If someone told you that iOS 6 Maps had one advantage over Google Maps, and that it was 80% more efficient in using data, you’d probably quip, “That’s because it’s 80% less accurate” then do an air drum roll and punctuate the whole thing with the sound of a cymbal crashing that you made with your mouth.
Joking aside, though, it’s true. iOS 6 Maps uses way less data than Google Maps, and it has nothing to do with accuracy, but with its beautiful new vector graphics.
Here’s the thing. When you use Google Maps, if you zoom in or out, Google downloads new tiles to show you the increased or decreased details. These are called raster graphics, which are bitmaps because they correspond bit-for-bit with an image displayed on a screen. If you’ve ever seen a file with a .BMP extension, that’s an example of raster graphics, and Google downloads new ones for every tile at every stage of zooming.
But Apple uses vector graphics. Unlike raster graphics, vector graphics don’t come in files that correspond bit-by-bit with the same image seen on a screen. Rather, vector graphics are made up of mathematical expressions that tell iOS 6 Maps how to draw the map. And since vector maps allow you to scale by any amount without degrading quality, that leads to big savings in file size.
The end result is profound, according to Onavo:
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.
What this all means is that while Apple Maps may not be very good right now, the graphics engine driving the Maps is extremely powerful and is a good starting out point for things to come. For right now, though, I’d rather spend 80% more data getting accurate information from Google than try to do the same search five times in a row with iOS 6 Maps because it doesn’t know where my address is. But give it time.