Techcrunch’s scathing post last week about the deterioration of Google Maps seemed to have hit a nerve. The comments there and on other platforms reflected a common thought: that Google Maps used to be great and now it’s so bad that Apple Maps and Bing are better.
Harsh words indeed.
I don’t think this is a case of “hipster design” as a commenter here said, but it does seem like a case of the boiling frog metaphor: a series of minor changes and redesigns over the past few years have resulted in an inferior product.
Before we look at the bad, let’s focus on the good today. After all, Google Maps was the seventh most popular mobile app in 2013 so it must be doing something right. Let’s also take a different look at Google Maps on the desktop and as a mobile app. The use cases are different and the interaction and data requests are different.
So first, on the good side, for both mobile and desktop.
1. It’s deep, from the data perspective. Google has a lot of data in Maps, acquired over time and at a high cost. Most is unique to Google. From accurate road maps to extensive street view photos, businesses and landmarks, Google Maps has a distinct advantage over its competition.
2. It’s fast. We forget how incredibly impatient to get information, and on the go, with mobile, we expect apps to get data instantly. Google Maps does this quite well.
3. It has a decent search. Maps used to have a great search but it still has a decent one. However, this may be the place where Google Maps has really gone downhill.
4. It gives directions. Yes, I know they are not always that great, the options given are often ridiculous (more on this tomorrow when I talk about the Bad) and the UI is, um, challenging to say the least, but they are quite accurate.
All four make Maps a compelling tool, one that is even more essential on mobile. As long as Google keeps those and competitors can’t match them, they are still the app to beat.
Those are the good. Tomorrow I’ll focus on what went wrong.