Apple Maps finds a useful feature: indoor airport guides

LOS ANGELES — Apple Maps finally has a useful feature that gives it an edge over the competition: a way to navigate through airport terminals.

That may not sound like much, but the app has failed in the court of popular opinion as an also-ran to Google Maps. So the bragging rights are notable.

As millions of travelers head out for the holidays through crowded airports, Apple's new indoor mapping clearly offers better, more useful tools than the limited signage of the airport.

The old way: arrive to the airport early and hungry, and look for something to eat. You don’t like the choices and wonder what’s around the corner. Yes, there are signs at the airport, but information is scarce. On the Apple Maps app, you see what’s near the gate, the hours of operation for the restaurants, and you can find out what’s near other gates as well.

And as you start walking, the information adapts visually to your new locations, in real time.

The Map app also shows you how to get to security checkpoints, check-in desks and baggage claim carousels. It lets you toggle between floors for a view on what’s around you.

On a recent test of Apple Maps at LAX, the nation’s second-busiest airport, I cranked open Google Maps as well, and while it offers some indoor mapping of the terminal, information was scarce and not as plentiful.

For instance, we didn’t get the list of restaurants nearby with Google.

Apple Maps initially had a rocky 2012 debut when Apple removed Google Maps on iPhones and replaced it with its own, very inferior product that often brought people to wrong locations. Users howled, and Apple sacked the executive in charge of the Maps debacle.

Cut to today and it's improved — and well-used by iPhone users — if not always considered the smartest.

Apple says its Maps app is the most-used map app on Apple devices. That's likely courtesy of its placement: it's pre-installed and front and center on iOS devices. On Android phones, Google Maps is also pre-installed.

Market share for mapping is hard to come by, but Android devices have about an 83% market share compared to 15% for IOS devices, according to market research firm IDC.

Gene Munster, an investor and analyst with Loup Ventures, says Apple Maps has improved from what he considers a D+ ranking to a B- today. “It’s closed the gap, but it’s still not up to par with Google,” says Munster.

Google just has more data, thanks to its searches, and thus has more information to share with users.

To use the free Apple Maps app, you need to have the latest version of the iOS mobile operating system, iOS11, and an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.

The new Apple Maps update is currently available in 35 airports worldwide, including many of the biggest cities, including LA, NY, Chicago, Denver and Seattle, but missing some biggies, like San Francisco, Boston, Washington, DC and Dallas.

The airport features, first announced in June but not operational until just before Christmas, didn't disappoint.

But the company clearly has its work cut out for it. In a May blog post, Justin O’Beirne, who has contributed to Apple Maps in the past noted: “It’s cool to see how much Google Maps has changed over the past year. But it’s also surprising to see how little Apple Maps has changed.”

Follow USA TODAY's Jefferson Graham on Twitter, @jeffersongraham

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Apple Maps finds a useful feature: indoor airport guides