Navigation Battle: Google Maps vs Waze vs Apple Maps

If we look back to the dawn of the smartphone, one of the main draws was their GPS chips and ability to offer on-the-go navigation. No longer were we beholden to sites like MapQuest (which still exists as a mobile app, by the way) and printing directions on actual, physical paper. Instead, we could open up our maps app, input a destination, and receive live, turn-by-turn directions.

It was like a pocket-sized Marco Polo, Chris Columbus, or Ferdinand Magellan had become your permanent wingman and was surely a death-dealing blow to paper maps. But it didn’t stop there.

After we gained the ability to navigate via our smartphones, it became a question of which software does it better. Obviously, Google Maps is the most well-known map app, being that it’s basically synonymous with mobile navigation; in fact, Google Maps was the default navigation software that came preinstalled on the first iterations of the iPhone, until Apple launched its own Apple Maps. Meanwhile, an app called Waze emerged as a third-party alternative to Google and Apple Maps, and it gained quite a following even before the company was bought by Google.

We at Android Authority decided it was time to settle this once and for all. The team has put yours truly on the task of conducting a brief analysis of all three apps, identifying their weaknesses and differentiating them based on their respective strengths. This is the Navigation Wars, Waze vs Google Maps vs Apple Maps. Who will reign supreme?

Putting all jokes and theatrics aside, and before taking a deep-dive into these three apps, one might expect Google Maps to take the gold. It’s Google, after all, an incredibly forward-thinking, revolutionary software company.

This particular software company has put incomprehensible amounts of money and resources into mapping the world. And beyond simply mapping the streets, the search giant sent out a fleet of Street View cars — which, according to a report from a few years ago, have collectively driven an estimated seven million miles — to take 360-degree photos along 99 percent of all public roads in the US, giving users the ability to actually preview their route from a first-person perspective. And let’s not forget that this process has been and continues to be repeated in countries all over the world. In other words, not only can Google Maps give you directions when you take your next Florida vacation but also when you finally take that trip to Greece.

More recently, Google has invested into complex software that provides detailed 3D imaging in lots of highly-populated and tourist-heavy areas. So in addition to getting a first-person street view of your route, you can zoom outward to seeing a computer-rendered model of the surrounding area for contextual information such as the shapes and sizes of buildings. Plus, algorithms built into Google Maps can account for things like traffic jams. Basically, the software can reference users’ locations and movements to see how they’re moving through certain areas, comparing that to historical data so that, when drivers start to slow in those areas, Google Maps can put our a traffic alert. It may sound simple, but making it all work surely requires some finesse.

the map as well as reviews (if it’s a business), the amount of time it would take you to travel there, the ability to learn more about the destination, and a big blue button that says “DIRECTIONS” that will begin plotting your route. Or routes, rather, since it will typically give you the choice of a few routes from which you can choose, depending on how many different ways there are for you to get to your destination.

Arguably the biggest selling feature of those standalone GPS units that we used to buy for our vehicles was spoken turn-by-turn directions. Google Maps rolled out turn-by-turn directions a couple years back and currently offers three options: Spoken directions for each step of your route, no spoken directions, or an alert mode, which means that Google Apps will only speak to you about things like travel alerts and missed turns.

In operation, Google Maps maintains its clean UI. Your location is denoted by an arrow that points in the direction you’re facing. From what I can tell, the uses the direction in which you were last moving to determine the direction to point the arrow since the arrow will change direction if you begin to reverse.

On occasion, though, the app seems to get confused about which direction you’re facing. This tends to happen when you’re sitting still for a few minutes (i.e., at a stoplight), or if you initiate a trip while you’re sitting still, at which time the app may think you’re diverting from the route and begin needlessly amending it. I occasionally experience a similar quirk; if I start a trip while sitting at a stoplight, for instance, the app can’t seem to remember the direction in which I had just been traveling and may tell me I need to turn around when I’m actually facing the right way. For the most part, these hiccups are the sorts of things that are easy to deal with and aren’t going to cause any catastrophes, but it’s worth making note of them.