Google Maps might’ve been the first big navigation app, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be king of the map apps forever. Eight years after launch, Apple Maps has come close to reaching parity with Google’s offering, backed by Apple’s considerable resources. Heading into 2021, Apple Maps has improved its maps and satellite imagery, cycling navigation, and city-based Guides, and offers a new Look Around feature that rivals Google’s Street View. Overall, Apple Maps still trails Google Maps, the PCMag Editors’ Choice pick for navigation apps, due to a few missing features, but it’s clear that Cupertino is all-in on catching up to and surpassing Google.
Apple was once content to let Google Maps be its primary mapping service, but that changed in 2012 when the company launched Maps. In fact, Apple Maps comes pre-installed on every iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac. If for some reason you decide to uninstall Apple Maps, you can reinstall it for free from the App Store. Apple Maps is an Apple-exclusive app, so Android users can’t experience what it has to offer. Conversely, Google Maps is available on both the Android and Apple platforms.
Unlike Google Maps and the driver-focused Waze, Apple Maps lacks a browser-based version. That said, Apple has released its MapKit JS code that lets web developers add Apple Maps services to websites. For example, the privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo recently switched to using it for map-related searches and route planning.
Microsoft Flight Simulator, Apple Maps combines satellite imagery with 3D models to create a truly impressive view of major cities. These flyover maps look like tiny dioramas, and I could spend days looking at them.
Apple Maps lets you set home and work locations for frequent commutes. You can also save locations as favorites, making it easy to find directions at the press of a button. Apple’s app caches routes when you look them up, but there’s no way to save maps for offline use as you can with Google Maps. That said, it’s worth noting that Apple’s maps are vector based, requiring less data.
Apple’s commitment to privacy carries over to this app. Apple Maps keeps most of its data, such as like recent searches and directions, on your device. The app also ties data to random identifiers that reset over time, leaving no history of your travels—an excellent touch. Google is much worse, in this regard. Google Maps has options to delete its collected data, but it tends to hide those options.
Apple Maps has improved a lot since its disastrous launch. Apple has filled its digital world with satisfying directions, additional travel types, and even temperature and air quality information. The Look Around feature brings Apple Maps one step closer to parity with Google Maps, and 3D Flyover is a stunning technology display.
Still, Google works with far more expansive mapping data. Apple Maps can get you to your local museum or mall, but Google Maps can show you what’s inside. That data gap that will likely lessen over time, but it’s a gap that still exists. Because of this, Google Maps is our Editors’ Choice for navigation apps.For more on Apple Maps, check out 10 Reasons to Give Apple Maps a Try.