Google vs. Apple Maps: Comparisons and tricks you need to try

This March 19, 2018 photo shows the Apple Maps app on an iPad in Baltimore.
This March 19, 2018 photo shows the Apple Maps app on an iPad in Baltimore. | Patrick Semansky, Associated Press

As a kid, on vacations I remember looking into the front seat to see my mom with a large map and print-out directions. I loved being able to pretend to use the map myself, looking at the small freeways or streets and imagining driving there.

Once I got older and learned how to drive, there wasn’t a need for a physical hand-held map. It was hard not to pick a phone app over a physical map for directions when everything was given step by step in the moment of driving.

While there are a multitude of map apps, two of the most popular are Google and Apple. These apps regularly update to help users get to where they need to go. If choosing to follow the updates and features, you might find there are fun tricks to up the usability and decrease travel confusion.

Apple Maps

The Points Guy, a website created by travelers for travelers, compiled a list of recent Apple Maps updates.

Major city navigation

Apple’s map enhancements make navigating major cities like Paris, Houston, Dallas and New York City easier. With features such as detailed 3D landmarks, road markings and public transit routes, getting around is easier whether you’re walking or driving.

Currently available in 24 cities, this enhanced experience offers a “windshield view” when driving, making exits and on-ramps easier to navigate.

Additionally, Apple provides over 2,000 curated city guides from publishers like AllTrails and Lonely Planet, allowing you to explore local favorites. You can even create your own guides to share with visiting family and friends, highlighting the best of your hometown.

Offline maps

Apple Maps’ new offline maps feature is a game-changer for travelers, especially those venturing into areas with poor internet connectivity. Whether you’re camping in remote wilderness or avoiding data charges abroad, this feature ensures access to driving, walking, transit and cycling directions even with spotty internet.

To use offline maps, download the map of your destination while connected to Wi-Fi or cellular data. Simply search in Apple Maps and select the option to download the offline map. You can customize the map’s size and storage space.

Apple Maps may prompt you to download an offline map based on upcoming trips or service availability predictions.

Offline maps include turn-by-turn navigation, detailed trail maps for parks, Apple Watch sync for walking directions, arrival estimates, public transit schedules and nearby points of interest. While offline, information remains accurate at the time of download. To update, connect to Wi-Fi or cellular data.

Try it out by downloading a map for your local area or next travel destination.

Real-time electric vehicle charging availability

With the increasing availability of electric vehicles in dealerships and rental services, having precise information about EV charging stations is crucial.

Apple Maps now offers real-time updates on EV charging station availability, allowing users to filter by charging network, plug type, operating hours and other criteria. Users can also set their preferred charging network for convenience.

This feature proves invaluable, particularly for electric vehicle drivers navigating unfamiliar areas, providing reassurance and preventing last-minute charging crises.

Trail information

In iOS 17, trail information is now more comprehensive than ever before. Through Apple Maps, users can explore thousands of trails located in local, state and national parks across the United States. When you come across a hiking trail or campground of interest, you’ll find details such as trail length, photos, parking availability and the park’s information center contact number.

For Apple Watch users, watchOS 10 updates introduce user-friendly topographic maps featuring contour lines, hill shading, elevation markers and points of interest. These enhancements facilitate outdoor adventures and seamlessly integrate with offline maps on your iPhone when downloaded in advance and kept accessible during your visit.

Google Maps

On the other hand, The Washington Post shares three tips to get the most from Google Maps.

Download maps for areas with unreliable phone service

Similar to Apple Maps, if you’re traveling outside the United States and concerned about phone data charges, or if you frequently visit areas with unreliable mobile phone service, consider downloading a map.

A downloaded map functions perfectly even without cell reception.

To download a portion of a map in Google Maps:

  1. Choose the area you wish to save.

  2. Click on your profile picture or initials located in the upper-right corner of the screen.

  3. Select “Offline maps” and then “Select your own map.” Adjust the zoom until you’ve highlighted the desired area for saving.

  4. Tap on “Download.” Your selected map section is now accessible even without an internet connection.

Keep track of your favorite spots using ‘lists’

Bookmark spots you like to go to or need for an emergency, like a shop, restaurant, parking or hospitals.

To bookmark a restaurant on Google Maps:

  1. Search for the restaurant by name. Once its details appear, check the options located to the right of “Directions.”

  2. Select the “Save” option and click on “New list” at the top of the subsequent screen. Name it something like “Best Burgers.”

  3. Tap “Create” in the upper-right corner.

  4. You have the option to keep your list private or select “Shared” and invite friends and family to contribute their favorite burger spots.

  5. To access your lists and individual places within a list, navigate to the main screen of Google Maps and tap “Saved” on the bottom row of the app.

After saving places in a list, you can tap on them to “Add a note about this place.”

In addition to lists, Google Maps offers options to save places under similar categories like “Want to go” or “Starred places.” This variety might seem overwhelming, so you can choose to use just one or utilize all three features differently.

Google has stated that it is continuously enhancing the Google Maps experience to facilitate the discovery of helpful information.

Use visual pointers for walking directions

Imagine you’re just a half-mile away from a restaurant listed in your “Best Burgers” compilation, but you’re uncertain about the walking route.

You have the option to click “Directions” in Google Maps for step-by-step instructions — or you can enhance those instructions significantly.

Simply tap “live” at the bottom right of the Google Maps screen and point your phone towards your surroundings. Note: Your phone might prompt you for permission to activate the camera.

Google overlays virtual arrows onto your screen, guiding you to your next left turn. It’s reminiscent of the Pokémon Go game, but tailored for pedestrian directions.

Exercise caution when using this feature. It’s important not to endanger yourself or others by constantly holding your phone in front of your face.

Apple Maps vs. Google Maps, which is better?

While the app you use might depend on your phone brand, the debate about which app is better is ongoing. According to Tom’s Guide, the answer might be Google Maps. However, apps are updating constantly so performance levels may vary.

Winners in selected categories:

  • Availability on devices: Google Maps, available on almost every device and brand.

  • Interface: Apple Maps, everything is in one place.

  • Map design: Apple Maps, less distraction.

  • Navigation: Google Maps, for accuracy and prioritizing safety and fuel consumption.

  • Traffic data: Google Maps, adjusting travel time and “Commute” feature.

  • Public transportation: Google Maps, notes where crowds are.

  • Discovery: Google Maps as Google itself has more information available.

  • Hands-free control: Tie, both work great.

  • Street view: Google Maps, more locations documented for now.

  • Privacy: Apple Maps, for ensuring anonymity.

Google Maps wins seven to four.

On a personal note, my brother, a firefighter and EMT in both Virginia and Utah, says his teams use Google Maps for speed.

Are there other map apps?

There are many map apps available that can be downloaded on phones, no matter the brand.

According to data research published in Statista, Google Maps is the most downloaded map and navigation app in the U.S. with over 21 million downloads, not including the number of apps pre-installed on Android smartphones.

Waze, a community-based traffic and navigation app, was found to be downloaded 9.89 million times, coming in second, the research found. Waze is owned by Google.

Citymapper, a public transit app, was the third most downloaded app with almost 900,000 downloads, per the data research.

No matter which app you choose to use, remember to stay updated on features to get the most out of your traveling experience.