Forget Mapplegate. Apple Maps are Maptastic!

Since the launch of iOS 6, Apple Maps have been getting a lot of attention. Users and industry professionals are frustrated by Apple Maps. They are claiming that Maps have not exceeded, let alone met, their expectations. In some cases, Apple Maps is even being referred to as “Mapplegate.”

In light of the frenzy created by Apple Maps, we took a look at something industry experts and iPhone users have not yet considered: Is it possible that Apple Maps is actually better for iPhone users? Is the app more data efficient? Will using Apple Maps actually help users save their precious and limited megabytes, as well as being more responsive and faster to operate?

The answer to this series of questions is an enthusiastic YES!

Apple Maps are Maptastic!

Onavo’s team of data experts set out to compare the data consumed by Apple Maps on iOS 6 to that of the Google-based iOS 5 Maps app. We compared a number of scenarios and investigated how both apps use data over the cellular network. The data we evaluated proved: Apple Maps is up to five times more data efficient than Google Maps.

Standard Map View

In Standard Map view, every time you search for or open a new location, such as a restaurant or the address of your next meeting, your maps app has to download the street map data you see on the screen. If you pan or zoom in or out, that data needs to be downloaded as well.

Our data experts performed an identical series of activities on Google Maps and Apple Maps that included searching for several US cities, addresses and airports and zooming in and out to locate specific locations. On Google Maps, the average data loaded from the cellular network for each step was 1.3MB. Apple Maps came in at 271KB – that’s approximately 80% less data! On some actions, such as zooming in to see a particular intersection, Apple Maps’ efficiency advantage edged close to 7X.

Apple Maps’ overwhelming data advantage in Standard Map views is because of Apple’s use of vector graphics. Instead of downloading map tile images every time users zoom in or out of a map view, Apple’s vector graphics approach resizes dynamically, resulting in the drastically reduced data usage we observed, as well as smooth resizing and fast responsiveness.

Satellite View

However, it seems that even in Satellite View, Apple has considered data usage. Our tests found Apple Maps uses only half as much data as Google Maps for the same Satellite searches and views (an average of 930KB for a single page load on Google Maps vs. 428KB for Apple Maps).

Why this matters

Maps, a staple of iOS since the very first iPhone, is also one of the most popular apps on the device. According to our data, a whopping 70% of iPhone users use the Maps app. Furthermore, the Maps app alone is responsible for 5% of the iPhone data traffic on mobile networks today. Apple’s drastic improvement in data efficiency will be welcome news both for consumers watching their megabytes, but also for the mobile networks that are transferring all those megabytes.

So while iPhone users and industry experts may still be waiting for the perfect map app, at Onavo, we recognize that Apple Maps brings something needed and fantastic to iPhone users: a map app built to make it faster, more inexpensive and more efficient for users to get around. And that is pretty Maptastic!