Google Maps trumps Apple again during the #STLflood of 2015

2015 will forever be known as St. Louis’ year underwater.

Last week, the great city of St. Louis was devastated by the heaviest rainfall it had endured since the great flood of 1993. Roads were covered by rolling streams, homes washed away by swollen rivers, and vehicles were left stranded within gulfs that had once been neighborhood streets.

And as the waters began to crest on the day before New Years Eve, many of St. Louis’ asphalted arteries beyond downtown were consumed, forcing Missouri’s Department of Transportation (MoDOT) to close numerous pathways between residents and their homes. For those attempting to flee the city, there was only one major escape route: the I-55 jugular that treaded above water thanks to the swift hands of MoDOT’s crew whom ultimately lost the battle just two hours before midnight.

Early morning on December 31, 2015

In times of distress, information is often a worthy combatant. Knowing which roads are closed at precise times and locations can feel like a godsend when the highways are virtually imploding in every direction. In cases of road-changing weather conditions such as these, MoDOT keeps an online map with live stats on traffic and closures. Unfortunately, mass panic led to an influx of search queries that crippled the site during its most critical moment of need.

On the flip side, we live in a world filled with giants larger than MoDOT — technology goliaths with bigger servers designed for larger pulls of data, the type operated by Google Maps and Apple Maps. And in a situation when seconds matter — such as an event that involves rising flood waters — data must be as live and accurate as possible.

With the power of Google Maps, motorists were able to tap into live information that updated almost by the minute, delivering the newest road closures in near-to-real-time. This kind of innovation helped not only us, but countless other drivers across the St. Louis area, react to changing road congestion and find better routes to their destinations.

As the mass flooding transpired around our city, we stopped to compare data provided by Google Maps with its closest rival, Apple Maps. At first glance, the results were disappointing. Apple Maps immediately lacked the same traffic feedback that accompanied its Google counterpart. Road closures didn’t show up on Apple Maps until 30–60 minutes later, and even then, some of it disagreed with Google’s data. The information, although somewhat useful, was unreliable in the shadow of the long-time mobile navigation champion, Google Maps.

Three years in the making, it’s difficult to deny that Apple Maps has come a long way since its launch in 2012. But despite the long list of partners and companies working to shape Apple Maps into a viable navigational platform, the reliability of its live information during emergency situations, or even on the commute to and from home, have been drawn into question. Thus, the massive thorn protruding from Apple’s side: inaccuracy during times of need motivates consumers to find an alternative solution. From this point, consumers learn to depend on that alternative more than the native option, — in this case, Apple Maps — which eventually leads to less users on Apple Maps who would otherwise inadvertently provide developmental data to improve the system.

TL;DR — Win for Google Maps. Fail for Apple Maps.

Bottom Line

Google Maps was an asset during the St. Louis Flood of 2015. Besides exercising its dominance over Apple Maps, Google Maps outlined the various pathways to safety when all other options failed. For this, we want to formally thank Google for offering such a refined piece of software that can be trusted in even the fiercest of situations.

Also, thank you, MoDOT, for your valiant efforts to keep St. Louis’ streets above water as long as possible. Our city is worthy of your service.

If you have any thoughts about the information in this piece or on the Great STL Flood of 2015, please leave a comment in the box below or share your thoughts with us on Twitter and/or Facebook. Thanks, and stay safe, St. Louis.

Sources: STL Today, St. Louis Post Dispatch, MoDOT, Apple,
Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Zach Laidlaw’s story.