Justin O’Beirne is what you would call a modern cartographer. He has long believed that the future of map making has to be intertwined with technology, and his career has seen him work in Cupertino contributing to Apple’s Maps platform. He’s also an avid blogger and public speaker and even spoke at Google I/O back in 2011 about styling digital maps for enhanced usability.
On his website, O’Beirne likes to track the progress of different map apps, comparing them against previous versions and each other. His most recent post looks in depth at Google Maps and just how far ahead of the rest of the pack it is. I think most of us perceive that to be the case – even putting aside our obvious Google bias – but without being able to say exactly why. That’s where O’Beirne comes in.
To explain what Google is doing to be better than other digital mappers, O’Beirne first considers the amount of detail each service goes into. As Google Maps users we probably take for granted just how true to life it can be, and this is blatantly apparent when you take a closer look at buildings. Google started adding buildings as far back as 2007, and it’s at a point now where even small towns with a population of less than 1000 have them, as well as other smaller structures like sheds and park shelters.
In stark contrast, Apple still doesn’t have buildings in many major cities, nor does it correctly distinguish green spaces. It’s not just Apple that has fallen behind in this respect, though, with Bing, Here, TomTom, Mapbox, and others all struggling to offer the same level of detail as Google.
Even when competitors do have buildings, they’re nowhere near as detailed as Google’s. You can often see the exact shape a building on Google Maps, complete