Apple’s Mesmerizing Map Glitches Show How Its Maps Differ From Google’s

Look a little closer into Apple’s maps, and you’ll find a surreal world where bridges are mashed into land, houses look like they’re throwing up trees, and a Coney Island roller coaster looks like a twisted steel vortex.

Where there are maps, there are glitches. This seems to be a universal law of the Internet circa 2013. The mash-up of photographic, topographic and geographic data that allows you to fly around the world, sightseeing by browser, is miraculous, but just too huge and too complicated to be error-free.


“The system tries to infer a 3-D geometry from a set of 2-D images,” explains Swedish developer Peder Norrby, who has been documenting glitches in iOS Maps on Flickr. “That is hard to do and honestly I think they’re doing a great job, but errors happen and sometimes they look funny, weird, twisted, and beautiful.”

They’re also mildly instructive. The companies don’t disclose their algorithms much less their algorithms’ errors, but Google Earth, as documented by programmer and artist Clement Valla, seems to have a problem with skyscrapers on hilly terrain, and with bridges, which get smooshed down onto the ground underneath. iOS Maps, on the other hand, appears to have a more varied repertoire.

“The errors happen mostly where there are large complex multi-level structures such as bridges, viaducts etc.,” says Norrby. Apple’s bridges have the opposite problem of Google’s; instead of mashing the bridges onto the land, the bridges pull the land up into a distorted, shimmering wall.

Google Map’s bridges get sucked down into the ground they’re passing over.
Apple’s bridges pull the land up to meet them.

A particularly difficult structure to capture seems to be the roller coaster, with its irregular and unpredictable surfaces.

iOS Maps also has trouble with roadside foliage. You can see this in the strange blend of trees and roads in Central Park, or in a photo Norrby titled “Houses throwing up trees, Barcelona.”

But like Google, Apple is constantly improving to get rid of these glitches. “’Houses throwing up trees’ just seem to have disappeared,” Norrby says. “Or at least I cannot find it anymore.”


About the author

Stan Alcorn is a print, radio and video journalist, regularly reporting for WNYC and NPR. He grew up in New Mexico.