Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

The State of Maps

I agree with everything Cody Fink says in this article, but there are two big things which I wish to highlight:

The nice thing about a native Maps app is that gestures just work. Zooming and panning around the Map doesn’t feel like a chore. It feels natural and accommodating — you don’t have to think about it. And it’s more convenient clicking on the icon in the dock than doing a web search, then clicking the link for the maps service, then doing a search, etc.

Yes, absolutely. All in-browser maps services are jarring and unpredictable to control. If you’re in Street View, for example, and your cursor leaves the Flash viewer area, you have lost control. It’s a terrible experience (and one of the things which felt so right on the iPhone). I didn’t think I’d use a desktop maps app much, but I do, and regularly; it’s mostly for this reason.

The reality of the situation is, no matter how good Apple’s mobile and desktop apps are, they’re not useful if the data they provide isn’t on par with people’s expectations. That’s a sticking point, which is why I spent a lot of time revisiting previous complaints. Apple’s provided maps matter a lot more than the apps themselves when you get down to it.

On one hand we have a desktop app that’s superior to using a web interface. On the other hand the maps it spits out aren’t great.

I’ve written at length about Apple’s lacking mapping data, but I’ll add one more: search is still weak. Minor variations in the formatting of an address can result in pins being dropped in wildly different places. Each of these are addresses which, from my perspective, should result in pins being dropped in exactly the same place:

  • 350 Fifth Avenue. New York, NY 10118
  • 350 5 Ave. New York, NY 10118
  • 350 5 Avenue. New York, NY 10118

The pins do not land in the same place, however. The first is correct; the second address is on the correct block, but in the wrong place; the third address is out in Brooklyn.

I’ve tried this for addresses in various other cities with different formats, and it’s a crapshoot every time. While it’s unsurprising that Google’s search is much, much better (it gets that all three of the above address formats are the same location), it’s frustrating how poor Apple’s search remains.