Justin O'Beirne

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



Page 1 · 2 · 3 · 📍 · 5 · 6 · 7 · 8 · 9 · 10

Which Map has More Road Labels?

There are actually two kinds of road labels on Google Maps and Apple Maps: shields and text labels:

Which map shows more of each?

*   *   *

First, let’s look at shields.

We’ll start by counting the number of shields on each zoom:

Interesting. Now, Google’s totals are higher for every city.

Let’s plot the counts:

Our graphs show that Google almost always has more shields than Apple — especially at earlier zooms.

In the first graph, the New York one, there’s a huge difference at z8. Isn’t that the same zoom we looked at a little earlier? The one where Apple labeled far more cities than Google?

Let’s take another look:

Yep—it was that zoom alright. But look at it now: Google shows a bunch of shields (20), while Apple shows just 1!

Let’s see if the same thing is happening in San Francisco:

It looks as if it is. Here, Google has 7 shields, while Apple has 0!

Let’s check London too:

Here, Google has 9 shields, while Apple has just 1.

*   *   *

So maybe that’s the answer to our earlier question? (“Why doesn’t Google label more cities here?”) Google is prioritizing shields over cities—while Apple is prioritizing cities over shields.

I’m having déjà vu. Are you?

*   *   *

Let’s take all of our shield graphs and average them out:

Google, on average, shows many more shields at earlier zooms, while Apple shows more shields than Google after z12 (but not nearly as many as Google shows early on).

This is quite different than what we saw with the city labels…

*   *   *

Now that we’ve looked at shields, what about text labels for roads? Remember, those are the other kind of road labels on Google Maps and Apple Maps:

Which map shows more?

First, we’ll count the totals:

A pattern’s emerging: similar to the shields, Google’s totals are once again higher than Apple’s for every city.

Let’s plot our counts:

It looks as if things are a bit closer here than they were for the shields — that is, except in London, where there’s a very wide difference early on, at z12.

Let’s average the cities together:

Google Maps, on average, shows more text labels for roads at every zoom.

Looking at the graph above, there’s still a big difference at z12—the same zoom we saw that huge difference in London on the smaller graphs.

Let’s see what’s going on there in London:

Interesting. There are no shields on Google’s map—instead, the route numbers are labeled as text. It actually seems to make the map look nicer. (Perhaps this has something to do with local cartographic expectations? We’ll look at that in one of our later chapters.)

Labeling the roads with text instead of shields, Google ends up with 37 text labels at this zoom. Meanwhile, Apple has just a single text label entirely within view.

That’s quite a difference, but our graph showed that the largest difference, on average, was actually at z13.

Let’s check out that zoom—but since we just looked at London, let’s look at a different city. We’ll look at San Francisco instead:

Comparing the two maps, it certainly looks as if Google shows more text labels for roads. Let’s count them up:

Google has 28 text labels for roads, while Apple has just 7 (25% of Google’s count).

And Google labels more of San Francisco’s main streets: Market, Divisadero, Mission, Valencia, Guerrero, Dolores, Folsom, Franklin, Gough, Columbus, and Castro are all labeled on Google’s map—but missing on Apple’s.

These are very different maps!


Page 1 · 2 · 3 · 📍 · 5 · 6 · 7 · 8 · 9 · 10