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Apple's New Map (justinobeirne.com)
1250 points by joao on Nov 1, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 365 comments

It absolutely blows my mind that map products ship without street names clearly visible at all times.

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.

You can do this right now for Open Street Map :) the pay is terrible ($0), but the resulting data is open!


>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

There is a huge amount of this information maintained by land management agencies (see e.g. [0]). Presumably it is even licensed (in the US at least) in a way that commercial companies could use. But Google Maps coverage of trails and even forest roads is terrible. I presume that you're right, the return is too low, but it is sad that no one is picking up this low hanging fruit. Even OpenStreetMap is hit and miss on this public data (partly because of data import wars).

[0] https://data.fs.usda.gov/geodata/edw/datasets.php?dsetCatego...

I conclude that Google has decided once you get off of "normal" roads, it just doesn't care. (One even wonders if Google considers omitting paths that aren't reliable for automobiles to be a feature rather than a bug.) As you say, OSM is better but can't really be depended on.

When I was hiking in Big Bend, TX, there was a lady with one of those Google Maps backpacks taking imagery for street view, presumably it was collecting other interesting data as well.

Natural Atlas is trying to do this type of thing by pulling together data from USGS, USFS, etc: https://naturalatlas.com

Another great article from this blog!

Last year's article from the same author [1] 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[2] is also worth a read).

[1] https://www.justinobeirne.com/google-maps-moat

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15965653

He's written multiple articles about maps, even before that one: https://www.justinobeirne.com. He's very good at spotting details in maps–IIRC he worked on Apple's maps team before, so this isn't particularly surprising.

He wrote many more excellent articles before he worked at Apple, all posted to https://www.41latitude.com/

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.

Well, they are CC 3.0, so I guess I can't feel guilty about sharing these 3 archives that I found:

https://archive.is/Fnw4W https://archive.is/AHmEF https://archive.is/WpOCJ

> he worked on Apple's maps team before

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.

Only a former employee could be so relentlessly negative about the product. Notice he's never ended his articles saying anything nice about it?

Nobody else would know what to look for.

I didn't find the article to be "relentlessly negative" at all. It seemed pretty neutral, in fact.

Leave it to fanboys to see “relentless negativism” in legitimate criticism.

Indeed, his criticism might be the reason for the major revamp in the first place, according to other news stories. Quote from paywall:


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.

Did we read the same article?

"...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"

Maybe not! The last half of the article is all about the faults; the closing line of the article (before footnotes) questions whether or not Apple is making the right maps at all.

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.

Yes, I was thinking about this blog post yesterday, wondering how I could find it. Perhaps my favourite read of the year.


"led the development" pretty much implies he's not working there anymore.

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.

This is really neat but I don't really care about greenery when I'm using Apple Maps. Can they take a break from figuring out how to convert satellite images into green blobs and devise an algorithm to put street names on the screen?

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.

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.

I’ve worked on mapping software, and in fact on street name placement (Not Google or Apple). The code we had for deciding where and when to draw street names has to be among the most complicated, full-of-edge-cases code I have ever encountered. Engineering is pulling one direction, data providers are pulling another direction. UX is pulling this direction, cartography is pulling that direction. Everybody in the company wants to bike-shed about it and insert their opinions because the problem to them “seems so easy.”

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 think the thing that confuses me and parent is that Maps ALREADY knows about road continuity. And road names.

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)

> 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 [0], and even completely new map styles like isochrone maps. [1]

[0]: See https://what3words.com/ and Google's https://plus.codes/

[1]: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/isochrone-maps-commute...

> 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.

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.

I hear what you're saying, but at least in the US we only have 2 pieces of well labelled and persistent navigational data in the real world: street names and numeric addresses.

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.

> we tell them to meet us near a prominent landmark

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.

Anything moving on a screen will call attention to itself. A bunch of road labels "flowing" around at once turns into a huge mess.

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.

Yes, you got it. Not only does it have to both look good motionless and in motion, but it has to look good at different speeds, and at smoothly changing zoom levels. Back in the olden days, there was no smooth zoom and pan, so you'd pre-compute labels at each discrete (logarithmic scale) zoom level and they'd remain fixed while panning around. And since panning happened in discrete steps, you wouldn't really notice labels repositioning themselves for each scene.

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.

This still doesn't explain why when you zoom in enough so there are no conflicts and items are sparse, every road can't be labeled somewhere along its length.

The purpose of flow layouts is to resolve exactly this problem at map movement time (e.g. user zoom or pan).

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.

>we are talking about maps that don't show road names here

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?

Any time you're looking at a locally saved/cached copy of the map but don't have the network connection to make navigation requests? Or are just trying to find your own (or your friends) position in a situation where you have spotty or unavailable GPS.

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.

Google Maps can initiate driving [but only driving] directions 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.

That's a good question. I've never really used navigation or maps offline as I don't have a use for it.

I'm exploring a new area and would like to know the relevant streets as I transit them on foot or bike.

If I'm in walking mode, my phone displays the street names. Have you attempted that? The example given was in a car.

How is your phone in walking mode if you're exploring an area before you go there?

Thanks for explaining that - I tend to assume there are smart people are working on these things, and when thinking "Can't they just... it would be so easy to..", I assume it's because the problem is a lot harder than I think it is, not because they're missing the obvious solution right in front of them.

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 :-)

This really really sounds like an argument for adding a “name density” slider somewhere in the corners of the main UI. Just admit that no one setting works for all people in all places and stop even trying to find it.

That violates the "it just works" directive that designers and developers are working under. If it has to be configurable they view it as a design problem so instead they force you to use it the way they want it to look.

I'd say that, unfortunately, this is a case of designers trying to capital-D "Design" rather than truly understanding & solving user / customer problems. Given the wide variety of use cases and user needs (which are also context-dependent for the same user), "it just works" may lead to it not working in a plurality of instances. (/currently leading a design and Pmgmt team)

There is configuration though. Pretty much any map app has a place you can switch between map/satellite/other views. And toggle overlays for traffic and other things. Stick a slider in there if you must hide your shame at not being able to make your tool all things to all people, this is where you’ve already admitted that people have different needs.

A professional meteorological mapping and modelling tool we use at work has exactly this: A simple "declutter" slider. And it is easily one of its most impressive features - so incredibly simple (esp. compared to all the other bells and whistles it offers) and yet constantly proving its usefulness in everyday use.

Gmaps & Co. have become even more tiresome to use since I actually have experienced how much more comfortable it could be.

I don't doubt your experiences or the reasons for constant regression in smartphone map usability over the last decade. Thanks for providing first hand experience. I hope I did not suggest that I think this is an easy problem to solve.

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.

Seems like this is the type of thing that should be ultimately built out as an algorithm rather than hardcoded exceptions etc.

Or -- gasp -- give the user the ability to control the name density.

>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.

Agreed. Happens on google maps too, and that's just so irritating

someone else said that according to a Google engineer we don't "really" want it and I wanted to see if this is true.

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.)

I can't tell whether you're getting serious, but I'm pretty sure most users would not prefer your change. It's so dense it's hard to read, and in a repetitive way.

I would 100% prefer the change. That's how most of the paper maps I used at the time used to be, and it was wonderful, because they were more useful tools.

IMHO it could be useful if the repetition was greyed out. It would allow you to either read it directly (if your eyesight allows), or quickly trace the line to the text in black and read the name while being able to easily see what direction the street goes

Humans are fantastic at ignoring noise and concentrating on whatever we want to focus on. While you're reading this very comment do you have any idea how much noise is in your field of vision that you're ignoring? Not just on this screen at the same time (literally megabytes of other bitmaps besides my words) but the rest of your field of vision. Really look around. This message contains 575 bytes of text embedded in gigabytes of moving video you're ignoring. (Just one example.)

But if the information isn't there, no amount being human can bring it out. You're stuck.

Yes yes, I agree but it's also tiring and distracting at the same time.

(Yes, totally serious.)

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!

There are so many other ways to present what you are presenting that writing the idea off seems silly. With some tweaking I think that idea could work -- if the text were in a faint gray, for example, so that it wasn't so contrasting. Probably want to do away with the bright red dots, too. Subtlety...

Readers here seriously misinterpreted what I was doing.

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.

You actually have a great idea there. I wonder if they truly tested the "null hypothesis" like you bring up.

There could even be an invented special "road" font that helps people further disambiguate it visually from all the other map labels.

Thanks. It wasn't my idea. I literally tested the spec "whenever you zoom in enough that there's enough room on a visible street to put a label, then put the label!"

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.

What UX study did you do? All I saw was a mockup. Maybe I misunderstood.

>What UX study did 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.

That's not a UX study. That's a UX anecdote.

I'm confused, are you only talking about apple maps? I just checked on Google maps and I can easily see all the street names on my screen, as long as I zoom in far enough that there is enough space.

I was specifically exploring this comment: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18359646

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.

I think you're misunderstanding the OP's complaint. It's not that streets aren't repeatedly labelled. In fact your before had multiple labels. It's that sometimes google maps chooses not to label things at all until you zoom in more. Or sometimes out, strangely.

Here an example to illustrate jldugger's point:


You struggle to locate the names of the streets--in their absence, Google Maps shoves a bunch of unsolicited retail venues in your face.

> 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).

>Here an example to illustrate jldugger's point:


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.)


Funny thing is, as far as I can tell, logicallee is not misunderstanding OP's complaint, he is subscribing to it and substantiating it.

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").

I dislike it because it slows my consumption of the map; annoying while walking, possibly dangerous while driving. We're all accustomed to reading lines of text in their entirety, which results in endless repetition here. Training the eye to look only between one set of red dots may be possible, but I doubt it would ever be as effortless as reading a discrete word with whitespace around it. I do agree every road should be labeled when there's space - perhaps even at regular intervals when there's space, but making the labeling continuous is counterproductive.

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.

What I think would be ideal is that for a visible stretch of road in the middle of it there should be the street name. Sometimes it's there and sometimes it not and I haven't found any logical reason why it appears and goes (in my to be fair limited use).

At company I worked for (czech search engine Seznam.cz), the map team made an awesome 1st April easter egg when they took this to the eleven: https://mapy.cz/textova?x=15.5603819&y=49.5896653&z=13

(it just says 'roadroadroad', 'houseshouseshouses', 'riverriverriver' ... :))

I know you know it says roarroadroad but to me it looks foreign. When I zoom in I see this as great:


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!

Oh that's awesome.

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.

you choose the easiest case, large city blocks in a grid. Try a European or Asian city with lots of twisty roads and alleys and it gets much harder. The maps here are already covered with the names of buildings, stations, parks, hospitals etc...

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

> Try a European or Asian city with lots of twisty roads and alleys and it gets much harder.

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.

That’s a misunderstanding of the spec. The ask is to put in at least one label if there is space (when previously there were none). Filling all available space with redundant labels is not the ask.

OK, mine is the result of running this pseudocode:

   # 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
yours is:

   # 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
(I would usually write this with an && rather than nested if's but I know mobile makes you scroll sideways)

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?

I've had to scroll the length of streets all they way across the entire city before it showed me a street name.

(Too late to edit, but I just noticed that imgur makes my pictures look like garbage on mobile. You may have to request the desktop view briefly to see what I saw when making the comment on desktop.)

Really? Google Maps works pretty well on Android, [1] when you zoom in, street names pop up where possible...

[1] https://i.imgur.com/c1Mtj57.png

Sometimes they do. I second this entire complaining thread; Google Maps really bad as a map. It only works well as a search results display and navigation frontend.

That's what Google maps are - they only care about places where you spend dollars (good luck finding eg. kid playgrounds).

Here's an app of a company I worked for, that cares about non-shopping use cases: https://windymaps.com/app

I wonder if this done on purpose or ignored for the reasons you just mentioned

Except when they dont (image shamelessly stolen from et-al): https://imgur.com/a/hCo3V2X

Maybe they would appear if you zoomed in even further, but at that point the map would be pretty useless.

So strange... What kind of unpredictable algorithm is this!

I agree it is a deliberate choice and may even be necessary. The problem is how they identify "clutter". To Apple clutter seems to be street names or useful human scale landmarks. To me clutter is the name of a coffee shop four blocks away that happens to be highly ranked on Yelp when I haven't recently searched for coffee shops.

> To me clutter is the name of a coffee shop four blocks away

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[1]?

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.

[1] Frankly, I wish I could turn Yelp off, because I mainly only trigger that by accident. But that's a different topic.

> All the time I see a destination and I'm trying to figure out what closest cross street I should stop at

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.

> of which copy and paste, though the most familiar, is really one of the worst in UX.

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.

Your right on that. I'm not trying to say copy paste doesn't have any uses. But a lot of people flock to copy paste as the first (and only) solution to every problem when more UX friendly and effective methods exist.

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.

I'm afraid you're looking at it purely from a citizen/resident of a developed country. Where I'm originally from, addresses are all mostly a description of how to reach a certain location given the surrounding landmarks.

A close to reality (just changed the exact names) example is:

Firstname Lastname Second floor North John Hancock's building behind the Saint Joseph school (Church side) Neighborhood of the Priars City Country

Of course in native language it's more fluid but you get the idea.

> Instead of zooming pinching try to click the street to drop a pin and you got the street name.

Dude, are you serious?? There is literally no excuse not to just show the damn street label. Stop blaming users for bad UX.

> (eg: recognise numbers on a page and make them clickable links directly to phone app)

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.

Of course it should not hinder the UX of copy pasting in the process. I probably hate that just as much as you.

> 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.

How about if you could change the context menu in the settings. If you want dial, check that you want dial in the settings, if never use dial, check off in settings.

That's a good way to see it, but the copy-paste comparison is bad. Copy-paste is so low-level that I can do everything with it, without the iOS having to wait years to get the functionality (if ever)

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.

The copy paste is bad indeed. But for me it was the first time I saw the difference between what I want and what I need in software. Apple was definitely to late with adding it to their iOS and has not been active enough in providing proper alternatives to copy and pasting like I mention above. Although I'm somewhat of an Apple fanboy (no iphone btw), they really disappointed me with this.

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.

> try to click the street to drop a pin and you got the street name.

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.

If only some people (like me) want to see street names, maybe it could be an optional layer. You enable the layer it adds a pointer and a label above the map showing the name of whatever's under the pointer. To get the name of something you could either move the map in the normal way or move the pointer.

And heck, it would be very easy to make this a setting: yes or no, this user wants as many street names as possible.

Member when software had lots of options how to configure it to show you the information you wanted? Peppridge Farms remembers.

Also VLC and a few other weird fringe holdouts...

Ah yes, wouldn’t it be nice if every piece of software had as buggy and unusable an interface as VLC https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18219757

I would agree that the VLC interface is kinda terrible. They do hide most of the settings that exist behind basic, intermediate, advanced filters though. I know first hand that it is a lot of frigging work to expose more knobs to twiddle on software, so I really appreciate when somebody does let me change things to my liking, even if I'm kind of stumbling into "here be dragons" territory.

Less than 1% of the configurations you can make in VLC are actually tested. i.e. you can't actually configure it because it will break.

I wonder if this varies based on location / version? I just tried Maps on iOS 12.0.1 and it appears to do exactly this, at least in San Francisco. Every time I zoom in on a street, the label fades in right at the center, like you suggest.

Yeah I actually feel like the behavior on Apple Maps is now quite good, especially compared to Google Maps or the old Apple Maps. It would still be nice to display street names even when relatively zoomed out, but at least it has a predictable way to zoom in to find the street name.

> It's obviously an intentional choice to avoid too much screen clutter...

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 UX studies are taking into account the excess clutter when they aren't necessary. And that is a real problem that I have seen with maps apps that try to display them all of the time.

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.

> it is really hard to automatically determine what is the most useful thing for the user.

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?

Just put a "show all" toggle on the screen, or put an option in settings, or only show this toggle when zoomed in.

I've noticed that I don't know the street names at all.

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.

You should read all the way to the end.

"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 money will be on geodata from mapping being used for a decision engine. “Recommend me a restaurant along my route within my price range” means a huge sponsorship/ad market.

My 9 year old car has this capability built in to the on-board nav system. It includes gas stations, restaurants, rest stops, etc. It also always shows cross and current street names and can seamlessly zoom out to the current continent and has a 3D terrain elevation mode. It was designed over a decade ago.

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.

Let’s also not forget that there are regions/countries where it’s either culturally not always the norm to use street names while giving directions (especially when driving), where in the real world a street name is hard/impossible to find on a sign (try to find and read a small low-contrast stone inlay somewhere up on a building while you drive luckily slowly), or where street names don’t even exist!

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.

This becomes especially apparent when you're in a country with a different language and alphabet (Greek, Cyrillic, Chinese, etc). Even if the device successfully pronounces it, you can't look for it on street signs.

I think car navigation and looking at the map are different ux activities though. When you're navigating a car, the street names may not be useful, but when you're walking with a map you can certainly compare what's on your display and what's on the sign (whether it's Latin, Greek, or in hieroglyphs) without knowing how to pronounce it.

OpenStreetMap shows street names by default:


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 only wish there was a FAQ for using OSM instead of Google Maps. From what I gather after reading many HN threads, OSM is the way to go, except they don't want to use the OSM page for daily navigation, you're supposed to find some provider of some of the mapping data, etc.

How do you want to use it? On your android phone you can just get an app like Maps.me, or OSMAnd.

The same way I'd use Google Maps - on desktop and on mobile for maps and navigation.

Agreed; and, the greenery information is useless without also a way to determine ownership or transit privileges. Is it private, public (district, state, federal), military, or some other kind of ownership class?

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?

This would be killer. There are some kml overlays for BLM and NFS land, but imagine an "access" layer that was something like "public free access", public access with admission fee, private but open to the public (like retail), and private.

Lacking this kind of information could quite literally be a killer given the propensity of some in the US to shoot first.

I think the improvement goes beyond greenery information, although the latter is the most obvious. If looking carefully, one can also spot a significant improvement regarding water surfaces. Those are useful reference points. Granted, they are often outside of where people are living, but this is part of a process making the map more accurate and probably more automated than before, which is a laudable thing. In my opinion the new map is also more pleasant to the eye and all in all, I would rather use it over the old one.

Have a look at OpenStreetMap :D

As an expat this is by far my biggest gripe.

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.

Yeah, Google maps way back in the day was a lot better at this. (Waaay back in the day, when the use-case was, "print out the directions to take with you in the car".)

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.

The funny thing is that while you are driving along a route, Apple Maps is actually pretty good at giving you exactly the info you need on cross streets, calling them out well ahead of time even when you don't need to make a turn there.

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.

I assume these feature decisions are driven by the amount of revenue generated by the app. It is really good at making Yelp suggestions, even when I don't want them.

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.

Keep in mind that many people cannot read a map. At least in the sense of navigating by it. I forget the proportion, but every time someone does a study, it's disheartening. Perhaps Google has done some usability testing and is catering to the "normal" person.

This reminds me of all the complaints about Apple's Touch Bar, saying there aren't affordances for touch typing.

Maps and directions should be separate programs, they fulfill different needs. In a more open-access world, you could build them both on top of the same data (I assume you can with open street map).

Most of the time when I'm going to an unfamiliar restaurant in my city I don't want "directions" though -- I want to know "It's on street X between Avenue B and C."

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'm not sure if you meant to disagree with me (you say "though"), but that's exactly what I mean. This is a use case for maps (show a map and point to where something is), not directions (tell me what to do).

I think this is a pretty critical difference between urban and suburban/rural use cases for maps and navigation.

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.

These maps are useful when someone or something else send or share you the specific coordinates to a destination, but useless when navigating and looking for a place you don't know. These maps are useless for the question _Where I am now?_

FWIW, I have the same complaint about OsmAnd on Android. I can zoom right in to a street, so I there's essentially nothing else on the screen, and it will still only show me the name occasionally.

This. I can not tell you how much I miss having those Street Names appearing in every street when driving through SF Downtown. I had to distract myself from driving and start pinch-zooming in hope to somehow see the street names with worthless efforts. And I am using Google Maps on my Android phone. This should definitely be fixed especially in crowded city Downtowns like Oakland and SF.

After taking a look at SF, it seems to me that there really isn't enough space for additional street names without losing something else. So I believe your complaint is more about the prioritisation among streets, or of streets vs. other entities?

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.

> 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

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.

You remind me of a lot of tech these days. Too much computing power, far less usable value. Especially when moving.

And the competitor isn't much better for map browsing without navigation. I've noticed now on Google Maps that some businesses just won't show up on the map, even at maximum zoom.

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.

i think google filters the businesses to only show you ones it thinks you would be interested in. pretty much any store i've ever navigated to or been inside shows up on google maps, even at wide zooms.

Agreed. At the very least, when you pull up directions, every road that you have to turn on should have the street name should be visible (at least without too much zooming).

> 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.

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.

Just playing devil's advocate here but why would you need to use a map, if not for directions or locating a specific thing? Are you just trying to check out what roads are around? In Apple Maps, if you switch to walking view, you get a closer view with the road names. In driving mode, it makes sense to me that those would be less useful unless I'm navigating.

On iOS there's a clunky workaround. Drop a pin on the street with no name and the pin info tells you the name. Of course you probably don't want a pin, so scroll down and hit the trash can.

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.

Wow, it looks like we both typed the exact same comment at the same time! I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels exactly this way!

Yeah Google extracting commercial district and point of interests seems much more useful than greenery

I suspect that by now a lot of people never learned how to use a map so wouldn't know what to do with that info.

Thus user research probably shows that people don't want it or even complain about it.

The original Google Maps showed all the street names on all the streets, so you didn't have to guess.

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.

Yup. If they want to win the "prettiest most useless map software" award, then congratulations Apple (and Google lately too).

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 original Google Maps was pre-rendered in a gigantic MapReduce. It had many fewer landmarks.

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.

That's great, if the rendering is performed on the client then there's no excuse not to include a "show street names at all times" option.

This is fine for turn by turn navigation though. All that text would just be a distraction when you're driving or riding.

But then when you want to plan your route you can't, because street names don't show, and you have to keep typing in each potential destination you're interested in manually.

I think the author missed that the old version, and Google Maps currently, typically use green to denote certain types of public land (parks, national forest, etc.) not vegetation per se. Apple is solving a different use case by color coding by vegetation. And It's one that I think is less useful. KNowing that there is vegetation on someone else's private land isn't really that useful to me. But knowing the boundaries of a national forest is extremely useful.

Indeed. Having hyper accurate greenery mapping may make for a cool tech demo, but has very little utility. Maps are about information density and color utility. Having 10 different shades of green doesn't really convey anything that's useful for my normal usecase.

Disagree, FWIW. Knowing how the land is shaped and what’s on it helps me navigate much better. Green things on the map that don’t correspond to green things in the environment are not super useful to me.

Don't we have aerial and satellite view for that? Disclaimer: I don't know if Apple Maps has a satellite view (never owned an Apple device) and I very rarely use Google Maps for navigation so I don't know if those views can be used while navigating.

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.

The satellite view is great to look at, but it provides way too much information to be useful in a spur of a moment. It also usually requires a few taps to get to (Menu > Layers > Satellite). Apple is betting on a hybrid approach it seems.

If you want that, switch to Satellite view; then you have even more detail.

Disagree in the sense that utility shouldn't be the only deciding factor in whether or not to add a feature. Apple, of course, cares about aesthetics, and having contrasting - though still minimalist - vectorized topology makes Maps much more pleasing to look at, and therefore to use.

I would argue that seeing vegetation on a map makes navigation easier. Which is the purpose of Apple Maps, right?

Apparently not. See the threads about missing street names.

Also weird that in the very first picture they added a blue lake (next to Pyramid Lake) that is currently and has been dry for a while... I guess they're betting on rain?

For some reason the national forest boundaries on google map seem to be frequently wrong and also change over time (at least I've noticed some changes). Trinity (CA) looks to be completely missing, as is a large portion of Gifford Pinchot or Okanogan-Wenatchee and maybe Snoqualmie (WA). Not sure why this happens.

I can see this being very useful while on foot or using Find My Friends. Obviously it is much less important while use the map for driving directions.

This is a great write up but aweful news for us Apple users who finally thought Apple would be able to catch up with Google Maps. That is the only have part of one state and will be many years until the whole country but the promise that the new data would be near perfect made it worth the wait. Apple continues to favor manual vs automated such as news and music and in each case googles automated approach wins out. Yes Apple is backing privacy which is fine but they shouldn’t say they can offer equal or better features and also pursuing the privacy strategy. POI and Yelp has been the major issue with Apple Maps and this review shows they aren’t changing in this regard so now we have better vegetation but same POI issues. Very disappointing.

> That is the only have part of one state and will be many years until the whole country [...]

*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.

I’m pretty sure the plan is to roll out the rest of the US in the next year. Not sure about the rest of the world, though.

I'll be interested to see if they are unsatisfied with the way middle-America looks, and invent some way of showing corn and wheat in the maps software, further delaying the rollout.

The vegetation data is literally the last thing that matters, and I can't believe Apple is this blind.

If the speculation is correct that these features are manually added, I don't see how that's remotely possible within a year.

of course, simply extrapolating the current rate of progress gives a similarly dismal outlook.

I used to live in the Cayman Islands (Grand Cayman specifically), and my issue with Apple Maps is, forget about the enhanced details being mentioned in this article, the actual landmass on the map is WRONG, and I just checked - its still wrong. Roads and roundabouts and my condo, and Camana Bay (big mixed commercial living area) apparently in the ocean. Its been like this since they introduced it.

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

https://i.imgur.com/4DaiXyp.png https://i.imgur.com/f5nerNY.png

The new maps data is covering only Southern California now and according to Apple is gonna be covering all of the mainland US in the following year. So for the rest of us in the remaining parts of the world, it will be a long time before we see any updated maps.

I wonder how this happens. If Apple has the capacity to detect grass strips between roads, how do they misplace an entire part of town (into the ocean, no less). Isn't there some sort of process in place to detect false positives?

This often happens when a map is made from data purchased from different suppliers.

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.

I thought maybe who (or what, if it was automated) was tracing the map from a satellite view got confused by the mangroves in the middle of the island, since its dark color does sort of look like the nearby ocean... but it doesn't explain the ocean shapes on the west side of the island (around Seven Mile Beach and in West Bay)... and I'd have thought there'd be some double checking against traditional maps at the higher level.

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

I cannot fail to notice how many # of ads, notifications, various asks, pop-ups, disclaimers, endorsements, contact buttons or share buttons there are on this page compared to what we see in any other piece of content with as much detailed information.

The author definitely enjoys compiling these amazing essays and share this knowledge.

Thank you, Justin!

Right? Pure content. I'm saving it as inspiration.

> And the office’s large headcount (now near 5,000) suggests some sort of manual / labor-intensive process.

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.

Is this even sustainable in a "World" Scale? Because at this rate I don't see this brings Apple to cover all the major cities of world in 10 years time, let alone majority of lands which aren't in these locations.

Each building in the world probably took thousands of man-hours to construct. Mapping said building probably takes a matter of minutes.

In a world sense, the economics of making the map are very cheap.

More than minutes, but absolutely orders of magnitude less than it took to build them.

In an ideal future, one can imagine submitting 3d models of buildings to a civic dataset as part and parcel of getting zoning approval.

You know what I really never use the map on my phone for?

Figuring out how many trees there are.

Do the directions work?

That's your use case. I've used maps a lot to try to find hidden or secluded parks -- often with great success.

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.

That's great... but wouldn't satellite view be better for that anyways?

Would you even trust an "interpreted" map with levels of green for what you're doing?

I have a knack for finding good driving roads with Google Maps.

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)

That's an interesting point, as all maps are (by definition) only representations, invariably leaving something out - the question is what to leave in the map.

Satellite views can be too busy for some uses.

> That's your use case.

But also likely the most common one. It's not fair to lump it in with the dozens of other map use cases.

I am being overly crabby. I do appreciate the author's enthusiasm for maps. But still, I stick to Google Maps because Apple Maps has a reputation for giving terrible directions. That's where the Google Maps moat is. The directions are generally good and will route you around traffic, which is crucial.

> I've used maps a lot to try to find hidden or secluded parks -- often with great success.

I generally use Google Earth to do this, and I'm extremely skeptical that Apple Map's foliage would work half as well.

In the area Apple's new maps are in, in my experience (important to underline that): yes, they do. I've been using these new maps since they appeared in the iOS 12 beta, so close to half a year, and they're pretty good. And, yes, to a comment you made below this one, Apple Maps is getting good at handling traffic. I find them equal to Google, although not as good as Waze. (Yes, I know Google owns Waze, but I'm standing by this. Waze does better than Google Maps here.)

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.)

It depends greatly on use case. When I’m hiking somewhere “in the country”, it’s of tremendous help to see every tree (and even what type) and shed on a map as it helps me with orientation.

When I’m blasting down a highway, not so much.

I don't know if it has been updated since, but literally two months ago it could not get you from Custer State Park to Mount Rushmore. It frequently asked me to go in the complete wrong direction. I can't trust it when it can't connect two popular areas that are relatively nearby.

That said, it was fine for anything that was on major highways.

I find vegetation massively helpful, because I have a pretty good idea of the shape of the forest areas around my city (both from driving around and also from looking at satellite/aerial photos). I can actually find a lot of places faster looking at the shape of the forest, parks, etc. than by either looking at the streets or even searching!

It's just making the map data match the real world better, and making it useful for more than just driving.

Don't you use your street maps to ID trees?


Or pick a tree for adoption?


Cambridge MA arborist has mapped all its trees.

> Do the directions work?

Sadly for Apple Maps... No.

>In other words, TomTom’s database somehow has roads from Parkfield’s boomtown days—roads that have been gone for more than 75 years. No wonder why Apple removed them.

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.

Using streets from maps that predate TomTom’s maps defeats the purpose of a trap street. The plagiariser could just claim to have sourced the data from old, public domain, sources.

True, but that is assuming that those streets ever existed. As far as I can tell from the article that's just an assumption.

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.

In the accompanying aerial photograph, the outlines of the old streets are visible - together with a couple of others that do not appear on either map, and which run at an angle to the old grid.

sounds like more work than just making some trap streets.

It brings up an interesting issue though - ideally if you have trap streets you would never want to use them in route finding...

I hope they have some manner of “shearing off” the nodes that represent those streets and break the graph into two disjoint ones. That way they’re off on their own little island without a ferry connection and problems only arise if you ask for a route to, or are starting from within, somewhere that actually doesn’t have any ground truth.

Before Apple Maps added transit mode and hand-edited all the stops, it was displaying half the Caltrain stations as "Southern Pacific". The data sources are more than happy to give you data from 1940.

Trap streets are one odd street, not a whole town. This is clearly not what is happening at all.

Funny that the author mentions the Markleeville Courthouse as being across the street from the General Store, when it is, in fact, next door, as shown in the picture. I'm sure plenty of us on HN have cycled through Markleeville a couple of times in mid-July...

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.

Hilarious that they consider the job done after covering the Bay area. They are years away from doing this world wide. Most of their iphone revenue is from outside of California.

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 they consider the job done after covering the Bay area.

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.

Apple won’t view the maps as “done”. I met a member of their maps team during one of their visits to Toyota. To them, maps are a living, breathing entity that is always changing. When sourcing local data providers they prefer someone that will be updating & maintaining the map rather than just licensing it.

I would say map quality for someone living outside of the "bubble", map quality goes as follows:

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.

Not in the Netherlands.

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.

Speed limits shown by in-car navigation are an excellent indicator how outdated the data is.

I would say map quality for someone living outside of the "bubble", map quality goes as follows:

TomTom then Google Maps then literally anything else, then Apple Maps at the very end.

Apple Maps uses TomTom data [1]. 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.

[1] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-apple-tomtom/apple-rebuil...

It literally boggles my mind why Apple still think using Yelp for POI data is a good idea.

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.

>It literally boggles my mind why Apple still think using Yelp for POI data is a good idea.

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.

Foursquare would be a better source as that is still popular in many European countries.

They use Foursquare.

They don’t work exclusively with yelp. Here in France they also include POI from "The Yellow Pages" which is the historical phone directory editor.

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.

They appear to use FourSquare, TripAdvisor and other sources in London, not (just?) Yelp

I would also like Google Maps to pronounce streetnames in the local language. It knows the street is (for example) in France. So please pronounce the name in French, instead of English. Maybe I do not understand French, but whatever their English pronunciation makes of it is equally unclear... At least the French version in the correct one...

From my experience Apple Maps quality depends on local providers. Maps are really good in Japan or China and terrible in Thailand or many other places.

I don't know about Japan, but in China Apple maps is far behind Google maps (which isn't even accessible for to most people there), let alone Baidu maps which is much more detailed than either.

Hmm, for google maps not knowing which streets are one-way - that is not true for Switzerland. Sending you to streets that you can't enter (and have to suddenly find ways around in heavy traffic) would render any city navigation effectively useless for me, and outright dangerous too.

It definitely works, at least I can confirm for bigger cities. Hopefully your (and other) areas will get updated soon with something as crucial.

It does however struggle with no-left/right turn signs, at least in Zürich it seems to ignore them.

in the UK Apple Maps certainly isn't empty, and actually remains my map of choice on Carplay just because of the better voice integration at the moment.

for driving Waze is number 1 for me

Waze is usually my go-to in the UK. Works very well in cities, at least.

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!

I mostly agree. The biggest problems with Waze are when it puts a three mile detour to turn around, and that it struggles to find a whole host of places compared to Apple/Google. Particularly small out of the way places. It just doesn’t have the granularity of smaller back roads.

You hit the nail on the head. Same exact 2 issues for me; it SUCKS at back-roads and shortcuts, and if you make a wrong turn instead of re-adjusting the route it will often have you turn around, even if you are driving for a mile toward the destination.

My setup is to punch in my destination and let Google audibly give directions, and then open Waze for hazard/police notifications.

Waze doesn't even exist outside of the US.

Edit: Ok, this is wrong, sorry. I searched for "Waze UK" on google and the first result just takes me to the US site.

What? It does, a lot of people in The Netherlands use it. That probably means it's available in most developed countries.

Where did you get that nonsense? I use it all the time in the UK and there are always tonnes of other users on the map. It ALWAYS knows about broken down vehicles, etc that users report. So I'd say its pretty well used outside of the US.

Waze wasn’t even created in the US. It was an Israeli company (until Google bought it. I’m not sure what the structure looks like now and if it is developed independently).

Eastern Europe, using it every day for traffic and road alerts, extremely convenient.

I have no issues with Waze in the UK


To take issue with your premise… What indicates to you that they consider the job “done”? Every note/article around this has indicated that they consider the job started, but nowhere near done; they're just rolling the data out as it is ready enough (clearly “ready” is… Subjective here heh).

You should maybe mention why Here maps are popular for in-car navigation systems: The car makers/suppliers own the majority of Here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Here_(company)#Current_ownersh...

If you own something you tend to use that more instead of buying something else...

> Hilarious that they consider the job done after covering the Bay area.

It's the whole of northern California isn't it? I wouldn't refer to places like Eureka as 'the Bay Area'.

Lets be fair, from their point of view Cupertino is the center of the universe. Northern California is relatively sparsely populated, which is why they tossed that in and why they skipped the more challenging bits of California in the south. No offense, but from what little I know about Eureka, it is a smallish provincial town stuck somewhere in between the Seattle/Portland area and SFO. And as such, one of the larger settlements you'd encounter on the way from one to the other.

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.

Always a joy to read this website's map analysis. You can really see a lot of work has been put by both vendors through time.

I could't figure out if the author was being sarcastic by stressing the vegetation detail so much. Certainly seemed like an interesting focus.

I think the author has a genuine passion for maps, and finds the vegetation to be a great feature.

But that's what I don't like about the apple map. Check out the image where he says:

> 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!

Google does have vegetation and desert data, but you can see that it starts to fade around zoom level 5 in the US (at which you can only see a number of entire states and the names of major cities).

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.

Describing zoom levels as numbers isn't common... Do you work for a mapping provider?

I used to work for Google, but not on maps. You can see the zoom level for yourself in the URL. Use the scrollwheel or its trackpad equivalent and the Z parameter in the address bar will change. That's where I got the numbers, not any special knowledge.

> it shows me where there's a public park I might visit

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.

Except that the new map makes it seem as though California is some lush, green, tropical land. I think the green is way over-emphasized on the new map compared to the old, which is a bit more realistic looking to my eyes.

The arbitrary transition from green to brown on the old maps, when in reality, there is no such transition, is the real problem. When navigating by foot those shapes SHOULD be accurate; I care less about the legal boundaries of the exact park and more about what i'm seeing as I walk around.

Why do you care that the map represents the green parts accurately? How does that enhance your walking experience?

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).

The shape of e.g. a wooded area can be important for orientation when on foot.

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.

My scout leader always taught me "never navigate by woods". The reason? It doesn't take long to chop down a forest and invalidate your assumptions.

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.)

If you're navigating on foot why aren't you using a topo map?

Have you seen California in satellite view? It's mostly green.

In the spring maybe. For much of the year it's brown because it's desert, nonnative grassland, or city. Big chunks are forest, especially in the north, but brown is still dominant.

Sure, but brown areas on the map marks different types of areas, so they obviously can't use brown. Imagine how much of the world would look in the winter, it would just be a completely white map.

The colors of the map obviously can't be based on the season.

The first couple paragraphs and images led me to believe that the article was satire, and was explaining that everything in Apple Maps was gone except for an extremely detailed map of California. Then I started wondering if it wasn't satire.

It's niche, but I could see this feature being useful to me. This is relevant when using maps to scout outdoor locations for whatever activity it is. I use maps to find public bodies of water to go fishing along the lake shore. Getting an idea of the vegetation around a lake before zooming in and looking at the satellite data (which is mentally tiring to me) is very nice. I find myself preferring Apple's Maps app to the Google Maps app on iOS even if Google has better maps in its app anyway, so I really welcome these improvements.

What if you're just looking for a park to visit?

In the apple layout, it gets lost in the noise of private-land vegetation.

It's a long read end to end, but I found that the author is consistently level-headed in his criticisms and praise. I do not think he was being sarcastic.

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