2617: Maps

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OpenStreetMap was always pretty good but is also now *really* good? And Apple Maps's new zoomed-in design in certain cities like NYC and London is just gorgeous. It's cool how there are all these good maps now!
Title text: OpenStreetMap was always pretty good but is also now *really* good? And Apple Maps's new zoomed-in design in certain cities like NYC and London is just gorgeous. It's cool how there are all these good maps now!


Apple Maps is a navigation app released in 2012 by Apple as a competitor and replacement for the widely used Google Maps. It was quite bad when first released, attracting lots of criticism from iPhone users who were accustomed to Google Maps' more reliable and accurate navigation (for example, in one instance, it sent drivers 40 miles out of their way into the Australian desert with no water supply). Often, initial negative impressions about a product are retained for a long time, regardless of how it may have developed, particularly when there is an obviously superior competitor to adopt, and no compelling reason to revisit the alternatives. Hence Randall/Cueball is surprised to discover that Apple Maps is now pretty good. His surprise is exaggerated to the extent that it is comparable to finding that some fundamental constant of the universe has shifted, such as the speed of light or pi being changed to some other number.

The term "map" carries a double meaning within this comic. While it refers to an actual map, it also refers to the concept of "map and territory," where your map is your model of the universe, and the territory is the universe itself. Cueball has a map of the universe where Apple Maps is bad, and is surprised to discover that the map no longer fits the territory, and thus has to update his map.

The title text mentions OpenStreetMap, an open-data crowd sourced geodatabase, which has also improved since Randall has last checked, potentially moving it from a "pretty good" score to a "really good" score. He also adds two examples on how the Apple Maps service has improved: zooming in on cities, like London or New York you can see features like trees and road markings, the latter usually not visible on other mapping services at all. He marvels at the number of "good" mapping options now!

Google Maps itself, and especially its satellite coverage outside the US, was considered quite bad when it launched in 2005. The maps displayed back then led to mockery among "real" cartographers that the service couldn't really be considered a map, either: It was called "map-like", with casual digital maps being so new at the time. However, Google's popular mapping approach revolutionized how maps were perceived all over the world. The approaches Google uses are explained in How Google Maps is Made. This approach blurs the lines between traditional paper maps, GIS (geo-informational systems) and digitally rendered maps on screen. The process of "mapping" - as it is referenced here - has since moved significantly into the digital realm.


[Cueball is holding his hands up and is staring down at his open palms. Megan and White hat is looking at him.]
Cueball: You look around one day and realize the things you assumed were immutable constants of the universe have changed.
Cueball: The foundations of our reality are shifting beneath our feet.
Cueball: We live in a house built on sand.
[Caption below panel]
The day I discovered that Apple Maps is kind of good now

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Comments in the comment section please. 02:52, 10 May 2022 (UTC)

What was the page with all the repeating photos (of a man I didn’t recognize) going down the page? Or the page with the ascii teletubby face? Some kind of vandalism? 03:40, 10 May 2022 (UTC)

It was this IP. 03:41, 10 May 2022 (UTC)

"Immutable constants of the universe have changed"? Somehow I expected something based on the 2019 SI base unit redefinition, which made approximately zero difference to anyone's lives, but is a fundamental change to the way that we (notionally) measure things. 05:41, 10 May 2022 (UTC)

"Pi"? Don't "immutable constants of the universe" usually refer to fundamental physical constants, like the gravitational constant G, the speed of light c or the Planck constant h? The circle constant π is a mathematical one and thus most likely not a property of the universe (but an even more general one). --Das-g (talk) 07:04, 10 May 2022 (UTC)

I suspect this is referencing recent experimental results that appear to suggest/confirm that the standard model is incomplete, and that an additional fundamental force may need to be added to it. 08:07, 10 May 2022 (UTC)
Yeah, I'm pretty sure you can not just define Pi without ever bringing up anything real but that only way to "change" Pi is to curve the universe which STILL doesn't invalidate the fact that flat universe makes sense as special case in theory. -- Hkmaly (talk) 18:56, 10 May 2022 (UTC)

Interesting. So in the US, Apple Maps is useful now? Here in Switzerland, it still doesn't do bicycle routing, regularly screws up routes even by car, and doesn't know all the places I want to go. My current favorite Google Maps alternative is Mapy.cz (OSM based), but it doesn't always cut it either. 08:22, 10 May 2022 (UTC)

I think it depends on where you are. I am just across the border in Südtirol, and here I've found both Apple Maps and Google Maps to have their strengths and weaknesses. Here, Apple Maps' biggest weakness is that it doesn't have any public transport information, so can't calculate bus routes. Google Maps is better for this. However, Google Maps' biggest weakness is that it sometimes gets confused by the fact that streets here have both a German and an Italian name. Typing my address in German in Google Maps takes you to completely the wrong place, but it works in Italian. Apple Maps copes with both German and Italian addresses. Zoid42 (talk) 12:21, 10 May 2022 (UTC)

Google Maps, satellite view, search for “Corinth canal old bridge” and rotate it various ways, then try to tell me Google Maps is good. 10:04, 10 May 2022 (UTC)

The glitch exists only in the satellite view. You may argue that Google's satellite images (or the stitching thereof) are bad, but this tells nothing at all about the quality of the maps themselves.
You guys got us all to search google maps for a bridge in Ukraine and spin around it digitally. 0_0 . It worked fine for me. What is going to happen as a result of my behavior? [edit: I guess if anybody were looking for google maps statistics around that area, we added a lot of views of that bridge that don't relate to reality.] 07:23, 13 May 2022 (UTC)

I don't use Apple Maps. Can someone add an explanation of "Apple Maps's new zoomed-in design" ? DKMell (talk) 16:47, 10 May 2022 (UTC)

Neither do I, but from the comment and explanation I gather that for large cities you can browse in greater detail, even in satellite view seeing street signs. Though it's possible the explanation was added as per your request and is why I understand it. :) NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:48, 14 May 2022 (UTC)

Funnily enough, this comic was released around the time that I started using it. SilverTheTerribleMathematician (talk) 08:12, 5 January 2023 (UTC)

What did Google Maps innovate (if anything)?[edit]

The current explanation reads as if Google Maps were the first map service to overlay a database of site coordinates onto satellite imagery; but that's not true at all. It wasn't even the first widely used one: MapQuest was virtually eponymous with online maps & satellite views, for many years before Google Maps was introduced. Services such as MapQuest also introduced most of the common features associated with online mapping\wayfinding tools (such as manually setting waypoints along a route), before Google Maps was even released. At introduction, Google Maps was playing catch-up, in terms of features & viewable routes. Eventually, Google Maps & Apple Maps became the most prevalent, through bundling, wherein their (rather large) app came pre-installed on new devices; not because they were intrinsically superior at that time. Availability by default was (is?) the primary means of new user acquisition, by both Apple Maps & Google Maps. Their reliability has improved largely as a result of more numerous user contributions, not the other way around: They didn't take over purely because they were a better/new style of map, they took over because they were already included by OEMs; & their most crucial improvements were made possible after they gained market dominance. The explanation should reflect this, rather than claiming Google Maps satellite view somehow "revolutionized how maps were perceived all over the world", which makes it sound as if their map style was somehow revolutionary; it wasn't. Having a map available, anywhere you're online, by default, was the "revolution". IE: Preinstallation revolutionized how maps were perceived. (The original features & map view itself pre-date Google Maps by nearly a decade.) Even the addition of listings for businesses, was introduced long before Google Maps (or Apple Maps); it was again the pre-installed ubiquity, which drew businesses to register their locations with these map services instead of others. MapQuest already strove to map such info, but Google received more of that info over time, because they demonstrated clear market dominance through their default installation. Businesses could list their location with each mapping service, but the mapping services pre-installed on user's devices, were clearly better positioned to reach users on the go. TLDR: Preinstallation of an online mapping tool, was the revolution which changed how people perceive & use maps; not any feature of Google Maps in particular. What's the most concise way to convey this? -- ProphetZarquon (talk) 15:01, 10 May 2022 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I used to use MapQuest, and I have to say that Google Maps, when it appeared, was a breath of fresh air. Mainly this was because of the interface. Someone had finally paid attention to how users see and control the map! I no longer had to look at a tiny little tile of a map, one that had exceptionally clunky controls for zooming, panning, etc. DKMell (talk) 19:13, 11 May 2022 (UTC)
This is a great example of what Google Maps actually did to improve the online mapping experience: Refine the UX beyond the basic satellite views MapQuest had offered at the time. Additional (finer control of) zoom levels, & the later introduction of a 3D view, & especially, the additional information provided by local businesses, once preinstallation had provided a significantly competitive quantity of users. Could someone work this into the explanation? (It still reads as if Google Maps were the first to implement online satellite mapping.)
ProphetZarquon (talk) 17:45, 10 May 2022 (UTC)
Yes, I would have to agree. I used Google Maps before I had a smartphone, and (I think) before they launched the app version. It was just that much easier to use than other services. It wasn't always perfect (it still isn't!), but was generally good enough. Zoid42 (talk) 07:41, 11 May 2022 (UTC)

Not to add much to the explanation, but back before Google got into maps, I would use one or two of the pioneers (of online mappers, that is; before that there were premium CD-ROM software, even one that came on floppy discs back in the days of Hercules graphics cards), one of which was MapQuest but I forget the name of the other(s).
...anyway, on a trip between a point in Scotland and one within England, one site I tried did not have any routes at all. There seemed to be a discontinuity (not actually upon the border, because I could get from close one side to close the other, and from one desired end-point across the border but no further, but not get to that borderish point from the other). The other one, however, managed to give me a trip-distance that was approximately 100 miles shorter than reality!
But luckily I twigged quite quickly. And I still like to use a good old paper map (or road-atlas/A-Z) and common sense, though I admit there are some good online features too. Though the default Google map (just map, until I switch to aerial imagery substrate) doen't work well with light-grey road-lines on white (assuming no forestry) background. Switching to aerial/map-overlay hybrid at least lets you see all the minor roads. OpenStreetView is indeed natively much better in this regard (with plenty of map-style overlays, for various purposes) but I've yet to find one that does a good OS-style contour-line topographic view (except for Ordnance Survey themselves, of course), almost all of them seem to prefer shaded-relief, which is often far too subtle in all but the most crinkly of landscapes. (Hypsometric tints, with or without directional shading, could be nice, too. But perhaps I'm just not looking at anywhere with sufficient variation in height-profile to detect any attempts to do that, and relive the days of the good old Bartholemews range of physical maps.) 15:34, 10 May 2022 (UTC)

What does "VOS COMO" mean? 05:51, 11 May 2022 (UTC)

It isn't currently in the article. Was it before? It would be Spanish for something like "How are you?" (More commonly ¿Como estás vos?" in some dialects, I believe. I am not fluent in Spanish.) I think Argentine Spanish in particular uses "vos" instead "tu". Maybe someone was doing a stupid test edit and it has already been reverted? Nitpicking (talk) 11:19, 11 May 2022 (UTC)
It's in a comment. ...replacement for the widely used {{w|Google <!-- VOS COMO -->Maps}}. It was quite bad... 13:59, 11 May 2022 (UTC)
It was in (at least!) two such places, in a similar style and context. It was removed from one earlier, and now removed from the other. It had no functional/formatting/whatever use (e.g. telling a future editor of something they might be about to erroneously change without being aware of why it was 'wrong'), and could only be a 'tag' (in graffiti terms) for in-joke/bragging rights. I'm sure that if I'm wrong (or especially if I'm right) it'll be added back in with at least as much explanation as before. But, for now, bye bye! 14:25, 11 May 2022 (UTC)

Paragraph on Google Maps[edit]

I found the paragraph interesting to read. However, the comic mentions only OpenStreetMap and AppleMaps. Why is there an explanation on Google Maps here? -- 12:58, 12 May 2022 (UTC)

Because part of the criticism towards Apple Maps has been to consider it vastly inferior to Google Maps. Usually if you (Apple Maps in this case) try to enter a field where there's already a standard (Google Maps), it's because you believe you can do it better, attracting customers away to your product, and Apple Maps has long been inferior (kind of hard to win an improvement race when you're both improving and you start from behind). Google Maps is the industry leader and their main competition. Opinions of Apple Maps are usually "Google Maps is better". That's why.
Did this really need its own header? LOL! NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:43, 14 May 2022 (UTC)