Justin O'Beirne

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



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🗺 “Place” icons on Google Maps

Most paper maps never had enough space to label every “place”. Instead, they labeled a selection of an area’s most interesting and important places, calling them “Points of Interest” (or “POIs” for short).

But today, with multiple zoom-levels, there’s plenty of room for things that would’ve never fit before. Small businesses, apartment buildings, ATMs, and even homes — suddenly, no place is too small or too trivial to be included.

It’s hard to overstate just how big of a change this has been. Google only started adding labels and icons for businesses to its maps six years ago. But like a contagion, those little place icons have spread and multiplied to every corner of the map — and in doing so, they’ve quickly become a core, expected feature.

The “POI” is dead because today every place is of interest.

*   *   *

Given how important places have become, let’s find out which map—Google Maps or Apple Maps—labels more...

Which Map Labels More Places?

First, let’s count the number of places on each zoom:

According to our counts, Apple labels more places in New York and San Francisco, while Google labels more places in London.

Let’s plot our counts to get a better sense of the differences:

The counts look somewhat similar in New York and San Francisco—but check out that spike in London at z13. What’s going on there?

Let’s take a look:

Ah, there’s our culprit: it’s all the Tube stations that Google is labeling at this zoom.

Comparing the two maps, the Tube stations really add up. They give Google a total of 38 places—versus just 14 for Apple:

(34 of the 38 places on Google’s map are Tube and rail stations—no wonder why Google’s count is so high there.)

Let’s take our graphs and average them together to see if there’s a general pattern:

There really isn’t much of a difference here: on average, it’s less than five across all zooms.

So for now, we’ll conclude that Google Maps and Apple Maps label a similar number of places.


*   *   *


Now that we’ve seen that Google and Apple label a similar number of places, are they labeling the same places? Or different places?

Let’s investigate that next…


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