantly.

I'm also not someone who gets lost easy either however, and learned how to navigate pre-GPS - so again, YMMV.

I recently switched to Apple maps primary for car play after 10+ years. I haven’t looked back.

Building outlines are not much of a moat for me.

Do you ever manage to get where you're actually trying to go though? ;)

In all seriousness, I've found Apple Maps search to be absolutely horrendous, either missing places or having them in the wrong spot.

Let me give the experiment more time, it’s only been a few thousand miles, but so far I’ve found it in SF Bay Area to be equally as good. And I prefer it’s design to google maps or waze.

Did you try recently or in the 2011 debut debacle era? Honestly for the longest time it was in my junk folder due to bad early experiences.

I'll admit it has been a while but it was more recently than 2011.

In the Midwest, Google isn't that great either. On a site I run I often have automatically-generated links to Google Maps where my software puts the business name and then the street address into a Google Maps search and half the time it fails. But if I just put the address without the business name, it brings me to the right spot.

Driving to my grandparents house until two or three years ago, Google would route you off a paved highway down an impassable two-track road only to bring you back around to the highway later.

When you're up against that kind of technology, Apple Maps doesn't seem so painful.

I switched as well, for different reasons. Some things I found that I liked about apple maps: its navigation has speed limit information and I much prefer its design. It seems less busy, and it gets out of my way. Something about google maps just felt really cramped. I know that sounds really subjective, but I enjoyed using one more than the other.

That said, google has better directions and estimates. And maybe that should trump all. It hasn’t been enough of an issue to convince me to reinstall.

It's a bit of a hack but I run Waze in the background when I'm doing navigation via Google Maps. It'll play a sound at me when I exceed the speed limit and it'll warn me about upcoming road hazards (and cops!).

Speed trap warnings are the one killer feature keeping me locked into Waze.

Google Maps has a show speed limit toggle, behind a setting.

I think that only works in the Bay area and Brazil for now.

I was thinking the same thing of "who cares."

I take the train and walk a lot more than I drive. I need street names, and GMaps have made them harder and harder to see for years:


I gotta pinch zoom all the way in, jiggle the map around a bunch, just to see street names. It's annoying as fuck since it's the most important thing on the map when walking in a city to orientate yourself (because we all know those digital compasses are garbage).

I should really just carry a magnetic compass on my key chain again.

I really miss the classic maps interface. More streets, more relevant detail and much much faster. Classic maps that used the whole screen without the white area on the left, and the vector rendering tech would have been way better than their crappy web interface now.

> I was thinking the same thing of "who cares."

> I take the train and walk a lot more than I drive.

Intersting, I have the opposite opinion precisely because I walk to most places. Building outlines give you a good idea of where you can walk–often taking the Manhattan path through a city is suboptimal, and you can cut through blocks based on what's in them. Building outlines let you know if there are alleyways that you can go through.

Or buy a proper hiking GPS. Garmin makes great products. They also run off two AA batteries for like a week.

I searched for the word "scary" in the comments and found 0 occurrences. Are you serious???!!!

One thing I really struggle with when using Google maps is that I have to zoom in very close to get bus stops to show up.

The use case is that I get on a bus at place A, travel by bus to place F going through places B, C, D, and E. I've never been to F before. I use Google Maps to plan a journey, and chose the public transport option. When I'm on the bus I need to know when to get off, and I can only do this by zooming into the map really close.

Also, the marked bus route often doesn't follow roads, which means the planner can sometimes tell you to get off at the wrong stop.

Here's an image of a bus route that doesn't follow the roads: https://imgur.com/a/TPIph

I was surprised that there was no building in OpenStreetMap as I'm used to OSM having detailed buildings everywhere (in my part of Europe they added cadaster maps).

So I tried to locate the place shown in the article on OpenStreetMap and sure enough, if the buildings were missing when the article was writtent, they're not anymore.

http://www.openstreetmap.org/relation/126762#map=17/41.33998... https://framapic.org/04W5qV0AS3t1/8j6obUnCNf1H.png

Now if only they'd cross reference location history, elevation maps and apply some rules like "don't send someone who usually searches for directions to stuff in SV down a steep dirt road with hairpins in Vermont in December when an alternate route that's 1min slower exists" or give me a checkbox that says "don't add extra steps to a route if the net gain from the step isn't large enough"

Edit: Now that I think about it "in $distance turn $direction onto $street just before/after the $business_located_there" or would be great because street signs are much harder read and identify at long distance or high speed would solve my most common problem with google maps.

I wonder if they are using a technique similar to pix2pix (https://github.com/phillipi/pix2pix) under the hood to turn satellite images into structure depth maps.

Is the author (Justin O'Beirne) really Apple's Head of Cartography?


That's him.

IIRC he left Apple in 2015 and only after that he resumed publicly talking about mapping products.

To the author of this writeup: thank you, this is a phenomenal story with compelling visuals. Oftentimes I prefer HN comment thread to the original, but in this case I am impressed by high quality analysis of the original :)

The direction capabilities is what makes me use google maps more, it’s just more reliable in general and gives better routes. Sometimes Apple would give these really dumb routes. I would say ‘why would you do that?’

>building footprints: Google seems to have them all

Curiously I noticed about a year ago corner of my building vanished from Google map, it was there 5 years ago. Even more interesting just checked right now and ANOTHER corner of same building vanished :). Both are still there on sat photo, both are modeled in 3D view, just not on the flat map.

What appears to be happening is those building outlines are not coming from 3D map, but from official city documents, and those can be a total mess. I checked some recent (5 year old) buildings, and they are also missing their flat outlines.

Google Maps downloading building structure and parked truck boxes is WAY too much to download, especially over my limited cell data plan... That's pretty ridiculous, I have almost no need for that.

Creating data out of data is literally the job of any machine learning model to be honest. And even though it is speculation from my side, but should be not far from the reality because this problem is literally everywhere, that Google spent some really big bucks to do the manual quality control of their data by hiring thousands if not 10s of thousands qualified people. And such quality control itself is quite an art to master, and have to be done on ongoing basis.

With good data, then model can better do the tricks, but data is the real gold here.

> But you can’t call a self-driving car and say “oh, I live in the white building and the door is around the corner”.

Not until twenty minutes from now...

(By the time these cars need it, it will be easy to implement, is my point.)

I'm surprised Apple hasn't scooped up Foursquare. They seem to have a great database of location information that seems like it'd complement Apple's location services nicely.

> In downtown Los Angeles, Google’s buildings are so detailed that you can sometimes see the blades inside the rooftop fans.

Doesn't that mean that in that case we are just seeing image processing with no real meaning? I am not sure how this represents the first step in the creation of data from data. If we just want to see the buildings we can switch to "satellite" view.

Contrast this with something like Open Street Map where you end up with an explicit description of the area that a building covers with no extraneous detail.

The discussion of building details is just a side trip.

The data from data is more about how they have decent building representations and POIs even in pretty remote areas and so have really wide coverage on their areas of interest.

Maybe it's naive of me, but I would assume it won't take 6 years for Apple to redo the work that Google is ahead on. For one thing, they now know a specific feature to work toward, which cuts some time out. Then, they can likely throw more cycles at this problem than Google could 6 years ago, again reducing Google's lead. Lastly, they probably have a lot of stored raw data (satellite images specifically) that Google didn't have at the start and took time to collect multiple angles over time.

I think you're confusing ideas/features with execution. Apple knew very well at the onset what to build. But they executed poorly and underestimated the amount of non-trivial human involvement in correcting mistakes and combining many layers of information into a cohesive and [mostly] robust experience.

These kinds of applications aren't Apple's strong suit, and Google is years ahead on technical abilities on the data correction and feedback front as well as custom satellite hardware and software design. Although Apple may be moving on that [1].

[1] https://9to5mac.com/2017/04/21/apple-satellite-hardware-proj...

Google maps is probably the only service I couldn't live without. I could get a new email address or visit some other video site but maps is just too good and important.

This is a very interesting read. But it’s so frustratingly long. It’s like “where are you going with this”. It’s as frustrating as interesting it is. What a unique combo.

Google is amazing.

They are the best in using AI and CS in general to make my life easier.

I now use 80% Google products for email, phone, photos, maps, etc.

I just hope I never lose access to my account :-\

Point taken, however I appreciate using a mapping service that doesn't show ads. I also prefer Apple Maps aesthetically... minor point.

One should compare Openstreet map vs Google Maps.

I'm a big fan of OpenStreetMap and a regular contributor, but that's just not a fair comparison. Using a billion dollars a year, of course Google has street view, satellite view, 3d buildings, live traffic info... all of which I see as nigh impossible for OpenStreetMap.

But I still use OSM daily. My main mapping needs are basic needs like everyone else's: where is this thing and how do I get there? OSM is very good at that in every place I've been (most of western Europe). It's also something I believe should be free data (as in freedom), but Google keeps it all locked in. Other basic data about our physical world, like where railways or forests are, is also very accurately in there.

When I need advanced stuff like live traffic, or want to see something on satellite, I'll have to resort to other services. And I think that's reasonable: they're costly to setup and maintain, so paying someone for that makes sense.

If we make such a comparison, I'd rather see Google Maps starting with a large negative score for keeping it locked-in, and then comparing whether they're actually, functionally better for different common uses, rather than "oh look at this gimmick, they even have the air ducts mapped on the roof over there" as this article seems to do.

Satellite imagery for close zoom levels aren't loaded for Turkey! Thete is no problem with Yandex Maps, Apple Maps and Microsoft Maps. https://support.google.com/maps/forum/AAAAQuUrST8Ixm4C6hviZQ...

I prefer to use google maps when I am in USA. In China, I have to use Gaode maps with iPhone, China even banned Appple's maps.

I've resorted to Baidu at the moment. Google maps in China is garbage. Hot steaming garbage.

> Google had distinct locations for each; but Apple plotted them all at the same location

I use Apple Maps almost 95% of the time, and this is one of its major annoyances. If I'm trying to find a location by eyeballing it from the map, it can sometimes be impossible to do so because there's another label on top of it.

The problem is that all of this data isn't open. It's Google's. I understand the immense effort required to create maps of this detail, which is why they are protected by copyright (and database rights, a special subsection of that).

However, on the one hand these maps are owned by a single company that has the singular unique infrastructure, on the whole planet, to even begin to attempt to create maps like this, that no other company (not even Apple) could start to try and get close. Google's machine learning and data-crunching abilities have no match, and there won't be a competitor that ever will.

And on the other hand, the only way I can access this data is through an app that wants to track me and spy on me so badly it refuses to even remember my recent search queries if I disable Google's Location History. I mean get this, remembering recent search queries used to be a feature that made people consider a program to be "clever" or "smart".

I can use ALL this machine learning and fuzzy queries, sound alike typo corrections, super smart Google tech and search with vague hints of queries like that restaurant near the thingy or whatever, and it will give me relevant results!

But it refuses to remember my recent queries, a most basic feature that today is just considered basic UX instead of "clever programming", unless I allow it to spy on me.

This is literally the tradeoff it's asking me to make:

Do you want to be able to use the single most advanced and detailed map of the entire planet available to the public with basic User Experience niceties?

Or do you want to keep your privacy and not broadcast your location to a corporation in a foreign country, specifically the one with the biggest, most out-of-control spying agency, that's --just to name one thing why I think the US/NSA and whoever lives there wanting a bite of my privacy can piss right off-- been hacking people in my home country's personal computers and devices, left and right just because anyone who is a sysadmin is considered a "strategic target" even though our countries are "allies" on paper, that apparently doesn't mean shit when attacking citizens' property.

Sorry yeah it looks great, just like with cathedrals. Was a bit shit with some caveats/blood/death for the common people during the time they were built, but in a few hundred years we'll probably look at this with awe and wonder.

Unless I missed it, the essay doesn't include mobile phone location tracking or location search information in the speculation of how Google is doing this rich mapping.

I'm sure there's a lot of AoI value in these two sources, so I would expect it to be part of the big equation.

You wouldn't believe how helpful "areas of interest" were for wandering around foreign cities. I was wandering around a city I didn't know, unable to speak the language, and yet I could easily connect corridors of interesting shops and restaurants.

Now I know why Google's reCAPTCHA is asking me to identify store fronts. Identifying cars, street signs etc is obvious for self-driving cars. But my hunch is that store fronts are to better make sense of Street View imagery.

Aren't building-footprints easy to add using complementary data, such as satellite view and/or street addresses?

Perhaps it could be a nice ML project: turning map data + satellite data into fuller looking map data.

>Perhaps it could be a nice ML project: turning map data + satellite data into fuller looking map data.

Yeah, fun ML project. This is how much data there was in 2012... >Combining satellite, aerial and street level imagery, Google Maps has over 20 petabytes of data, which is equal to approximately 21 million gigabytes, or around 20,500 terabytes.Aug 22, 2012(http://mashable.com/2012/08/22/google-maps-facts/#yf0lqw7FlZ...)

Quite sophisticated are their ways. Chinese and Russian companies are simply relying on armies of human surveyor. Chinese went event further by hiring 3d artists to manually model and texture each building.

My biggest issue with Apple maps is lack of lane to get into when driving you get everywhere with Google maps. I can not live without this feature is not the greatest driver and really need this.

I think google also use geolocalized data collected from android users.

“Moat”... isn’t that just a description of “competitive advantage”.

If I'm not mistaken, Bing maps had 3D building information years ago already, before Google Maps. The author seems completely unaware of that.

What a beautifully detailed post is this! Incredible!

Also, I do agree with generated AOI's, Google can leverage it for Waymo and their other products as well.

To be honest, at least when looking on my phone, I found it to be a little too detailed. A thousand examples of what we already know. In my head I was playing dramatized commentary: "Gee, the POIs are round but the areas are not, they're square. And they have been adding buildings. Oh boy, could they really? Yes indeed, they seem to be following building contours. My gosh, that is so smart! And look, here as well! And (gasp) another example here!"

Maybe I'm too much into openstreetmap and these things are normal to me, but "beautifully" detailed was not my experience. More like google fanboy showing off.

I commented on this on HN 8 years ago -- I said Google Building Maker looks to be "providing an ideal training set for training machine learning algorithms to automatically extract 3D models from aerial photos". That may be the key to this building detail.


Is there a limit to the power of Maps when’s it’s not the default on most high end phones?

But still sometimes Apple Maps can find more shops nearby than Google Maps. At least in Barcelona.

It's amazing that Google invests so many resources in making a feature like this so awesome, but then they don't have the sense to realize that nobody wants trees rendered as awful looking 3d blobs when they switch to satellite view. Just show me the freaking photo. (I know, lite mode, but the default Google has chosen is atrocious.)

I think it just shows the primary difference between the two companies. Google is ad-revenue driven by mechanisms that leverage world-scale data mining & analysis. Apple is revenue driven by hardware that leverages high-quality product design. Oversimplifying both I'm sure, but I think most things stem from this.

I can tell Google is pretty upset that they don't have real time cams everywhere.

But they do have Android and all the smartphones that use Android or have Google maps installed and those smartphones also probably have GPS recivers and accelerometers.

That's the real reason why they invest so much in self-driving cars. It'll be just millions and millions of eyes for them.

Makes me wonder what their end goal is. It's a bit unnerving.

"Google is creating data out of data."

That's called 'Information' - Librarians the world over having been doing exactly this for centuries. /facepalm

As an aside, the whole article also seems to be written very simplistically, and aimed at a younger audience.

Very interesting making data out of data.

Great article but it may cause epilepsy. I felt really dizzy while reading it.

Things like this make me think that it's a shame humanity is duplicating all this work instead of collaborating to do it once. One of the awkward failures of capitalism, I guess.

At least when your product is something physical you end up with twice as many outputs. When it's just data you just do the same work twice.

This is the wrong way to think about things. Competition is good.

If it weren't for the need to compete, would Google have spent billions on innovations like Street View, Satellite imagery, Google Earth, etc. Or would they have just said, "MapQuest has won the internet maps game, let's just let MapQuest do their own thing. No use in doing the same work twice,"

I think you slightly missed the parent comment's point, which is not that they should have walked away but rather have said "man, we really want better maps and imaging for navigation, MapQuest has a great head start, we should work with them to make it even better". I'm not sure what economic model encourages that sort of behavior, though.

Agreed. Yet this sort of sharing has happened in some fields - for example, with game engines. Which I never thought I'd see, way back when. The best of these now tend to be opened up (for royalties.) Perhaps that needs to have more regulatory or government encouragement; although like yourself I'm not quite sure how to do that and still keep incentives in place. Particularly where only one or two firms are really competitive.

What if all the data was public and shared and different people could build their own representations. What if everyone collaborated?

I disagree with the competition is always good. There are many cases where you are duplicating work. The best standard rarely wins (PCI vs MCA .. MCA was superior in many ways technologically .. was even hot pluggable, but PCI had better licensing).

We get into a lot of repetition and the 'best' product rarely wins. It's more about marketing your product in a way people desire it. Example: Beats Audio Headphones.

Please don't conflate competition and diversity. Competition is not a condition to diversity. I'd say that competition enforce a trade off between diversity and concentration of power.

> When it's just data you just do the same work twice.

Monocultures are dangerous too.

People differ on what to measure and how. Competition gives us an opportunity to try something new and potentially better. Especially when there isn't a network effect (e.g. phone protocols).

Also, the cost of this mapping apparently isn't especially high.

Isn't open street maps exactly that? I guess the shame is that big corporations don't all contribute to that rather than try to compete? It is a thought provoking idea but I struggle to see which side I prefer. I think competition is one of the things that drives innovation.

FWIW, Samsung is the corporate booster behind Mapzen, which provides free mapping APIs while contributing to OpenStreetMap:



> Mapzen is an open and accessible mapping platform...Based out of the Samsung Accelerator, we support the geo community through building tools and collaborating on open source mapping projects. We believe that a healthy mapping ecosystem is one that is diverse, sustainable, and accessible to all.

> One of the awkward failures of capitalism, I guess.

No, it's actually a feature: competition. With a single product in every category it would be impossible to have diversity of ideas being tested and competing.

It is the same with evolution.

Here’s the thing though - if everyone shared data, they could compete on the UX. Nobody says that pharmaceutical companies aren’t competitive on the end product, but they have a shared data set in the form of all the university research. Of course they get their own data, but being “free” to not have to do basic research themselves means they can put more resources towards the end product than data gathering

> if everyone shared data, they could compete on the UX

Why? Google seems to have a gigantic advantage in data, which is highly valuable.

Why would they give up that advantage, if they spent millions, if not billions, of dollars creating it?

And what would be the incentive to create such data if there's no economic gain from it?

>And what would be the incentive to create such data if there's no economic gain from it? //

If the data is useful then there is an _economic_ gain, just not necessarily a profit.

If you meant "if there's no profit from it" then it was spoken like a true capitalist.

Why do anything if you're not going to be paid for it.

Why visit your mum in hospital? Why give money to the homeless for food? Why create software for others? Why teach a child a fun game? Love, altruism, interest, expediency, fun, ... and a million other reasons besides.


Would you invest your retirement savings into a company that plans to return no profit by mapping the world and releasing the data for free?

I thought so.

This seems to be attacking a strawman. The original comment was bemoaning the duplicated effort instead of cooperation amongst parties.

If you had a single company, you wouldn't have 10 teams doing the exact same job. The competition here isn't fruitful because so much of the work is shared. Competition is more effective when there is a diversity of approaches.

And how many approaches do you think there are in mapping? Street View, satellite, 3D modeling from airplane flights, manual mapping, etc. These are all different approaches being used more or less by all players.

Think about how mapping was done before Google. Competition is exactly why we have Google Maps, and why Google Maps is continuously improving, instead of just sitting on its advantage.

Not only competition here has been extremely fruitful, it has made maps freely available to consumers.

Do you remember how much the TomTom app used to cost?

It seems like we are talking about different things. No one is arguing that there shouldn't be multiple map interfaces, but rather that if the data was shared, you could have more investment in the interesting parts.

I'm glad that Nvidia and AMD compete to build better graphics chips, I'm also very glad they both work with a shared, cooperative standard (PCI-E) so I can plug them into my computer. They've chosen to compete on some areas and cooperate in others.

The parents are suggesting, hey, wouldn't it be nice if _everyone_ contributed data to OSM, and then competed on providing the best interface on top of that, rather than constructing data moats. Is it realistic that Google would do this? Of course not. But if 10 companies are all constructing their own data completely independently, that's an awful lot of duplicated work that could be avoided.

> It seems like we are talking about different things. No one is arguing that there shouldn't be multiple map interfaces, but rather that if the data was shared, you could have more investment in the interesting parts.

Data is the interesting part. And it needs more investment. Data is the valuable part. UX has very little relevance here.

Companies are competing on what matters and what gives them a competitive edge. Map UX doesn't. Map data does.

^^ This. Competition in this way shakes out inefficiencies inherent to an approach that would otherwise linger and soak of resources the the dynamics of path dependence.

Well, I'd invest my time.

I've worked on OSM, AFAIK I've got nothing back from having done so other than learning a little about maps.

Your position is flawed, because you're focussing on a single element of a social system. If I invest in mapping, it doesn't remove resources, it improves them for everyone. Without the waste of resources of solely profit-driven activity then we have ample resources to meet basic needs and develop technologically too.

No, I don't yet know how such a system can work. I've been working on it ... transition is the biggest problem and the one I've been addressing. At some point I hope it will benefit us all as a species - probably at a financial loss to me and many others.

"Time from volunteers" isn't enough to buy satellite images, cars with cameras, airplanes with cameras, etc.

We're not talking about a bunch of people pitching in some time as they feel about doing it, we're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars (probably more) spent on this.

But, as you wouldn't invest your retirement funds in such a company, why would you expect others to do so?

You're missing the point, I'd guess on purpose.

We, humans, currently spend the resources on those things through the medium of fiat currency. Remove the necessity for profit, the need to pay a lot of people in that system incredibly more than they require - take a couple of dozen 8-figure mansions, a few 9-figure yachts, several hundred 6-figure cars, gold-plated taps, diamond-encrusted tiaras, etc., etc., and the resources targeted at the problem of producing maps go much further. And there's no reason not to have a competitive element, you don't need profit to create competition.

It's not spending people's retirement, it's spending the same resources we spend now, just not mediated in the same manner and without the waste of 40% spend on advertising (plucked that number out my ass but a few years ago pharma was spending more on advertising than on R&D) and without allowing controlling elements to steal all the output for personal gain.

So, I'd like to spend the equivalent resources we do now, but with saving on profit, over-paying wages, and de-duplication of effort. That gives much more resources applied to the actual task without touching pensions (which of course I'd like to see have the same effect).

The problem, is that moving to such an economic system requires the most greedy, most powerful, to be usurped. Humans are greedy (myself included), that leads us to waste so, so, much of our resources.

Why do you think a system where people choose the collective good (having all their needs met) - "volunteering" - rather than personal financial gain can't produce satellites, or any other good/technology we now produce?

> You're missing the point, I'd guess on purpose.

No. You're missing the point:

> And there's no reason not to have a competitive element, you don't need profit to create competition.

This is where you're getting things wrong. We need competition to advance. Resources are limited and we compete for those resources. Competition is a resource-allocation system.

Sure, you can advocate for a centrally-planned pipe dream as much as you want, it doesn't work. It has been tried many times before, to horrendous results every single time.

> Why do you think a system where people choose the collective good (having all their needs met) - "volunteering" - rather than personal financial gain can't produce satellites, or any other good/technology we now produce?

For the same reason that unicorns can't fly: they can't even exist.

All of these items fit into the rational expectations and utility maximization framework.

I’m not saying it’s wise for them to give up their advantage - more lamenting that there doesn’t seem to exist an organizational structure that could provide the underlying data as raw resources without a profit motive; we have to hope that the incentives for both the business and the user align (which in maps basic case it does, but with so much user tracking happening for ads I wonder how long until the incentives will stay aligned).

> an organizational structure that could provide the underlying data as raw resources without a profit motive

And who would do that?

Isn't it just as wasteful to have twice as many designers & programmers & market researchers & behavioral researchers working on two competing UX systems?

If they’re going to design program and research to make the same thing while competing then sure it is.

Coke and Pepsi have been around for a long time, despite sharing the same set of ingredients that any other soda maker can use. Their value comes from marketing and distribution systems.

Well, precisely. And what value is added by massive resources devoted to convincing people to to drink one of two nearly identical products? How much effort might be saved if two nearly identical bottling & distribution systems could instead collaborate and reduce the waste incurred?

By stating "collaborate on X so that we can focus or compete on Y" merely adds one more turtle to to the the stack. You need to take a step back and ask these sorts of questions:

Does competition solve any problems that cooperation does not, or solve them better?

Do problems arise in competition that would not under cooperation?

Is there a 3rd alternative?

What about competition that pursues what's best for everyone, even if it is worse for the individual company pursuing it? (arguably not possible when corporate officers have a fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interest of the company, which presents a conflict)

Not so fast! Competition only makes sense if you’re competing on the right things.

Railroads should compete on service, quality and price. They should not compete by laying down parallel tracks side by side.

Some things should be shared in common and competitive services built on top.

> Some things should be shared in common and competitive services built on top.

Only when the existence of one incumbent inhibits the entrance of new ones, like physical infrastructure and natural monopolies.

As you can see, there is an abundance of mapping services. So yeah, competition is working great here.

That is 100% just your opinion. :)

Same as me.

No, it's economics and game theory.

In situations where most of the cost to set up a business is upfront, the marginal cost is very low and you can't "move" the immobilized capital after (like power lines, train lines, water main, fiber optic networks), there is a massive advantage to the first entrant (the "incumbent").

In these cases, there are massive barriers for new entrants: any new entrant would have to make an immense investment with zero chance of making it back, as the incumbent could just retaliate by lowering prices and driving the entrant out of business.

This situation means that there is little chance that competition will happen, so it is the best interest of society to mandate the operation of the infrastructure from the service. That's what happens with local-loop unbundling, or when the ownership and operation of the rail infrastructure must be separate from the ownership and operation of train lines and services.

That is not the case with mapping the world: anyone can do it, and having an incumbent doesn't block new entrants. There were already many incumbents when Google entered the mapping business, and there's still plenty of competition.

Therefore, there is no reason to mandate separation.

So no, it isn't "100% just your opinion".

But I appreciate the Lebowski reference :)

I have a degree in economics and it's definitely just your opinion, man. But it all ends up being very philosophical and "what's the kind of world you want to live in" type stuff. I'm glad to leave it at agree to to disagree.

Agreed! That's a big reason why I've enjoyed working with colleagues on a fully "open" approach to mapping software and data at Mapzen: https://mapzen.com/blog/our-magna-carto/

We've made much use of:

- http://www.openstreetmap.org/

- https://openaddresses.io/

And founded efforts like:

- https://transit.land

- https://whosonfirst.mapzen.com/

- https://aws.amazon.com/public-datasets/terrain/

I think I understand what you mean but I think that is actually the proper functioning of capitalism not a failure. If Apple/TomTom/etc. didn’t create maps, Google wouldn’t invest resources in making theirs better.

As the article shows, there's always some subjectivity in mapping. It is essential that there be competition and different approaches to that enormous task.

You can say that about every single instance of competition. Yet when governments run things they don't generally do as good a job...

The reuse value of this kind of data is critically dependant on the methodology used to create the data. A lot of Google data tends to understandably be focused on their own products and lack quality in a more generic sense. Something as simple as a building outline can be represented in several different ways depending on what you need and require a completely different methodology. The building outline needed by law enforcement is different to what an architect or pizza delivery company needz.

When specific about the type of data there is a lot less competition than you might expect. And for commercial companies it makes sense to make as much money as possible front that.

Not quite. I think "competition" is overly glorified, but it does some things well. In this context, routing around path dependence is a key benefit. The upstart competitor in a field doesn't have to "waste" a decade of investment & infrastructure to bypass a methodology that has reached its maximum utility. The old method was cheaper for the incumbent to maintain, no amount of good will and collaborative spirit would convince them to turn their back on it for an unproven alternative. Any industry that has ever been "disrupted" is an industry shaken out of path dependence

if they weren’t you’d just be complaining about how monopolies are a failure of capitalism.

Competition is a feature, not a bug -- you're recalling a trope that has been a reactionary criticism to Adam Smith for centuries now, and was a core tenet of Marx's ideas -- that with a little central planning, there wouldn't be all of this effort wasted on competition. The original communists really believed that a planned economy would be more efficient once enacted. The fascists believed in the same basic inefficiency argument, but they thought that the government could control it while stil maintaining private property and traditional social structures. In comparison to those two, neoliberal economic theory has done pretty well for itself.

Maybe all those smart engineers could put their heads together and figure out how to not zoom into street view when I want to view a picture on a review. And maybe return me to where I was in the review list instead of taking me back to the top level business information. What a feat of engineering that would be.

Android is a botnet that is collecting data. Google should be paying you to use their harvesters.

I don't get why this was downwoted? By using google maps one contribute back traffic data and route problems for free + you share your position which can be sold to billboard advertisers for analysis...

These building footprints, complete with height detail, are algorithmically created by taking aerial imagery and using computer vision techniques to render the building shapes.

I could have guessed that before the punchline. And it's not that difficult to add for a company with tens of billions in cash. What are you doing, Apple? Fix your OS and Maps!

You need aerial imagery from different angles.

Thats surprisingly hard to buy from imagery providers, because most of them only want to point their cameras directly downwards.

They fly their own planes these days.


Too bad it's a video. Fast forward about 2 minutes.

Or: https://youtu.be/suo_aUTUpps?t=121

Fly plane. Zig zag. 5 cameras, then photogrammetry. StreetView, from planes.

Not really effective for non-urban areas.

Lenses don't work that way, surely. Any image taken directly downwards will include angled elements offset at a greater angle away from the centre line. Also, how hard is it to add an extra camera or two if you're already flying over, sure double/triple the data but that must be relatively easy to handle once you have the infrastructure for image handling and such.

Do we know how Google obtains this data ?

Could drones be used here ? It looks like it would be a good way to refresh this data often on the cheap.

(drone is the loosest sense, a balloon would do the trick)

A couple of public blog posts made it obvious that Google flies planes.

Or with lighting from different angles - different time of day.

Aeroplanes and satellites take successive overlapping tiles of the same area as they move. This gives data from multiple angles.

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