Google and Apple Maps both frustrate me

I wrote a big long post about Apple Maps and Google Maps, and I wound up reworking the whole thing, because it didn’t accurately capture my alternating dissatisfaction and joy. The more I’ve used Google Maps in the past few days, the more things I notice it doing both right and wrong. So, apologies to you RSS readers (all one of you) since you received the crap version. Here’s the better one! (Or at least the more organized one.)

TL;DR: both of these apps suck and lack basic functionality. F*ck a vector graphic; make it WORK when I need to get somewhere! (All the usual disclaimers about how privileged I am to even be able to use an iPhone and its data plan in the first place, of course.)

Google gets it right:

  • Public transportation, OBVIOUSLY. This was such an insane feature for Apple to remove.
  • Although I miss the map view that used to come along with this feature, I really appreciate that I can swipe through the directions to see what my next step is.
  • Being able to mute the directions on a per-trip basis! WOOOOO! This is a terrific feature.
  • While Google doesn’t do this perfectly, it seems like the general interruption level of Giri’s (that’s Google’s Siri’s) voice is less than that of Siri’s. Somehow, as weird as Giri’s in-and-out audio fluctuation is, she doesn’t seem to dim the volume of podcasts/music nearly as much as Siri does. So if you’ve become a big podcast listener in your years of iPhone devotion, you probably won’t find Google’s voice directions talking over your favorite podcasters to be quite as jarring or disruptive as Apple’s. There’s still room for improvement, but I think the main helpful difference is that Giri breaks up sections more frequently, so the podcast audio isn’t lowered for long stretches.

Google gets it wrong:

  • No “Contacts” access. Am I crazy here, or is there no way in the Google Maps app to look up directions to your saved contacts’ addresses? Is this perhaps the kind of info Apple insisted on keeping private from Google, since they’d want it for nefarious information-farming purposes? If so, fair enough, but it’s kind of maddening to have to manually copy and paste or type in addresses just to be able to use this new-fangled Maps app. Makes me go back to the Apple version just to save that effort, because it’s not doable on the go.
  • Lack of integration with the “Google” voice search app. My main use case for a Maps app right now is to find stuff safely while I’m already driving. I can launch the “Google” app via Siri, then voice searching for my venue and select the “Get directions” option from the Google app results. But then, when I click on that link, it takes me to the Google Maps WEBsite. From that website, I get prompted about downloading the @#*$!% Google Maps app, which I already have, but there’s no “open this in Google Maps app” option. This is enough fiddling that one must pull over to safely perform it. So I manage to click the tiny “No, just take me to the Google Maps website” text, and then I have to confirm that the website can use my current location approximately six times, and I still don’t have my directions in the new-fangled app with voice turn-by-turn nav after all, and I give up and use the Apple Maps app instead. UX score: negative three for failed integration.I realize this is an early beta for Google, but isn’t that kind of a critical piece of integration for general reception of this much-awaited Google Maps app? Wouldn’t you want to simultaneously update the Google app so that it could recognize that you have Google Maps installed and open links in that app instead of a browser? I KNOW this behavior is possible, because it happens with apps like when you click on shopping links. (Shut up; this is tech research, not compulsive shopping behavior.)Another major boon for having a Google Maps app is all the stupid other apps, like OpenTable, which haven’t figured out that they need to update their integrated maps URLs. If Google had found a way to make all legacy Google Maps URLs open in their own maps app whenever a customer had that installed, it would be a huge boon to lazy developers (and their customers) who haven’t made this update yet.
  • WHAT is with the silly “shake to send feedback” feature being enabled by default, and being accompanied by a long vibration akin to receiving a SMS? Normal cell phone into pocket movements trigger this. “Oh, so you wanted to give us feedback? FEEDBACK!” It’s like a desperate boyfriend who can’t take being dumped. No, Google, we’re done with this transaction now. Shut up and go in the purse QUIT IT STOP VIBRATING GOD.
  • Why would you keep yelling directions even during a phone call? How is that the right user experience decision? Weirdos.

Apple gets it right:

  • I… I swear I had something for this category, but I seriously can’t think of anything. Besides, you know, “is built into the OS and therefore is better integrated.” I’ll letcha know if anything comes to me at 3 AM. I guess maybe half a point for UI style? Sure. So -2.5.

Apple gets it wrong:

  • I hate how you can’t alter the voice volume or toggle it on and off on a per-trip basis, in addition to on an OS level. I’d like to have it enabled by default but be able to manually turn it down or off, say, for trips when I’m carrying a bunch of passengers who are loudly singing along to Lady GaGa and don’t want Siri to interrupt them. For example. Fiddling into the settings every damn time is irritating. (Don’t get me started on how there’s still no iOS easy brightness adjustment path. That shit makes me wanna jailbreak, STILL.) The fact that Google allows for muting on a per-trip basis is a serious advantage to them. At least Apple offers multiple volume levels, though.
  • I really miss the iOS6-* feature where you could just tap ahead to see what your many next directions would be, including a map view of those. Now Apple won’t let you do that except for perhaps one move ahead, in some contexts only (and I haven’t figured out which), or with list view. Even if I enable the annoying Apple Maps voice feature, I still sometimes get told to turn a good 30 seconds after I needed to, but if I’d been able to visually peek at the map ahead of time I might have caught that and turned anyway. Can’t tell if this is a “visual learner” thing or a “creature of habit” thing, but it’s a thing one way or another for me. Google at least lets me swipe through them, even w/o the mappy part.
  • Oh my God Apple, please know that I’m done when I get to my destination and quit running in the background. I can’t tell if this is just crappy geo-fencing 80% of the time, but I almost always have to manually end my trip in Apple Maps, whereas Giri announces that I’m there and then shuts up and effs off.

Everyone gets it wrong:

  • I wish either client had an option to force podcasts to full-on pause during voice nav, instead of just lowering the volume. I usually have trouble parsing what’s being said behind Siri/Giri and comprehending directions at the same time. I’d so much rather just put my 5by5 or NPR show on hold, process the info that I need to turn right in a quarter mile, and then go back to letting Marco complain about blade grinders or whatever when I can give him my full attention.

Most of these fiddly feature requests seem like the kind of thing Android would be much more likely to implement than Apple. I wouldn’t actually know, because all of the other advantages of iOS have kept me happily Apply since the 1st gen, despite my many complaints. For now, I think of the new Apple Maps AND the new Google Maps as tools to wean me off of the smartphone habit of leaning too hard on GPS navigation, because I find these new apps/features so cumbersome that I’m finally just remembering how to get there all by myself in the first place.


*You know how you can say “in v2+” to mean “all versions 2 and following”? I wanted the same thing for, like, “all versions prior to v6” so I created this attempt at shorthand. Look, humor me. The (long and winding) point stands, and for now we all still care about Twitter’s character limit, so this notation is shorter and sweeter. You know, when it’s not accompanied by a lengthy explanatory footnote.