Justin O'Beirne

Justin O'Beirne of San Francisco, California. Essays, projects, and contact information.



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Which Map Shows More Roads?

Did you know that the first twelve zooms on each map only show a fraction of an area’s actual roads?

For instance, these are the roads that Google shows on its eighth zoom-level:

And these are the area’s actual roads, compared to the roads that Google shows:

In the image on the left, you can clearly see where all of the Bay Area’s cities are: there are so many roads in some areas (such as San Francisco), all we see are dark blobs. It looks cool, doesn’t it?

Now look at the image on the right. Google Maps is showing only a tiny fraction of the roads shown on the left.

But that’s by design.

If Google showed all of the area’s roads at this zoom, the map would be a cluttered mess, and it’d be difficult to trace any individual road. So Google instead simplifies the map and shows just a selection of the area’s most important roads. 

Apple actually does the same—notice that it also doesn’t show all of the Bay Area’s roads at this zoom:

So neither Google Maps nor Apple Maps shows all of the area’s roads at this zoom:

But did you also notice that Apple’s selection of roads is actually larger than Google’s?

Look here on the maps, near Vacaville and Davis—Apple is actually showing a greater number of roads than Google:

Interesting, isn’t it?

Which map—Google Maps or Apple Maps—shows more roads at more zooms?

Let’s tally it up:

For almost two-thirds of the zooms, Google and Apple show roughly the same number of roads. But for the remaining zooms, where one map shows more roads than the other, it’s almost always Apple that’s showing more roads.

So now that we’ve looked at roads, let’s look at road labels… which map shows more?


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