Gone are the days of pulling origami-shaped paper maps out of your car’s glove compartment to determine your location. Today, almost everyone has a smartphone with its own or third-party map application that provides driving, walking, or motorcycle directions. In fact, navigation apps are great general guides for everyday life, as they can highlight the cheapest gas in your area or the closest fast food restaurant. But which map app is the best?
The three map apps in this showdown (Apple Maps, Google Maps, and Waze) are completely free. You don’t need to worry about extra microtransactions or ad banners. That said, something is certainly being sold, but that’s behind the scenes. More on that later.
You can access the three applications in different ways. Google Maps (a native Android app) and Waze (Google’s driver-centric navigation app) are available from the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. Apple Maps comes pre-installed on every iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, but there is no Google Play Store version. The app is exclusive to Apple and automatically removes it from contention if you own Android.
In terms of web options, you can explore Google Maps and Waze through your favorite web browser. Both services allow you to plan trips on the desktop before sending directional information to their respective mobile applications. Unlike Google Maps and Waze, Apple Maps lacks a browser-based version. To make up for that, Apple released its MapKit JS code so that web developers can add Apple Maps services to websites. For example, the privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo recently switched to its use for map-related searches and route planning.
Apple Maps, Google Maps, and Waze all offer satisfactory driving directions, but they differ in many ways. Google has the most comprehensive and information-rich maps, a plus for its Google Maps and Waze products. Apple Maps suffered a difficult launch nearly a decade ago, but it has made great strides to almost reach parity with Google Maps. All three apps offer hands-free voice-guided operation via the Google Assistant or Siri on their respective platforms.
If all you’re doing is driving, Waze is the best option. Google Maps and Apple Maps will work fine, but Waze is superior for driving to a new place from your current location. Its maps are simpler than the others, with larger icons, brighter colors, and fewer distracting items on the screen. Waze also encourages its users to crowdsource their traffic. Its avid community of drivers marks traffic jams, accidents, police occurrences, and road closures to a far greater degree than its rivals.
It’s worth noting that Google Maps is the only app of the three in this overview that allows you to download maps for offline use. Apple Maps and Waze allow you to save your last route search to the app, allowing them to work in areas with uneven coverage, but you cannot search for a new route or a saved trip.
The cyclist’s choice
Unlike Waze, Apple Maps and Google Maps have many options for alternative modes of travel. Driving directions come first and foremost, but both apps provide directions for walking, motorcycle riding, and public transportation. There are even carpool options that tie into popular services like Uber, Lyft, and Lime.
For cyclists, Apple Maps has an advantage in terms of the general user interface and functions. If your phone screen turns off, Apple Maps automatically wakes up for the next turn-by-turn direction. Google Maps has an option that prevents you from switching to lock mode during turn-by-turn instructions, but if that option is not turned on, the app sends a push notification that requires you to unlock your phone. Apple Maps also clearly labels traffic lights, stop signs, and steep hills along your route for proper planning. However, cyclists have reported that Google Maps performs better, avoiding routes with too many hills or extra traffic that would make the route difficult.
A large map or a simpler user interface?
Apple Maps and Waze offer cleaner, easier-to-read interfaces compared to Google Maps. Waze offers the most …