Justin O'Beirne

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



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Which Map has More Labels?

We saw earlier that “labels are half of the map”—so which map has more? And what does this tell us about each map?

Let’s start by counting all of the labels on each of our 108 map samples:

Google has a higher total for our New York and London map pairs, while Apple has a slightly higher total for our San Francisco map pairs:

Adding the three cities together, Google has a grand total of 1,521 labels across the 54 map pairs — while Apple has a grand total of 1,448 (about 5% less than Google):

Interestingly, the difference here is just 73 labels—which doesn’t seem particularly significant.

Our grand totals also give us an average number of labels per zoom for each map:

Above, Google has the higher average; but here again the difference is small—just 1.4 labels per zoom. (Would most even notice a 1.4 label difference?)

And for half of our San Francisco and London map pairs, Apple actually has a higher label count than Google. Below, the pink squares highlight the zooms where one map has more labels than the other map:

Notice that the pink squares are pretty evenly split between Google and Apple. The two maps have an equal number for San Francisco and London—and in New York, Google has just two more than Apple:

Looking at it this way (by the number of zooms where one map has more labels than the other), we again see little difference between the two maps.

All that said, there is at least one notable difference between Google and Apple: out of the 108 map samples, the three with the most labels are all from Google:

Those three maps are London at z13, London at z12, and San Francisco at z13:

And all three of Google’s top maps have more labels than Apple’s top three:

Notice that Apple’s top map has 51 labels—which is fewer than any of Google’s top three.

And it’s also interesting that Google’s and Apple’s top maps are at different zooms. Google’s map with the most labels is London at z13, while Apple’s map with the most labels is London at z7six zoom-levels earlier:

So it seems that even though the maps have a similar number of labels overall, there are large differences in the number of labels at certain zooms. And this would also help explain why the two maps have just 24% of their labels in common.

Let’s dig into this more and see what it tells us about each map…

*   *   *

First, let’s take the numbers from our label count tables…

…and plot them for each city:

Now let’s put the three cities together into one chart:

There are some interesting spikes on both maps.

Do you see them?

The spikes are zooms where one map has significantly more labels than the other map.

Interesting, isn’t it? Something’s going on at each of those three spikes.

We’ll look at that in just a bit — but first, let’s take this chart…

…and average all of the cities together:

This chart shows us the zoom where each map, on average, has the most labels.

On Google Maps, it’s z13 — this zoom:

And on Apple Maps, it’s actually five zooms earlier at z8:

Isn’t it interesting that the zooms are so different? And that the maps peak at such different times (five zooms apart)?

It seems that Google Maps shows the most labels when you’re looking at a section of a city, while Apple Maps shows the most labels when you’re looking at a city’s metro area.

Once again, we’re seeing just how different these maps really are.

*   *   *

Let’s return to those spikes and figure out what’s causing them…

For that, we’ll need to look at what each map is labeling at each zoom…


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