I agree. The place where Google Maps and, to a slightly lesser extent, Apple Maps fall down is in labeling roads.
I can't count the number of times I've zoomed in on a map and it shows every little sushi joint in the neighborhood, but no street names. And no amount of zooming in or out will fix it.
It's similarly frustrating when Apple and Google show a highway shield instead of a street name in an urban area. Yes, lots of streets in urban areas are also state highways. But the state highway designations only appear in real life every few miles, while the street signs I'm standing under appear on every corner.
But the greatest sin is omission. Each month I have to render about 70,000 maps from towns and cities from the Philippines to Nova Scotia. And every month I spend three days manually placing towns and businesses that exist in no online maps.
And it's not just tiny towns on far away islands. I'm talking about places in Oklahoma and Arizona and even California that either don't exist, or are stupendously wrong.
Sometimes I fantasize about having a full-time job driving around the country fixing all of Apple Maps' faults. But somehow I suspect the pay would be terrible.
I've thought about doing this too, but for hiking trails. I'm sure the pay would be abysmal, but hiking and updating online maps sounds like a blast as a job. I think it could be done fairly well with a simple GPS recorder and serialization, but the biggest challenge would be managing the partnership between the map customers like google and apple..
If anyone wants to fund this and/or has the connections to play sales/product manager, DM me.. :p
Last year's article from the same author  about Goggle Maps' use of photogrammetry and other building scanning techiques was, in my opinion, one of the most interesting HN submissions ever (its comment section is also worth a read).
Sadly he took them down, disappeared into the memory hole the way so many Apple employee's work has a way of doing. I'm glad he's out and writing in public again.
For some reason I thought he is some random guy just passionate about maps, I was actually looking for donate me buttons on the site because I love reading his articles whenever they are posted to HN.
Nobody else would know what to look for.
Complaining gets results. I'm a total believer in negativity. You could say I'm positive about it.
What I mean by "relentless" is that this article in the OP covers the changes in detail for the first half, but the second is the same content as his last piece:
and quite like the one before that:
But while this one has a lot of specific speculation, the Google article is about how cool they are, links to PR and basically says "look at all those buildings, they must have done it with computers". I suspect someone who worked at Google wouldn't have said that.
"...it’s a dramatically different map from before, with a staggering amount of vegetation detail"
"...what’s really remarkable about this new vegetation detail it how deep it all goes—all the way down to the strips of grass and vegetation between roads"
"...some of these upgraded buildings are spectacularly detailed"
"...Apple is filling its map with so many of them that Google now looks empty in comparison"
"...Apple hasn’t just closed the gap with Google—but has, in many ways, exceeded it"
And the footnotes are relentlessly negative about Apple:
"These building height regressions are surprising because they contradict TechCrunch’s claim that Apple’s buildings are now 'more accurate'."
"Consider that just two years after it started adding algorithmically extracted buildings to its map, Google had already added the majority of the U.S.’s buildings. But after four years, Apple has only added buildings in 64% of California and 9% of Nevada."
"All of this new detail is not without cost. In many areas, Apple Maps’s roads are now harder to see than before."
"Part of the reason why Yelp’s place database is so much smaller than Google’s is because Yelp is largely focused on businesses with consumer-facing storefronts. And you can see the consequences of this on Apple’s map, especially with government-related places."
"Or maybe the issue is that Apple’s extraction algorithms just aren’t as good as Google’s yet?"
"Another advantage of the Local Guides program is that Google owns everything that’s contributed, including all of the photos."
"For instance, here’s the Six Flags Great America theme park that’s just seven miles away from Apple’s headquarters." (With a shot of Great America lacking detail in Apple's map.)
"It’s odd that Apple refuses to track trip start/end points but sees nothing wrong with mapping tennis and baskball courts in people’s backyards."
"It’s almost as if Google is saying this is now a map of destinations—all of the places it’ll be able to take you to, someday soon."
"I think Google’s ambitions here run far deeper than being just another Yelp or Foursquare. If you zoom out on everything Google is doing, you see the makings of a much larger, end-to-end travel platform."
It's kind of interesting -- it's as if halfway through he forgot that he was writing about improvements in Apple's mapping and decided he was writing about the promise of Google's mapping as a new kind of platform.
But either way, this is a classic rhetoric. It's the bit where you praise a specific thing to the skies, then pull back and reveal how in the big picture that thing doesn't matter so much. Note that I'm not saying he's wrong. I'm just saying that this is not, over all, an article that praises Apple.
Reading the article it's also pretty clear he doesn't have any insider-insights, particularly with the speculation about building shapes and how Apple supposedly outsourced that, as a manual task, to a couple of thousand Indians.
I doubt an Apple insider would be too keen on speculations like that because if it turns out to be true it would be kind of bonkers.
Apple and Google maps are both worthless as maps without typing in an actual address and using navigation because they can't just show the main cross street names on the screen. It absolutely blows my mind that map products ship without street names clearly visible at all times.
The before/after map of downtown SF actually shows less useful data about the city. It no longer shows the names of Mission or Market streets. The fancy 3D representations of buildings don't help me negotiate on the ground.
but I agree it's infuriating. I've spoken in the past with some people who work on Maps products and have heard "people say they want it but then they really don't..." and I honestly can't imagine what UX studies are telling them that.
All the time I see a destination and I'm trying to figure out what closest cross street I should stop at and by the time I've zoomed and panned enough to find whatever random faraway place manages to have a label (feels like an unwanted game of whack-a-mole, where will the label pop up??), I can't tell if I've zoomed over to a parallel street instead.
And the solution is so simple too: whenever you zoom in enough that there's enough room on a visible street to put a label, then put the label! I mean if I zoom in so far that only the one street is visible and there's no other text on it, but Maps still leaves it blank... it just feels inexcusable.
I’m not going to go into too many specifics but for most map products I’ve worked on, the usual reason that a label doesn’t appear somewhere is because the map data provider hard-codes the potential places where a label could be displayed, and it’s not “everywhere along the road”. You might be zooming into a place where a cartographer chose not to add a label point. Good map software will try to sensibly fill in these gaps but are not perfect. Too aggressive about adding labels and you have the artists and cartographers telling you some areas on the map are too cluttered. Not aggressive enough, and some areas on the map are bare.
It’s maddening getting those bugs saying “I think there are too many labels”, backing it off, then a few days later getting the bugs, “I can’t find the street label next to my house!” Lots of simple-to-whiteboard solutions would work well for your particular neighborhood but look terrible in Manhattan or rural Idaho, not to mention Japan. It’s really not simple.
I'm sure I'm missing something, but (1) flow labels along their roads to the center of the screen, (2) separate them with predefined padding, (3) drop labels if visible label count > maximum, smallest-to-largest road, until under the threshold.
If UXers want to bitch, hide it behind a layer filter. But honestly, #&@+ them. (Sorry, but we are talking about maps that don't show road names here)
That presumes that road names are an intrinsic part of a map. While they certainly were in the past, I think there's a paradigm shift happening that's become so common we don't notice it anymore. We don't tell people to meet us at "The intersection of Street X and Y" as much anymore, we tell them to meet us near a prominent landmark like a park, train station, or restaurant. We barely even need street names for navigation anymore; instead, our software tells us how many blocks to walk and when to turn (even automobile GPS tells us to expect turns in the next X miles). I feel this will be part of a larger revolution where we might start using alternative easy-to-shate GPS coordinates , and even completely new map styles like isochrone maps. 
: See https://what3words.com/ and Google's https://plus.codes/
Citation needed. As a New Yorker, intersections of streets are how we do it all the time, when you want to meet on the street to walk somewhere together. "Meet me on 23rd and 8th."
> We barely even need street names for navigation anymore; instead, our software tells us how many blocks to walk and when to turn (even automobile GPS tells us to expect turns in the next X miles).
When streets are closely spaced, the name is absolutely necessary to know which one to turn onto -- you can pass a whole street in the time it takes the GPS to start and stop speaking and have no idea which street the "next street" refers to.
And plenty of people still walk or bike, where they check their phone only occasionally and memorize the name of the next street they need to stop at or turn on.
Sure there are new use cases, but the old ones aren't going away at all.
In my experience, navigation with Google Maps can be terrible about interchange / exit lanes. It's much easier just to pick the road name and follow the well-labelled and up-to-date highway signs.
So that's the navigational use case for 'meet person'
Another common use case is 'proceed to building at 123 Long Street'. I've met several confused tourists and couriers whose satnav has dumped them at, say, 973 Long Street with an arrival fanfare.
The real problem here is with label conflicts. Say you have an important point of interest in the center of the screen already. If a road label happens to be placed underneath the point of interest label, it will look like the road is unlabeled.
There are clever ways of moving labels around, but: 1. it has to run in realtime on the client, and 2. it has to look good in motion and in all possible situations you can think of (since you have no control over what the data will end up being). This is why older raster maps often have better labeling than newer vector maps -- you can do a lot of precomputation on the server to make sure the labels look nice.
Now, we have moving maps that scroll at whatever speed you're driving or moving, and arbitrary, smooth zooming, so you can't just let an algorithm take hold or you get labels popping in and out as the logic decides in real time where to put them. Users will find it distracting and weird, and most designers will say "no way". So you need to add things like debounce and hysteresis. You have to have resolve label conflicts in a way that doesn't always let (for example) POI names always take precedence. You have to determine whether/when to display street numbers vs street names. Do the locals call it I-880 or "Nimitz Freeway"? You have to keep labels right side up at arbitrary map rotations and along twisty road geometry (easy but yet more code). It adds up and requires these fiddly thresholds and scaling factors that are usually hidden from the user.
As someone else pointed out, having sliders and preferences for every little tuning knob is always a no-go with the designers, who want everything to just magically work without configuration. As a programmer, I've always thought that "design minimalism" is cancer, but on the other hand, it provides constraints and makes the problem interesting to solve.
Google Maps already does some flowing, it's just not very good at it once you zoom all the way in.
If you have an important point of interest center-screen, then the lower priority labels flow away, or are priority pruned if overly numerous. This allows users to resolve invisible labels simply by zooming in.
I'm absolutely in agreement on the performance challenges, which are likely the real reason precomputed labels seem to be used on Google Maps.
Can you provide a use case where that would be necessary for a situation where you're not using the navigation? A lot of people seem to think this is a requirement for a map but when are you ever using a map to find a specific street where navigation wouldn't be far easier?
Do Google or Apple let you use navigation offline? I know it can continue an existing route if the connection drops, but I've never tried to start navigation somewhere while offline.
In any case, it seems reasonable to want a 'navigation' map without a specific path, just as you can get a 'discovery' map without a specific search.
For my own personal more mundane stuff, it's usually "can't you just parse the names and addresses and put them in separate fields?" and the answer is usually, "80% of the time, yes. If you're ok with that, we're good". They never are ok with that :-)
Gmaps & Co. have become even more tiresome to use since I actually have experienced how much more comfortable it could be.
I do think this missing feature betrays a deep organizational dysfunction as you have described. This dysfunction leads to losing sight of what is valuable to users.
Agreed. Happens on google maps too, and that's just so irritating
I put in a random street (mission street in San Fransciso), this how it looked for me on desktop:
Then I started filling out streets with the continuous name of the street (first copy and pasting the name in small squares, then by hand adding red dots to separate them). This is how it looked after:
I was pretty careless/moved quickly, but that should match some of the effect of imperfect algorithmic mapping decisions. The key insight is that even if one specific crook looks horid (not enough space to lay it out neatly), humans will just look at another part of the street to determine the name. But if it's really a little nook where the crooked letters don't contain enough information we'll pinch/zoom in to make it big enough to display legibly. If you really look closely at my picture you will see places where I totally garbled street names through careless copy and pasting and overlap. No problem at all.
The "after" is much more beautiful/useful.
But notice two streets are blank: https://imgur.com/a/I24REM0
This is because their name didn't appear even a single time in my view. that means even though I'm on desktop and there's plenty of space, I would have to zoom or scroll to see them! They're literally information that is missing from the map.
For other streets I had to look a fair way away to copy and paste, since the street name wasn't anywhere near where I was working. (For example, looking at my first, original map, suppose you're at the top-left point, on Jersey street: how long do you go down Jersey street to the right, before you hit the Jersey and Church street intersection? This is a super common question!)
I think the resulting map is extremely repetitive, but pretty useful/beautiful. Humans can filter out repetitive information really easily. It's just no problem for us at all. Tasks such as the one I mentioned, where you are about to go down Jersey street and need to know when you'll hit Church street, are some of the main types of navigation tasks we do every day.
So I don't see the issue with making the repetitive map. Instead of roads, it should just repeat the name of the road.
(On the other hand, those of you who disagree can at least see what the Google engineer was talking about.)
But if the information isn't there, no amount being human can bring it out. You're stuck.
For me, it's not hard to read. I'd prefer it, anyway.
Still, if you wouldn't prefer it then we can see what the Google engineer meant, as this is exactly what you get if you show as much information as possible!
I absolutely 100% didn't write off the idea of putting more labels. I wasn't making a point about how bad it would be. I was doing something different.
I read a comment, this one: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18359646 - which I replied to. First I'll quote it in full then we'll break it down.
>It's obviously an intentional choice to avoid too much screen clutter...
>but I agree it's infuriating. I've spoken in the past with some people who work on Maps products and have heard "people say they want it but then they really don't..." and I honestly can't imagine what UX studies are telling them that.
>All the time I see a destination and I'm trying to figure out what closest cross street I should stop at and by the time I've zoomed and panned enough to find whatever random faraway place manages to have a label (feels like an unwanted game of whack-a-mole, where will the label pop up??), I can't tell if I've zoomed over to a parallel street instead.
>And the solution is so simple too: whenever you zoom in enough that there's enough room on a visible street to put a label, then put the label! I mean if I zoom in so far that only the one street is visible and there's no other text on it, but Maps still leaves it blank... it just feels inexcusable.
So let's break it down. First of all this person says that the REASON for this is to "AVOID CLUTTER". They then "I honestly can't imagine what UX studies are telling them that." So I did one! You're looking at a UX study that might tell them that.
We actually have a null hypothesis:
>I've spoken in the past with some people who work on Maps products and have heard "people say they want it but then they really don't..."
We have something to test. What we have to test is whether it's true that people REALLY DON'T want that.
We have a problem that we're UX testing. The problem is "I see a destination and I'm trying to figure out what closest cross street I should stop at and by the time I've zoomed and panned enough to find whatever random faraway place manages to have a label (feels like an unwanted game of whack-a-mole, where will the label pop up??), I can't tell if I've zoomed over to a parallel street instead." This is a clear problem that we can easily and specifically test.
And here is EXACTLY what we are testing:
>"And the solution is so simple too: whenever you zoom in enough that there's enough room on a visible street to put a label, then put the label!"
That says that the solution is SO SIMPLE. We are looking at the simplest possible solution. One that requires (ALMOST) NO ALGORITHMIC CHOICE ABOUT WHEN AND WHERE TO DISPLAY A STREET NAME!! This is given very simply and super-specifically: "WHENEVER THERE IS ROOM TO PUT A LABEL THEN PUT THE LABEL". This is what we're testing.
It wasn't my idea to keep it in black (instead of grey). It's there in black and white: "THE SOLUTION IS SO SIMPLE." And then it's a FULLY SPECIFIED SOLUTION.
So we have this:
* I can't imagine what UX study could POSSIBLY have had the result that people don't REALLY want it!
* All you need to do is this: WHENEVER there is room to put a label, put a label!
It doesn't say "On at least one point point on the road". It doesn't say somewhere. It says whenever. We're testing this.
The results of MY test is that for ME, I don't see that I don't REALLY want even this version of the UX. I think it's 100% readable and not too cluttered for me. I would turn on this form of navigation. It's extremely easy for me to read. It's an improvement. (Over these examples given just now by someone else: https://imgur.com/a/hCo3V2X )
So the WORST POSSIBLE way to test this UX still doesn't show us the result that I wanted, that people "DON'T REALLY WANT IT". However, it does show a bad way to test this UX change. So if you couldn't imagine a UX study that had this result before, well, now you can imagine it.
The option of putting the street name in very light grey and to make the red dots less intrusive is pretty "obvious". But it's not necessary for testing what I quoted.
I didn't test something DIFFERENT from what was quoted. I tested the worst possible clutter effect of interpreting the words "WHENEVER THERE IS ROOM TO PUT A LABEL, THEN PUT THE LABEL."
I didn't find the effect that was claimed. It seems fine to me, and seems like a UX improvement. Anyway, even if you all viscerally react very negatively to the mockup, at least now you can "imagine what UX study" might have told people that.
There could even be an invented special "road" font that helps people further disambiguate it visually from all the other map labels.
I guess the person meant "on one spot" but since labels are frequently repeated I didn't see the harm of trying it out in the "worst" way possible. Still looks fantastic.
Maybe it was misspecified but I did what it says and I think it's great. A light grey might help but then again it could be easier to ignore black you don't need than make out light grey you do.
I looked at the mockup and imagined it on my screen as I navigated, imagining this from a few different points, and imagining further pinching to zoom and scrolling around. I thought it was great. Especially if I imagined zooming in further to deal with an exact corner I was going to.
I didn't get the result I expected, that it would look awful. It looks great, fantastic, tremendous, amazing, wonderful, superb, terrific, awesome, excellent, magnificent. I literally have to open a thesaurus to express how great it is, I ran out of words partway through.
How it doesn't look is "something I really don't want", which is what I was promised.
I wanted to see how it would look if "whenever you zoom in enough that there's enough room on a visible street to put a label, then put the label!"
I think my render looks absolutely fine. I don't see why I wouldn't always use it if I had a toggle switch. Yes it's cluttered if you just glance at it, but we don't use maps as pieces of minimalist art.
You struggle to locate the names of the streets--in their absence, Google Maps shoves a bunch of unsolicited retail venues in your face.
Remember, Google's an ad company; think of it from their perspective.
Google wants to push users towards businesses that advertise with them, so that business continue giving Google money and data.
Users are used to working around crap software, so they're unlikely to stop using Google Maps enough to harm Google's business.
So why would Google do anything to improve Google Maps for users if it even slightly harms their core advertising business? Their goal isn't to make the best map; it's to make money (by running a map service).
Do you think those example would be too cluttered if the street names continously repeated their own name the way I showed: https://imgur.com/a/xQiF6pm
(Perhaps in light grey, perhaps spaced slightly more apart.)
Some people, among them apparently map makers, argue that "users don't want too many labels". logicallee is arguing that it's virtually impossible to put too many labels (by putting in as many labels as possible and showing that it's perfectly legible, and totally fine functionally, even if it's not the most aesthetic experience).
FWIW, I subscribe to OP, that it's infuriating not to have streets labeled, and find logicallee's point rather convincing, that having more labels doesn't really distract from the functionality of the map (and I don't care that it affects the map's "beauty").
Apart from being easy to consume, the map tiles must also be in sync with the company's brand and design ethos. Its hard to imagine Apple's minimalist aesthetic delivering these tiles.
(it just says 'roadroadroad', 'houseshouseshouses', 'riverriverriver' ... :))
And if Kopec in the lower center were the name of a street, I think it's great that it's written there.
The only thing missing is the red dots, so instead of roadroadroadroad it said road·road·road·road (by the way you might wonder why I made the dots red in my example: it's so the eye can just focus on the red dots to sparsely get the road's path.)
I just don't see the issue at all. It's way better, at that zoom level, to have to use my human ability to notice and ignore patterns and ignore noise while concentrating on what I want, than to use two fingers to try to zoom in enough for the map to place the names. I just don't see the issue with the view you presented. It looks great!
For non-slavic speakers, I especially like how it stops at the border, so you can get half a screen of normal map and half a screen of strange words.
I often want road names in Tokyo but they are also competing for space of transit lines as well as places with double or triple decker differently named things like there's a freeway named A over aroad named B which is over a Subway line named C
Road names are usually not as important in Japan as they are not used in addresses but they come in handy when explaining to a cab driver how to get somewhere
I showed what would happen if you literally follow the rule "whenever [...] there's enough room on a visible street to put a label, then put the label".
That's the specification. If you show me a twisty road with no room for a label, then according to this specification it doesn't get the label. The specification (for what we're testing) says "whenever there is room". Whenever there is enough whitespace on the road.
# Label all streets as much as possible
for (each street on screen):
while (that street has room for a label): # (even if already labeled)
put a label on that street # i.e. an additional one
# Try to label unlabeled streets
for (each street on screen)
if (no label on screen for that street): # if unlabeled
if (street has room for a label): # ...can we fix?
put a label on that street # ...then fix
As a followup, could you please define "street has room for a label"? When do you consider that a street has room for a label?
Here's an app of a company I worked for, that cares about non-shopping use cases: https://windymaps.com/app
Maybe they would appear if you zoomed in even further, but at that point the map would be pretty useless.
Agree, although I don't find it entirely useless; it allows a bit of mental confirmation along the way if you happen to notice something marquee'd go by.
But more generally, there must be a reason or two why this doesn't work, but why leave street name placement "static"? I know it isn't; what I mean is why not accept a touch event to show the name of a street when you tap on it?
It is a touch screen map. Why are the only things I can touch things Yelp wants me to know about?
It seems to me there's a massive lack of imagination going on with maps. Everyone seems to be locust-like scouring for doing anything with them that can turn a quick buck rather than thinking about what they're good for now besides shopping, and could be good for, if-only.
But this is not anywhere near that blue-sky. If figuring out how to make an interactive digital map show the name of the street that is centered on your screen is an unsolvable problem, there's something wrong.
 Frankly, I wish I could turn Yelp off, because I mainly only trigger that by accident. But that's a different topic.
Instead of zooming pinching try to click the street to drop a pin and you got the street name.
Old abstractions (maps) on newer media (phones, desktops) offer a UX that cartmakers in the past could only dream off. It is up to us to break our old habits and discover and use this new UX.
For example. When the iPhone first came people complained about the lack of copy and paste. But most of the time people don't _need_ to copy and paste text, eg they _want_ to dial the phone number they see on a webpage. Therefore they _need_ to have the phone number in their phone app. A problem which can be solved many ways (eg: recognise numbers on a page and make them clickable links directly to phone app) of which copy and paste, though the most familiar, is really one of the worst in UX.
This is the difference between what people (think they) want and what they actually need.
Back to maps. People don't want to read street names, they want the nearest address to a certain s point. Of which zooming and pinching or a cluttered screen full of text are by far the most inferior ways to use of the technology available today.
I call bullshit on this. I'm using copy/paste on the phone all the time. In using it between many different applications. The way you described it the operation would have to be implemented separately for everything. Text field to phone, text to phone with editing it, phone app (incoming number) to every-single-app-taking-text, etc. I even used copy/paste to write this message.
This functionality is so general we need a solution which works everywhere. This doesn't stop extra functionality that makes some common flows easier (number on the website to phone for example).
The same applies to the street names example. You can add location features without leaving the view with missing names where there's space available.
But personally I cringe every time I have to copy and paste a address on my phone into map or the address book. The software can know its and address, phone number or any other object and provide context specific solutions for it.
A close to reality (just changed the exact names) example is:
Second floor North
John Hancock's building behind the Saint Joseph school (Church side)
Neighborhood of the Priars
Of course in native language it's more fluid but you get the idea.
Dude, are you serious?? There is literally no excuse not to just show the damn street label. Stop blaming users for bad UX.
I hate that! That makes it unnecessarily hard to copy order numbers and the like on my iPhone.
Phoning is legacy functionality, I almost never want to use a number as a phone number.
Copy/Paste on the other hand, that's very useful. I can copy the bits I want, anywhere I want, without dumb as hell software trying to guess what I actually want to do.
> I almost never want to use a number as a phone number.
This is the 'what you want and what you need'. You don't want to copy and paste a number into a phone to dial them. You need to have a voice call with the person/company who's page you are visiting or email you are reading.
Google search solves this nicely in their mobile search. They don't show phone numbers or addresses primarely, but buttons to like Call, Navigate, Share and Website. That is what I need when I search a company on Google and essentially what I want.
e.g. I want to translate a message. Either I wait for every messenger/OS to get a decent in-app translator, or I use copy-paste into Google Translate — very clunky, but better than not being able to.
But with most things people hate change and will often not adopt to new things. The famous non Henry Ford quote comes to mind: If you asked people what they want they would wanted a faster horse (and not a car).
I think I'm just sour Apple didn't seize their opportunity to provide the proper alternate solutions for copy paste (before/alongside with it) when they had the chance.
I don't know what the current state on iOS is, but on android you often have context buttons (dial, navigate) next to copy/paste buttons when you select a address or phone number.
But then I'd lose my actual destination which is already pinned! And I don't want to lose that pin because I'm going to need to refer back to it. I'm trying to understand the area around it.
> People don't want to read street names, they want the nearest address to a certain s point.
This is exactly the kind of attitude that winds up sounding to my ears as extremely tone-deaf. No, I don't want the address, I already have the address, I want to see the name of the cross street before the address so I know when to slow down on my bike and start looking at the (much harder to read) building numbers.
This has nothing to do with letting go of old abstractions. And considering the #1 complaint I hear about Maps is always "I can't find the street names", this suggests that the "new UX" you're referring to is just bad UX. Just because there's an old way doesn't mean it's bad.
Also VLC and a few other weird fringe holdouts...
I’m not sure. It seems the maps are much less usable for visual delivery of information. I can barely see the streets because of the contrast choices, the 3D buildings obscure the streets, and the streets are always missing their names. The new Apple and Google designs push us to enter a destination where in the past all I would have needed was a quick glance.
Knowing and tracking where we are going is valuable information to the map providers; helping us get there without finding out where we want to go really isn’t.
The problem is that it is really hard to automatically determine what is the most useful thing for the user. Right now, I think the balance is a little too tilted towards not showing them.
I think that one of the evidences of this is how many extreme cases can be shown where they clearly should be shown but they are not. Its much harder to find cases where the algorithm tilts in the other direction by mistake.
A good observation, but then wouldn't the right UX decision be to give the user a way to indicate that, yes, I really do want to see the label for this item?
They are only useful when navigating without GPS. And it's infuriating when you try to use a Google Map as a paper map: there aren't any street names on Google Map to be able to find the correct intersection to turn.
"AVs navigate themselves—so all we’ll really need to know is where we want to go. And Google, with a rapidly-growing autonomy project of its own, seems to have caught on to this.
"If you zoom out on Google Maps’s recent features, you’ll notice that they’re increasingly about figuring out “where to go?”
"And even Google’s map seems to be following this pattern. Over the last two years, Google has gradually been turning it inside out, from a road map to a place map.
"Is Google future-proofing itself against a not-too-distant world that has little need for driving directions? Whether or not that’s true, it does seem as if place information might be even more important tomorrow than it is today."
The difference is that it was designed as a premium option to solve a problem for a user. Modern smartphone apps appear to be more about gathering data and steering users to the platform owner's desired destinations.
When driving in some countries in Europe a GPS will repeat that you should use <really long badly pronounced street names after an old white guy> for multiple steps when in fact the road signs don’t mention the street anywhere and just say “Center”. (Granted sometimes the GPS directions are correct and use signage info.) Or the street name may have changed 5 times, as you keep driving straight on the same road.
The problem, as with all things in maps, isn’t so clear-cut and the fixation on street names is very centric to certain countries.
Also, Mapbox has a powerful map styling UI that lets you choose exactly what map elements to display at a given zoom level:
We can basically build or contribute to alternatives that better suit our needs.
I find it hard to believe that so much work could go into maps when actually using it doesn't seem to be the main goal. How am I going to use this greenery information?
Sometimes I just can't type name in local language correctly but I know the street name where it is and yet I can't find it by looking at the map without extreme zoom in. Searching the street name seems to give a completely random point.
I end up zooming to random streets where I think mine should be over and over until I find my street - what a ridiculous process.
There's so much empty space - this obsession with form over function has to stop.
I've switched to one of openstreetmaps clients for this reason alone. They're not afraid of showing actual information.
I just don't think it's a priority anymore -- they want the map to "look pretty" and people to use turn-by-turn nav.
I agree it's a shame and extremely frustrating.
So to some extent Apple's designers and developers know the value of understand what streets are around, but that knowledge isn't evenly distributed/applied.
Hopefully they aren't using a time on screen engagement metric. That would explain why they ended up with a harder to use app. I have to look at it longer.
Either way it suggests to me Apple is solving the wrong problem in the long term.
This reminds me of all the complaints about Apple's Touch Bar, saying there aren't affordances for touch typing.
If I have to walk up 10 blocks and across 5 blocks, my route is going to depend on the traffic lights. "Directions" aren't what I want, what I want is to know where the thing is in terms of landmarks I know and can recognise, and that mostly means street names.
I live in an urban place and mostly use maps as you've described - but when I visit my family in suburban FL, the closest major cross streets for the restaurant could be a mile away, on a highway which has the same name for hundreds of miles, and the street number for the business might be in the tens of thousands but you don't really have a concept of where "0" is. Turn-by-turn is much more useful there, if for nothing else knowing that your right-hand turn is roughly 3/4 miles from where you are right now.
The first would seem valid, if Mission St is, as I gather, rather important. FWIW: after searching for Mission District, the street is now visible far more often. It's labeled even at a zoom level where the water on the east and west are comfortably within the frame.
The decision of de-emphasising street names for the benefit of landmarks/museums/event locations etc. is rather subjective: I often use Maps for purposes other than directions, such as getting a feel for an apartment's neighbourhood, finding restaurants, exploring places in the news, or that appeared in books or movies, or even just "sightseeing".
For all these purposes, the style of Google and Apple Maps is obviously far better than traditional folding maps.
You seem to do direction planning the "old-school" way of manually planning a path from A to B. But that mode has been somewhat deprecated, because typing an address and getting a specific route happens to be far better for this purpose. It's not so much decreasing skills in map reading the luddites so often bemoan: In unfamiliar locations, Google has so much more information, such as both typical and real-time traffic, specific expected times to negotiate every intersection, up-to-date road closures etc. Plus a slightly better shortest path algorithm than eyeballing it.
To get back to shrubbery: I rather shrug. Because you're right that it's less important than roads. But by its nature as just the background colour, I believe it does not actually compete with street labels, at least not in the way that other labels do.
This would seem to call for a small set of 'detail view' modes in the UI. I.e., a 'navigation' mode that priortizes street names over other details. And a 'remote sightseeing' mode that emphasies POI's over street names, etc.
Google knows they're there because they do show up in a search, but that doesn't work if you don't remember the name. I saw a restaurant while walking, went to look it up later, knew it was somewhere on a particular street, and had to resort to Street View to find it. Luckily the last Street View picture was from just after the restaurant first opened.
Presumably these businesses haven't ever paid for advertising.
Apple Maps is no better in my area. It has a few popular places and one shop that was demolished in 2002.
Really. It seems they actually put some effort into showing the names of most streets except the one you're interested in. No, really.
It's amazing how often this happens, because it's almost mind reading at this point.
What would be awesome is if the UI didn't assume I wanted to drop a pin when I'm pointing at a spot on the map - it could popup the info with an option to add a pin, or just touch away to not do that.
Thus user research probably shows that people don't want it or even complain about it.
Later versions of Google Maps didn't do this, so on some streets, you would have no idea what the street names were, and would have to zoom out or scroll out until you saw the name.
THIS is what I want fixed. I don't care about vegetation, I want to be able to see what the street names are without distracting myself on the map.
It's a disturbing trend in tech in general. Looks over function. Everything from websites to apps to actual physical products, design is more important than functionality.
The modern Google Maps does a lot of the layout and rendering on the client or on the fly, with a differing set of constraints and tradeoffs. It also has many more landmarks.
You can see this in action by going to https://mapstyle.withgoogle.com/ and playing with the "Landmarks" control.
However I've got the feeling that the new and less detailed maps are made for the use case of navigation, with a voice telling us what to do. Road names are important only when we are discovering what's around us or where we want to go. If this is a less important use case now, street names go away. Still it should be possible to build an app that works on a sensible way in both navigation and discovery mode.
*whole world. Apple maps users are not just in the US.
I think your concerns might be overstated though. Hopefully they've just decided to heavily focus on this area up to now to tune their algorithms etc. and will be able to roll it out much more quickly from here on out.
POIs definitely need to be much improved but there seems to be some very solid street data updates with this.
The vegetation data is literally the last thing that matters, and I can't believe Apple is this blind.
of course, simply extrapolating the current rate of progress gives a similarly dismal outlook.
Here's a side by side of West Bay, Seven Mile Beach and Boddentown, between Apple Maps on the left and Google Maps on the right.
I understand that its not a huge market (even though there's something like 2 million+ cruise shippers stopping every year), but man... it really makes me not trust it anywhere when the map is completely wrong, geographically speaking
Imagine you buy in the outline of landmasses from some other company. If you pay staff to 'correct' those errors, it will be mostly wasted effort, since those changes won't be sent back to the supplier and won't make it into the next version of the suppliers data.
Likewise, if you start merging your data and their data in a way which isn't 100% legally separable, you get into all kinds of trouble. Flagging up where your own street map is in conflict with the suppliers ocean map could could as 'deriving' your street map from their ocean map, meaning you no longer have all the rights to your street map.
What's really interesting for me is at the beginning on launch of Apple Maps, there was only the major road and the airport marked, now most of the roads are there.. overplayed on top of the body mass which is still wrong. Its almost as if , while updating their road mapping to be more accurate, they have never in the past 5 years or so updated the shape of the land masses themselves
The author definitely enjoys compiling these amazing essays and share this knowledge.
Thank you, Justin!
My partner briefly worked for a human-powered 3d mapping firm; they would get satellite and plane/drone photography of a large swath of land, split it up into block-sized chunks, and then each worker would take a block and use an in-house program to model the buildings at a pretty impressive level of detail. Workers got paid per-block and blocks were priced based on their complexity. They've been doing this for over 10 years by this point, so it's not an entirely unknown or uncommon thing to handle this kind of work manually.
In a world sense, the economics of making the map are very cheap.
In an ideal future, one can imagine submitting 3d models of buildings to a civic dataset as part and parcel of getting zoning approval.
Figuring out how many trees there are.
Do the directions work?
I'm talking postcard-perfect views around the Sydney harbor, small beaches around various bays, isolated parks near beautiful rivers and a whole lot of other places that are really beautiful and probably only known to the locals. Lots of these places were a brisk walk away from high-traffic areas too.
This is not to dismiss your question on the directions, though, which is certainly an important part of using maps on a phone.
Would you even trust an "interpreted" map with levels of green for what you're doing?
It doesn’t really work in satellite view because the trees make for a ton of visual noise at the relatively low resolutions shown.
A good indicator for me is green in the map, and no street view (street view tends to cover busier routes, I drive roads street view wouldn’t bother with)
But also likely the most common one. It's not fair to lump it in with the dozens of other map use cases.
I generally use Google Earth to do this, and I'm extremely skeptical that Apple Map's foliage would work half as well.
As the linked blog post shows, they're definitely not perfect; I haven't encountered anything particularly egregious, but the fun thing about maps is that virtually everyone will run into what are ostensibly "edge cases" eventually. Apple Maps has steered me wrong before, but so has Google and Waze. (Waze has gotten much better at destinations in the last few years, after their purchase by Google, although they still have a disquieting penchant for "shortcut" directions that include "make this uncontrolled left turn across three lanes of traffic." Not only does Apple rarely do that, Google rarely does that.)
When I’m blasting down a highway, not so much.
That said, it was fine for anything that was on major highways.
It's just making the map data match the real world better, and making it useful for more than just driving.
Or pick a tree for adoption?
Cambridge MA arborist has mapped all its trees.
Sadly for Apple Maps... No.
Another possible explanation is the TomTom was using these unlikely to be visited streets as trap streets.
>In cartography, a trap street is a fictitious entry in the form of a misrepresented street on a map, often outside the area the map nominally covers, for the purpose of "trapping" potential copyright violators of the map who, if caught, would be unable to explain the inclusion of the "trap street" on their map as innocent. On maps that are not of streets, other "copyright trap" features may be inserted or altered for the same purpose.
Although I think it would actually be possible to use once-real-but-no-longer steets as trap streets, as long as your sources are improbable enough. For example, if you take a map from 1908, remove one street, then add in another single street from 1920, etc., your exact combination of streets could serve as proof of copyright infringement.
It brings up an interesting issue though - ideally if you have trap streets you would never want to use them in route finding...
I've always found Google vs Apple maps discussions to be interesting, as I've always vastly preferred Apple Maps data for walking around places; Google Maps too often had poor building shapes that looked nothing like the real thing, or hid business names at the scale I was trying to use. Perhaps that's because I live in the Bay Area. When I'm overseas, in particular, I don't hesitate to go to Google Maps first.
I used to work in Nokia in the maps division that later became Here. I still remember when Nokia disrupted a market then dominated by the likes Tom Tom and a few others by giving away the maps for free along with every phone. Initially this was a subscription service that you had to opt into. But releasing it for free changed a lot of things.
One of those things was Google accelerating their own maps production and terminating their licensing of Nokia's Navteq maps. It took them many years after that to catch up in terms of quality after that. They had to rely on Teleatlas (now Tom Tom) for quite some time while slowly building out their maps. This is a huge investment and a lot of work. I'd say they definitely pulled ahead only a few years ago with very decent world wide coverage for most of their feature set. Here maps is still better qualitatively in some areas but their feature set is just not great at this point and they've lost most of the consumer mind share they used to have under Nokia. They are still unrivaled for offline navigation on the road and they completely own the in car navigation market at this point (around 70-80% marketshare).
Apple maps inception was around 2011ish around the time their relationship with Google soured. Actually several of my former colleagues ended up working for them after the Nokia implosion. They prematurely launched the first version and they are still heavily dependent on Tom Tom's Teleatlas (again) after last year's revision which improved things considerably. The stuff in this article is nice but world coverage like this is quite far out. Also, you can bet Google will take the hint and get their hands dirty improving their algorithms. The genius with their operation is that they are really good at collecting data, so new algorithms can be applied world wide. This is where Apple is behind: they lack the data coverage that Google has been investing in for the last decade.
Hilarious that you consider that they consider the job done. This is a random blog post.
For one "they" made no official statement about considering the job done.
Second, obviously this is just an incremental rollout.
Third, TFA mentions they already have data for (but not exposed) something like 90% of the US.
TomTom then Google Maps then literally anything else, then Apple Maps at the very end. It's hilarious how empty Apple Maps are, and considering that until very recently they were the only option for Apple CarPlay for navigation, that was extremely bad. Seriously, it was so bad that I would consider my car's built-in, shitty 5-year old sat nav system over using Apple Maps, it's that bad. Google Maps is still lacking in many many aspects(it has no idea which streets are one way, has no idea about no-left/right turn signs, it still connects roads on the map which are not connected in reality, its database of POI is lackluster at best - TomTom doesn't seem to have any of those issues), but god, Apple Maps outside of US is just bad.
Here any in-car navigation - even in my wife's 1 year old Seat Leon - is never as up-to-date as either of the major native Maps apps (Google or Apple). I exclusively use Apple Maps for navigating in the Netherlands (and elsewhere in Europe). I can count on one hand the number of times it's led us astray.
In fact, I think more like two fingers. The one time that stands out is navigating through back country in Croatia this summer. Both Apple Maps and Google Maps seemed to think a road existed that simply wasn't there, causing a massive detour to get home.
Otherwise, my experience of Apple Maps is completely the opposite to yours. Where have you been using it?
Edit: Also, OpenStreetMap is the best Maps data for anything off major roads here in Europe - it beats Apple and Google by a country mile. If you're going hiking or mountain climbing, OSM is much better.
TomTom then Google Maps then literally anything else, then Apple Maps at the very end.
Apple Maps uses TomTom data . This is also our experience with driving in Germany and The Netherlands. Apple Maps is very complete and had better lane guidance than Google Maps (when we switched from Google Maps to Apple Maps when getting CarPlay). We never had problems with Apple Maps in these countries, nor Austria and Switzerland.
Yelp to all intents and purposes does not exist outside of the continental Americas. London's Yelp data is essentially the work of the odd bored American tourist. As such, it's totally wrong.
I do not see how Apple improves this situation from this article. Google have an amazing advantage here.
As opposed to what source of readily available data?
They already use several sources anyway (including their own scanning), Yelp is just one of many.
I guess they made similar local partnership for country in wich such directory is available and open to partnership.
I’m a GIS engineer and I once considered joining Apple so I’ve regularly noticed international job offers from Apple about enabling theses partnership.
It definitely works, at least I can confirm for bigger cities. Hopefully your (and other) areas will get updated soon with something as crucial.
I did have a hilarious issue for a while where it didn't know about either of the Severn River crossings into Wales (and yeah I didn't have it set to avoid toll roads). Not only did it not know about the "new" bridge, which is something like 20 years old, it didn't even know about the "old" bridge :D
The sodding thing used to try to take me via Gloucester (+2 hours to the trip) and didn't have any idea what was going on when I was on the bridge it didn't believe in.
Thankfully this is now fixed!
My setup is to punch in my destination and let Google audibly give directions, and then open Waze for hazard/police notifications.
Edit: Ok, this is wrong, sorry. I searched for "Waze UK" on google and the first result just takes me to the US site.
If you own something you tend to use that more instead of buying something else...
It's the whole of northern California isn't it? I wouldn't refer to places like Eureka as 'the Bay Area'.
Going from there to country wide, continent wide, and ultimately global coverage is going to take a lot. Apple certainly has the financial means to do so. But it's not necessarily going to happen this decade.
> Regardless of how Apple is creating all of its buildings and other shapes, Apple is filling its map with so many of them that Google now looks empty in comparison:
Yeah, the google view has a lot less green, but it's really a different kind of green -- it shows me where there's a public park I might visit.
Apple's green is showing vegetation, but finding that regional park gets lost in the noise.
If I wanted to find a place to visit, Google is the superior layout. If I want to get a sense of vegetation, I would just turn on satellite view!
If you go somewhere else on the planet, e.g. along the Amazon river, you see that the vegetation data reappears, only to start fading again at zoom level 11 or so. It's too irregular and following satellite imagery too closely to have been drawn from human sources such as parcel data. It must have been built from imagery.
So it looks like it's a deliberate choice on Google's part to only use human-derived features such as a park's outline at most zoom levels, on most of the inhabited surface of the planet.
Google's map shows a relatively tiny bit of land that it labels as the regional park.
Apple Maps, meanwhile, highlights a much larger area that it gives the same label.
Based on the fact that Apple Maps is explicitly highlighting this area, I'm going to guess that it's correct and that entire highlighted area is, in fact, the regional park. So if you wanted to visit Garland Ranch Regional Park, wouldn't you prefer it to be accurately mapped, instead of represented as a tiny slice of green?
Or if you meant that tiny bit of green in Caramel Valley, Apple Maps has it too, it just has a lot more green too that might be interesting if your goal is to visit bits of greenery stuck in the middle of towns.
IMO 99% of the time people use maps to get to destinations, so maps should be focused on destinations, not shapes (insofar as the shapes don't prevent you from getting to your destination).
But really, maps are nothing but shapes (streets, waterways, coastlines) that constrain navigation on the ground, so it's difficult to make sense of your proposed focus on destinations to the exclusion of shapes.
I remember taking part in 2-day team orienteering competition. We had walked very accurately on a bearing to where the checkpoint should be, but it wasn't there. My friend had taken the bearing on the corner of a wooded area. Looking more closely at the wooded area, we could see a large area of tree stumps next to it...
(We reorientated ourselves, found the checkpoint, and came second in the competition.)
The colors of the map obviously can't be based on the season.
In the apple layout, it gets lost in the noise of private-land vegetation.