Apple rolled out it’s updated Maps coverage for the UK and Ireland October 1st. This marks a further extension of Apple’s ambitious plans to update maps data with rich landscape coverage, more advanced and detailed route coverage as well as other areas such as cycle directions, more accurate road scaling and Look Around; Apple’s answer to Google’s Street view.
It’s been a long road for Apple since the disastrous launch of their own map system back in 2012 which showed locations miles away from where they should be, omitted roads and whole towns to name a few.
However, it’s been a road worth taking. Apple’s maps experience, in my view, is much nicer. It’s always been cleaner and simpler to use as opposed to Google Maps which can overwhelm you with information you don’t need.
What it has been lacking is the rich information Google does have. This has meant Apple has needed actually to go round themselves capturing the data.
It’s finally starting to pay off. After a massive rollout over the US during the last year and Japan most recently, the new maps are now available for all of the UK and Ireland. As well as all this, the Look Around feature is also working in London, Dublin and Edinburgh.
Let's dive into comparing the changes (you can see for yourself with the slide-over feature below) and, as someone who mainly gets around town on a bike, seeing how good the new cycle directions are in London.
First up, London. I’ve lived here for over 11 years, so I know it reasonably well. What’s interesting here (and in all of the maps) is how Apple has refined the widths of the road veins based on the size or significance of the road. For simple navigation, this is great for working out whether you’re going to hit a busy through road or a one-way side street. What’s also noticeable is the prominence of roadwork signs and closures. This, along with much more visibility of traffic lights and speed cameras, shows how keen Apple is for you to use their maps for your driving directions.
Overall, as with everywhere, there’s just far more green, and it’s far more accurate. Parks have proper shapes rather than just blocked off colour between roads, and the lakes are more accurately drawn. Also, they’ve removed all the many routes on the Thames, which reflects their overall focus on what information is going to be relevant to the user.
rest of the UK and Ireland
Following on from London, these other areas have increased the richness in green detail and roads. However, there seems to be a couple of issues relating to some new data. Searching for Brighton, for example, brings up no results which are odd as that’s where I’ve been sending my brother’s Christmas cards! Other smaller towns around the country seem to go missing in the searches despite appearing in the predictive search bar. Also, some places such as Cambridge and Glasgow seem to have lost their ‘guides’ that were there previously. This isn’t great, but I’m sure they will be ironed in a few days - the growing pains of moving over to the new data. (Follow-up: Brighton has now returned as has Cambridge’s guide).
on two wheels with Apple Maps
I get around London pretty much 90% of the time on my bike. If you don’t know the city too well, it can be intimidating to know which routes to take while also avoiding heavy traffic and angry drivers. Apple is trying to follow in the footsteps of Google and CityMapper in providing great cycle routes when you’re out and about on your bike. The results are... mixed.
One issue is options. On the example below, which is a route I used to make when working in west London, there is literally one option. For a journey that goes from one side of town to the other, this isn't great. It does try to take you immediately onto the cycle highway, which is fine. Still, not everyone likes that (me) and it would be good to have alternatives that go down quiet roads, avoiding all the massive pollution of the main roads (where the cycle highway is, along the Thames). It gets the last section bang on though by taking you through Hyde Park.
I looked at several routes, and the general issue seems to be that the routes are very automated, if that’s the word. They mainly aim to get you onto a cycle highway as quickly as possible, and while they often seem to avoid main roads, they frequently miss opportunities to take short cuts and quieter side roads. This is the sort of thing you only learn from cycling around the city regularly, but it is something that Google Maps and CityMapper frequently manage to achieve. Here are some more examples where I’ve highlighted much better routes that I would take.
In the end, the cycle routing feature is serviceable. If you’re not a frequent cycler, then this will be a handy feature, especially paired with an Apple Watch. If you’re a regular cycler looking for new routes or lots of options to recent locations, then it’s a bit limited. Hopefully, it improves going forward.
Also included in London, Dublin and Edinburgh is Apple's 'Look Around' feature. this is their answer to Google's Street View. There isn't a lot of difference but moving around in Look Around feels much more natural. The transitions as you move down the street use some sort of intelligent 3D modeling to make it feel like you're actually there. It's impressive and definitely puts the feature above Google's.
Apple Maps’ new rollout is excellent, adding a lot more richness to their maps. I had already switched to their app from Google Maps due to privacy concerns, but it sometimes came up short. It looks like it has gained a lot of parity with Google Maps now so I look forward to using it when we can get out and about more!