It's one of the most fundamental things people do on their smartphone every day, and for years, even if you were using an iPhone, there's a pretty good chance you were using Google to do it. Specifically, Google Maps.
Headed to an appointment, pull up directions in Google Maps. Going on vacation? Google Maps. Looking for a store or restaurant in town? Google Maps. Ordering lunch to be delivered? Google Maps does that, too.
Sure, you can do most of those things using Apple's native Maps app, but for much of the first five years of its existence, you were just as likely to end up being told to turn down a road that doesn't exist. That's a big problem for an app whose job is to provide accurate directions from point A to point B.
That's because Apple Maps was really bad. Apple even admitted it. Not only that, but in addition to apologizing for how bad the app was, it actually recommended using Google Maps instead. So most people did.
So, Apple started rebuilding its app the hard way. Instead of purchasing maps from third-party vendors, which caused problems with updates and data, the company started its own mapping initiative. Like Google, it sent out vehicles to take photographs for street level views of buildings and locations.
And, over time, Apple Maps got better. It still had a long way to go before people were willing to trust it for directions to an important meeting, but it was clear Apple was serious about making Apple Maps the navigation choice for iOS users.
Now that iOS 13 has been released, Apple has started rolling out major improvements it previewed at the company's Worldwide Developer Conference this summer. That includes a range of features, but the one that users will notice right away is simple--it just looks better. Like, a lot better. Apple has updated the overall interface and added substantially more detail to a wide area of the country, including most of the Northeast and California.
That detail includes far more topographical detail along with new, higher-res images in the "Look Around" feature (think: Google Street View). It also includes greater detail of green space, as well as water features. New integrations with third-party apps like Uber make it easier to book a rideshare, though it still lacks the food ordering capability of Google Maps.
It also lags behind Google in one other important way--it only offers transit directions in 17 countries as well as an additional 10 major metro areas, compared to the virtually universal offerings from Google. I've used it in New York City, and it works great. In fact, I found it more helpful than Google's version. I especially liked the real-time arrival information. But in most cities, you're on your own for now.
Of course, Apple says it's just starting, with the rest of the U.S. to be updated by the end of the year. That fast pace shows just how seriously Apple wants you to stop using Google Maps.
Apple's motivation is simple--besides the fact that Maps was a major embarrassment, the company is committed to reducing the ways Google monetizes iOS users. With over one billion devices running iOS, that's no small amount of money for either company.
And with these updates, Apple Maps is now at least a worthy contender, one the company hopes will finally convince you to tell Google Maps to "get lost."