Apple buys 11 map startups, but still trails Google Maps

“HopStop users are mourning the demise of the go-to transit app. Apple bought HopStop in 2013, and come October it will shut it down,” Sara Ashley O’Brien reports for CNN. “But HopStop’s technology is already fueling Apple’s plan to overhaul its maps, which severely lag behind the competition. Analysts say mapping is a priority the company must get right to successfully develop autonomous cars.”

“Apple has a long way to go before it’s positioned as a firm with superior mapping capabilities. After all, it’s still hard to forget Apple’s troubled Maps release in 2012,” O’Brien reports. “‘The company has been playing catchup ever since,’ said PrivCo analyst Chris Pisarski. ‘This has resulted in a more urgent and aggressive M&A strategy.’ Apple has purchased 11 map tech companies since 2009, according to data from PrivCo and Mattermark. But the vast majority have taken place in the last two years.”

The “HopStop price vastly eclipses some of its other deals: Apple bought it for $1.1 billion, according to PrivCo,” O’Brien reports. “Apple’s latest operating system upgrade improves on its maps — they now incorporate HopStop-like transit directions. But it still has a ways to go to catch up to the competition. One of the reasons? The maps still aren’t accessible for users when they’re offline. Google, on the other hand, lets users save maps for offline access. ‘The bottom line is that Apple maps, in a consumer way, is still not on par with Google and [Nokia’s]’ added Annette Zimmermann, research director at Gartner Research.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: $1.1 billion greenbacks for HopStop? Wow!

BTW: Since iOS 6, released on September 19, 2012, Apple’s vector-based Maps have worked offline, covering vast areas without a data connection.

Regardless, this article today piles on more of the same, as we predicted years ago:

No matter what Apple does, no matter how much better they make Apple Maps, it will now always “suck” in the minds of a large segment of the population… Apple seems to have learned nothing from the Newton: First impressions mean everything. Apple’s Maps have been Newtonized. All that’s missing is the Doonesbury strip… Here’s a little hint for the future: Everything that requires widespread customer use to develop a rich database before the product becomes fully usable should be clearly labeled “beta” upon release. Apple did it with Siri, but they forgot to do it with Maps. Had Apple been smart enough to simply place a “beta” tag on Maps, all of this rigamarole would never have occurred. — MacDailyNews Take, September 28, 2012

One thing Apple will have a difficult time buying: Respect for their Maps app, no matter how superior it gets over all others (and many parts of it already are – and even were at launch). It’s unfortunate, but first impressions were so badly botched by Apple (a simple “beta” tag would have sufficed) that it will take a sustained herculean effort to reverse the public misperception of Maps as inferior to Google Maps.MacDailyNews, September 16, 2015

Apple acquires Mapsense – September 16, 2015
Apple buys online transit-navigation service HopStop – July 20, 2013
Apple escalates maps war by nabbing Locationary – July 19, 2013
Apple acquires crowdsourced location data company Locationary – July 19, 2013
Google’s new 3D Maps destroy Manhattan with melting buildings and buckled streets – May 22, 2013
U.S. patent application reveals Apple is working on ‘Street View’ mapping technology – April 4, 2013
Apple acquires indoor location company WifiSLAM for $20 million – March 23, 2013


      1. Cellular coverage (from any carrier) can be problematic throughout northeast Washington and northern Idaho, yet once I have mapped directions they remain available even after losing all signal. This includes when I visit friends, or go junking, where the only roads are dirt.

        Google Maps may be better for some things, I can’t debate that, but for everything I use maps for up here, Apple Maps is way more than I need.

    1. Used to love Google Maps, now they confuse with constantly evolving behaviors (took me numerous visits before I realized where step by step directions had gone) – and overwhelm me with screen crap that makes them hard to see…..

      1. Couldn’t agree more. It’s like they intentionally made google maps unusable. maybe its just an iOS thing to get users onto android….but its stupid. i love how apple maps has gotten better. there is only one thing that i still go to google maps for and that is traffic. i like to see the yellows and greens for some reason.

        1. I agree with everything you just said including the yellow and green lines. IOS 9 did make them better, but not perfect yet. I not only want to see the red lines, I want to see at a glance (I am driving after all) which side of the freeway they are on.

  1. What “offline” functionality is maps missing? I just used it in the subway yesterday, worked flawlessly. I could see the entire subway system and all surrounding streets, and I didn’t have to explicitly download shit. Maps has *always* saved vector map data to within a couple hundred miles (guessing at that number – anyone want to correct me?), while google went with the raster tiles that were always loading and f’ing sucked. I haven’t used google since Maps came out, so maybe it got way better, but I’ve always liked everything about Apple Maps better from day 1. Cleaner, better directions, easier to read, vector data, works with watch (and handoff to other devices). Except street view… hope they add that at some point…

      1. I got a stinking suspicion a lot of the negative Apple articles coming out now is ‘fed’ by Apple’s rivals ‘leaking’ ‘scoops’ to the press (filled with FUD) to try to dampen Apple’s successful iPhone 6s launch.

        (this is on par with current media PR strategies as explained in books like ‘Trust Me I’m lying’ ).

        Last year they had a big chew with fake ‘bend gate’.

    1. Apple Maps lacks the ability that Google has to select any area and download that data in advance so that it can be accessed offline. Google Maps has moved to vector graphics as well, so like Apple Maps, much map data, especially along a given route can be cached. In my experience with this, Apple Maps only caches slightly more map coverage than Google Maps, but again Apple Maps completely lacks the ability to manually download map data in advance.

      Offline map downloading may not affect everyone, but if you have a need for it, it’s very valuable.

      Here are some examples:

      1) Say you’re flying somewhere and want to review the area with a friend or family member on the plane. With Google Maps, if you know you’re going somewhere, save the map data, and this is possible to do in advance.

      2) Suppose you’re driving into another country and don’t want to SIM swap or data roam. I recently did this driving from Fargo to Winnipeg. With Apple Maps, it cached everything so once I was in Canada, the routing was complete. However, when it came time to return to Fargo, there was no map data. Google Maps on the other hand allowed me to save all of the data so it could be used at any time while offline.

      3). If you enjoy hiking, like me, you may not want to drain your battery by having Apple Maps open and routing the whole trip every time you do the hike. However, with Google Maps, you can save the entire area with all of the trails. Then one day if you discover the trail you normally take is closed, you can look up how to re-route even if you’re offline with Google Maps.

      I could go on with more examples of why offline maps can be a beneficial feature (like unexpected cell outages, but the point is there are many ways they can be advantageous even if some of you never do any of these things.

      The better coverage of hiking trails and downloadable maps are the two biggest reasons why I use Google Maps in addition to Apple Maps.

      TL;DR: Google has had vector based maps for a while now, and there’s a reason why in addition to that, they also have map downloading.

  2. Without a search engine, Apple could never hope to catch up to Google Maps. Mountain View has access to reams of data that Apple can’t touch. They’re also held back by their privacy guidelines while Google couldn’t care less about such restrictions. Harvesting data gives you an edge and nobody does it better than Google.

    1. Huh? Apple has a HUGE input base called Siri. Google is no longer the default on Apple products. More and more data queries are first filtering through Apple servers.

    2. “Harvesting data gives you an edge and nobody does it better than Google.” Nope – that would be quantity over quality. Google has no interest in accuracy or being up to date. Google Maps are riddled with major inaccuracies, both in the maps themselves and in their databases, and can be up to 8 years out of date. Apple Maps are more reliable overall (though far from perfect), and the database is improving constantly – though it is still not adequate.
      It’s easy to observe Apple’s intent to do it properly, which takes time, over Google’s perennial beta, near-enough philosophy.

  3. Another MAJOR issue with Apple maps is the continued inaccurate/lacking traffic issues. Plenty of times, in the Bay Area nonetheless, Apple maps will take me through heavy traffic where Google Maps or Waze will re-route me properly, often saving me close to an hour of time! Apple Maps directions, when taking into account traffic conditions – just plain SUCKS. And this is in Apple’s backyard. Pathetic.

    1. One of the irritations for me with Google maps is that the traffic info has to be enabled very time I open it. Furthermore, the magnification changes randomly when I move the cursor. Bing Maps do the same thing with magnification, but even worse than Google.

      Apple Maps always opens just like I left it and the magnification stays how I set it.

      1. Well that comment above was meant for further up the thread !

        But while I’m here, I agree that the database of place names in the UK is very poor. Apple maps is excellent at finding places from their postcode ( zip ), the driving directions are good and of course it reliably shows where you are and the surrounding area, but whenever I try to look up a place by the name of the town or village, it produces inappropriate results most of the time and frequently doesn’t list the correct place at all.

        It wouldn’t be so annoying, but the town and village names that I am using are all shown correctly within the map itself if you you know where to look for them, so it appears that the database doesn’t access the information that’s already in the maps and instead displays spurious information ( commercial companies or street names using that word etc ) rather than the actual place names.

        The most stupid one for me was when I needed to show somebody where Loch Ness ( the lake with the legendary monster ) was within Scotland. The first suggestion was Loch Ness Ln, North Garden, VA USA. The next suggestion was a commercial company in London, England. The actual Loch didn’t appear at all in the search results. I would add that I sent a report to Apple and it seems OK now, but I still encounter similar issues weekly.

  4. I continue to use Google Maps because:
    (1) Apple maps doesn’t provide lane guidance.
    (2) Apple maps doesn’t provide bicycling directions.
    (3) Apple maps doesn’t provide transit routing in Los Angeles, CA, USA.
    (4) Given an exact street address, Apple maps continue to direct me to the wrong location for certain addresses.

  5. Neither Apple nor Google had a clue about an address in our community I entered into both. I really like Maps and look forward to the incremental improvements. I really like the Nearby feature. It still needs some work, however.

  6. Bullshit, MDN. You have been right on many things, but your inability to get past the original release of Apple Maps is laughable.

    First, you still believe that slapping a “beta” stamp on it would have eliminated the negative press.

    Second, you seem to believe that the stigma will stick with Apple Maps forever.

    You guys have gone a little bat-shit crazy on this particular topic. Move on.

    1. @KingMel:
      Apple Maps sucks so much compared to Google Maps and still has so many bugs that it might as well still be in “beta”. It has deplorable rerouting and its traffic conditions are not accurate/updated appropriately. In the Bay Area (nonetheless) Apple Maps consistently tries to take me routes that are almost an HOUR longer than the proper traffic-consideration routes of Waze and Google. It just isn’t MDN that’s batshit crazy here. Even readers will downvote this comment because it legitimately criticizes an established major issue this Apple’s disastermaps. It will take at least a couple more years to be decent and by then, Google will still be light years ahead. But many MDN readers would rather have their heads up their asses and would relish driving an hour longer because their “Apple Mappies” are telling them to.

      1. I have to disagree that Apple Maps is as bad as you say it is. Personally I find advantages to both (see my previous comment on Google Maps for offline maps and hiking). I can easily understand having a preference for one versus the other, but “sucks so much” I’d have to disagree with.

  7. Apple would have been better served buying Waze before Google snapped it up. That way by now Apple wouldn’t have such piece of shit traffic updates and even worse rerouting. Got an extra hour to spare in your commute? Use Apple Maps!

    1. Maybe it’s a good thing that Apple didn’t buy Waze as Google and Waze are being sued by Phantom Alert for stealing mapping info and using it within Waze. In essence, fictitious place names were placed in Phantom Alert’s on-line maps to reveal any copying and they have all shown up in Waze.

      This is a long standing technique used by cartographers to reveal and prove copyright infringement and it goes back to paper maps a hundred years or more ago.

      If Apple had bought Waze instead, the headlines would have been all ably Apple copying those maps. When it’s Google/Waze doing it, nobody is surprised.

  8. Sometimes I wonder if Apple would be more caught up if they didn’t buy so many companies and have to spend time integrating the new companies and their tech into Apple Maps.

  9. I have to agree that google maps user friendliness is poor now then before when everything was easy to use and navigate. Very unfortunately apple maps in UK is poor and needs huge improvement.

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