Apple Maps and Washington, D.C.

I tested out the new Apple Maps iOS 6 application while driving a friend’s car around Washington, D.C.

My first destination was 9707 Old Georgetown Road in Bethesda. This is an enormous apartment building on one of the most major arteries of the metropolitan area. Apple thought it was about 1 mile from the actual location and had it on the wrong side of the street.

The application does not seem to take advantage of traffic information. This is a serious problem in a city whose Saturday afternoon traffic would make nearly any Third World capital seem like an efficient place to live. The 20-minute trips of my youth (1970s) are now one-hour ordeals, albeit ordeals that are endured by Washingtonians enthroned in the most luxurious cars on the market (I saw two Lamborghinis!).

The iPhone 4S was not useful for more than one trip in the Washington area because the battery life when using navigation is limited to about one hour. It is possible to turn off the LCD backlight and rely on voice directions, in an attempt to save battery power, but the screen turns itself back on every time there is a new instruction.


  1. Jin

    October 15, 2012 @ 9:37 am


    Apple and Bing maps seem to have that address located at the entrance to the parking lot of the Catholic school/church a few hundred feet down the street. Google maps has it placed at the entrance to Maplewood Park Dr leading to a pair of big greenish cross-shaped towers, which I assume is correct.

  2. Adam's Myth

    October 15, 2012 @ 10:26 am


    Is this problem confined to certain cities? I’ve used ios6 for a month in Southern California with no errors or battery issues. Hard to reconcile with what I read from folks in NY and DC.

  3. philg

    October 15, 2012 @ 10:29 am


    Jin: Yes, Google Maps has the address in the correct spot.

  4. Fred

    October 15, 2012 @ 10:52 am


    Does Apple sell your location data acquired from their mapping product? Does Google?

  5. Javier

    October 15, 2012 @ 11:32 am


    I found waze to be an excellent replacement for the Apple maps app.

    It’s free (ad supported), it has real time traffic info, and a bunch of other nice features.

    Using it kills the battery just as fast, though.

  6. Peter

    October 15, 2012 @ 2:02 pm


    Is this problem confined to certain cities?

    Certain cities, certain addresses…

    In other words, you can’t trust it.

    There was a recent article where somebody compared it to Google Maps and their in-car GM Nav system. iOS 6 was just as good as the others. The writer was about to write an article saying just that. But he needed a cable to do something, so he used Apple Maps to find a local Verizon store where he could buy it. And Apple Maps screwed up, sending him miles away. So after entering a dozen addresses that were spot on, when he needed it, it failed.

    That’s why I’ll stick with Google Maps and iOS 5, thanks. I’ve used Google Maps for years–combined with Google’s search, it has never let me down in the several years I’ve been using it.

  7. EB

    October 15, 2012 @ 2:27 pm


    I don’t see the point of bringing up the battery life. None of the navigation software packages are meant to be run without being plugged in. There was never a mention that battery life is better or worse with Apple maps over Google Maps. How is this applicable to the discussion?

  8. Joe

    October 15, 2012 @ 2:34 pm


    Well Peter, then it’s a good thing you haven’t used Google to make a right turn onto the central freeway in SF:

  9. philg

    October 15, 2012 @ 2:46 pm


    EB: Why is battery life relevant? My car has a built-in GPS. The only time that I ever use maps or navigation on a phone is when I am in someone else’s car, a rental car, or walking around a strange city. By definition, if I am using maps and navigation on the phone, the phone is relying on its battery.

  10. David

    October 15, 2012 @ 3:06 pm


    I have lived in DC for over thirty years and traffic has gotten much worse as you note. In recent years however Mondays and Fridays have improved with the increased use of telework.

    I also agree it would be better if smartphone maps take traffic into account. However, in my experience having traffic information from the radio or any other source doesn’t help much in the DC area. Any way you go is congested. And the Metro is often very crowded as well. But I don’t think the DC area is like any third world city I have seen. The roads just haven’t kept up with the number of vehicles.

  11. J. Peterson

    October 15, 2012 @ 4:55 pm


    My favorite Apple map gaffe is the icon itself: the left turn depicted doesn’t bother with the on-ramp, and has you turning directly off the bridge to crash onto the I-280 freeway below.

  12. philg

    October 15, 2012 @ 8:54 pm


    David: “roads just haven’t kept us with the number of vehicles”. That’s exactly how it happens in Third World countries! Cars get cheaper and/or people get somewhat wealthier so that they can afford them. The government, meanwhile, cannot get organized to build or expand roads. (Or in the case of the U.S., adopt congestion pricing.) So everything freezes up.

  13. Peter

    October 15, 2012 @ 10:39 pm


    it’s a good thing you haven’t used Google to make a right turn onto the central freeway in SF

    You’re right.

    That said, it really doesn’t matter.

    Way back when, I used MapQuest. Remember MapQuest? It worked really well, but there were the occasional screw-ups (even if they weren’t “fatal”). Here are two examples:

    In 2001, I was looking for a new car. A dealer in the area had exactly what I was looking for, so I used MapQuest to get directions. MapQuest sent me all over the place (turn left, turn right, turn right, turn left, turn left, turn right) and I followed the directions dutifully to arrive at the dealer. I ended up buying the car and, to go home, I asked the dealer, “Hey, what’s the quickest way back to the freeway?” The dealer replied, “Go down to the end of this street and turn left. You can’t miss it.”

    Why did this happen? No clue.

    A couple of years later, I was again slavishly following MapQuest directions to a place I had never been. Suddenly, my directions said, “turn right.” After turning right, I was told to make a U-Turn. When I got back to the street I was just on, I was told to make another right turn.

    Huwha!? In later years, after doing some work on maps, I discovered why this sometimes happens. Essentially, each city is responsible for maps that cover their area. So, for example, Beach Boulevard in Huntington Beach is mapped by Huntington Beach–but only to the city line. So, according to Huntington Beach, Beach Boulevard starts at the beach and ends at the city line. Westminster has a Beach Boulevard that starts at the city line and ends at the other city line. And so on and so forth. It’s up to the Navigation people to connect those two points. Obviously, somebody missed something.

    To get back to the point, it becomes a question of trust. I used MapQuest and I trusted it. It would always get me to where I wanted to go. But the stuff in the middle was sometimes pretty weird. I switched to Google Maps because it didn’t seem to have the weirdness in my travels.

    That’s the trust element: I have something I use. It works great and I haven’t encountered any problems. If I upgrade to iOS 6 and I have problems–oh well. No going back. “You blew it! You trusted us!”

    Honestly, I’ve seen tons of mistakes with Apple’s Maps. Usually the fanbois can drag out a few Google ones. But the sheer number for Apple’s Maps makes me leery to change. I’ve also done some comparison’s with Apple’s Maps in the iOS Simulator and Google definitely wins.

Log in