I was a Google gal for years, but I’ve found out that Apple will get you there better – and more privately.
Jan 19, 2024 at 3:14pm ET
I was a Google devotee for years. Gmail, Drive, Chrome, I was embedded in the whole ecosystem down to an Android phone. Hell, I even used Reader to send articles to my friends in Hangouts (before Google killed both of those products off, of course). Of course this means I’ve used Google Maps for ages without even really questioning it… until recently.
You see, recently, Google has been on a streak of making its products worse. Chrome has come under fire from a variety of electronic privacy-focused organizations for its continual erosion of user data protection, as well as the way it’s forced the web to reshape itself at Google’s whims. This data collection happens throughout the entire Google ecosystem, including Maps; although the company said that Maps’ privacy practices have since been changed, Google has reached massive legal settlements in a variety of states regarding deceptive location-tracking practices.
As America’s laws have drastically shifted in recent years, I’ve begun to worry more about how location tracking could be used to incriminate me if I seek specific types of healthcare – a very real concern given that some of the first abortion-trafficking arrests have already been made based on people’s digital footprints. I decided it was time to begin caring about my privacy more.
As such, I’ve finally begun to shift away from Google. I use Firefox now for my browser, I’ve switched to Apple phones (in no small part thanks to Apple’s default end-to-end iMessage encryption), I encourage my friends to use Signal on their computers, and I avoid any smart voice assistants with always-on microphones. As a side effect of this attempt to clean up my digital footprint, I also switched to Apple Maps.
I did this primarily to avoid Google, so imagine my surprise when I found out Apple Maps is actually better than Google Maps. The first thing I noticed: Apple’s voice instructions for when to turn happen well in advance of the turn! I don’t have to attempt to get over six lanes in ten seconds to make my exit.
In major U.S. cities (such as my home of Seattle), the lanes are clearly drawn out on the UI, so I can glance at my screen and tell exactly which lane I need to be in at confusing interchanges. Apple Maps’ more recent designs use a minimalist color palette to look attractive without being distracting, both in light and dark mode. CarPlay, in particular, benefits from these changes massively, as Apple Maps looks better designed than most in-house navigation systems do.
Functionality elsewhere is on-par or better, too. The Quick Stop feature is easier to use in a hurry thanks to the use of colorful, bold iconography; Google’s monochrome blue icons are way harder to peek at when I’m driving. In rural areas (such as where I used to live, in the back-mountain-country of Idaho), Apple’s mapping data is still generally accurate, and it received updates about closed roads or inclement weather as fast (or faster) than Google would. For walking, Apple and Google both take topography into account and give realistic expectations for speed and hills ahead. Apple’s estimated bus arrival times for transit users are the sole place it performs notably worse than Google Maps, but in those instances, I use a transit-specific app (such as the open-source OneBusAway) that’s more accurate than either Google or Apple.
So for our readers, I’d recommend trying out Apple Maps if you have the option (and market research suggests that a majority of Americans do). It’s significantly improved since its early days, and the sooner we all start weaning off the Google ecosystem, the better it will be for all of our privacy. (Plus, now you can look at 3D models of the Eiffel Tower in Apple Maps, and it’s pretty fun.)
More importantly, to automakers: I do not want to use your navigation system. I do not want to use Google’s navigation system. I definitely do not want to pay a subscription to be able to navigate on the giant screen you’ve installed in my car. Stop taking away CarPlay. I will stick a suction-cup phone mount to the 20-inch infotainment screen you’ve plastered to my dashboard if I have to, believe me, because I can’t go back now.