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map apps

Google Maps/Apple Maps

Which map app is the best for what uses?

Those of us of a certain age remember asking for directions and keeping two-inch thick road atlases in our cars to find our way around. Then with the internet came the miracle of Mapquest, followed by the how-did-we-ever-live-without-this GPS systems you could attach to your dashboard.

Then smartphones kicked the road trip game up a notch with map apps that not only give up step-by-step directions but also real-time traffic conditions and the ability to find a gas station or restaurant with gluten-free options along your route. Even those of us who grew up with paper maps struggle to recall how we ever got anywhere before Google Maps.

Now we're so deep into the map app era that we're past the wow stage and into the nit-picky stage. It's no longer good enough to have a handheld computer tell us how to get someplace in real time. Now we have expectations, preferences, opinions and complaints. We also have data and anecdotes with which to compare different apps and discuss which ones do what best.

And hoo boy do people have thoughts on that front.

Former Uber employee Flo Crivello shared some info on X about the analysis they did with three of the most popular map apps—Google Maps, Apple Maps and Waze—using a dataset with millions of trips.

The big winner? Apple Maps.

Google came in second, and Waze was a distant third (worst "by far").

"The research also included which apps people *thought* was worse, and the order came in the exact opposite order," Crivello shared. "We understood why Apple Maps got a bad rap given how bad it was at launch — it rapidly got better, but the brand stuck. Waze was more of a mystery, and we ended up realizing that people thought its routes were best because it was exposing them to so much info on traffic, construction, police presence etc… Everyone thinks they want a minimalist UI, but in practice, when they see all this info, they subconsciously conclude 'wow, these guys really have their sh*t together' — even when the routes were actually the worst ones."

Crivello said the results "may be shocking," presumably because Apple Maps started with the worst reputation. In fact, Apple CEO Tim Cook famously apologized for Apple Maps in 2012 and recommended people use Google Maps instead.

However, in the years since, Apple Maps has redeemed itself while Google Maps has lost a bit of its initial luster. Then Waze came along, which people in cities with variable traffic touted as more accurate for timing and real-time updates, becoming some people's favorite. But according to his data eight years ago, Apple was the winner.

Do those results still hold? Some people in the replies said Google Maps was the best, hands down, while other said they preferred Apple or Waze.

It might depend on where you live and what you look for in a map app (and whether you even have access to Apple Maps). Discussions about these apps abound, with some common threads throughout. Many people agree that the U.S. is where Apple Maps shines, but Google Maps works better abroad. Apple Maps offers more natural navigation directions, such as "Not at this stop sign, but at the next one, turn right," instead of Google Maps' assumption that everyone knows how far 300 feet is. Google maps has great searchability and is easier to check reviews of places compared to Apple Maps. So opinions might vary on "best" depending on what you're using it for.

Waze has loyal users and people who love to joke about where it reroutes you when there's traffic.

These are not the only three map apps available, either. People who travel internationally and use public transportation seem partial to the CityMapper app, which makes finding train and bus routes simple with a user-friendly interface, so again, a lot depends on why you're using the app in the first place.

As far as popularity goes, Google Maps boasts a whopping 1 billion monthly users. While Apple Maps usage doesn't have any hard numbers, there is data that shows younger generations are partial to iPhones, on which Apple Maps is a native app, so its usage may be growing.

What's your experience? Which map app do you prefer?