Thursday, April 23, 2015

Comparing map sites in Korea: Naver, Daum, Google, Bing - a Map Battle Royale!

Today I want to take you on a journey. Let's explore the various mapping services that cover Korea, and by the end, I'll show you in conclusion which is, in my opinion, the best. I'll compare samples of map imagery from 4 companies: two of the top Korean domestic sites, Naver Maps (네이버 지도) and Daum Maps (다음지도), and two top foreign sites, Google Maps and Bing Maps. Which of these top-4 portal services has the best maps of Korea? You may be surprised by the results.

Hint: Bing. Sort of. I know, right? Read on, you'll see what I mean.


As a point of reference, I looked at each services' imagery of everyone's favorite place on Earth. No, not that place. This place: Lotte World. Located near Gangnam in Seoul, yes that Gangnam, it's an area hugely popular with tourists, who likely check for their way around with online maps. So, I used the official address of LotteWorld at 서울특별시 송파구 올림픽로 240 호텔롯데 롯데월드 as a reference point for comparison, and took screenshots at a few views and zooms. For Google and Bing, I changed the default settings (I'm in Korea, so it sends me to the Korean-language interface) to their English-language sites. 

Feel free to follow along and investigate for yourself: [Naver] [Daum] [Google] [Bing]

Which display the best information most clearly? Let's take a look. 

Comparing maps from Naver, Daum, Google, and Bing

Test 1 - Medium Zoom, Map View

Naver Maps, medium zoom

Clean colors, major locations clearly labeled. I use Naver most often. The red-highlight area covering the subway station (Jamsil Station, 잠실역) means you can view the underground map as well, to see the shops, restaurants, etc. located underground in the station area. Of course, the major problem with Naver Maps for tourists is that it's all in Korean.

Daum Maps, medium zoom

Daum Maps always seems brighter, more colorful, and fun to look at, while showing more details, but for some reason I tend to find it a bit cluttered. The wavy water is a cute touch, but distracting. Of course the LotteWorld complex itself is more clearly noted here. Can't say I'm a fan of those advertisements at the bottom, or those that appear on the map itself. Again, all in Korean.

Google Maps, medium zoom

Google Maps is probably the most likely for international visitors to use (and, interestingly, for Koreans to use abroad, as I recall Sunny [yes that Sunny] showing Seo-Jin-hyung to do while in Taiwan on 꽃보다 할배). Some English is here, such as the subway station, roadway names, and Western-brand locations. The big thing here is that, at this zoom level, LotteWorld isn't even mentioned. The magic island looks like simply a giant flower-shaped protrusion of parkland into Seokchon Lake, with a large nondescript building next to it. That could be problematic.

Bing Maps, medium zoom
Now get ready to have your mind blown. Check out Bing Maps at this location. Like a baller, Bing shows not only all the important local attractions, but does so in English! Everything! With cute icons indicating what kind of places they are! And a note (in Korean) about the coming opening of Lotte World Tower. To the casual foreign tourist, who may not read hangul that well, Bing would seem to be the best choice. 


This post is a bit image-heavy, so please click the link below to continue reading:

Test 2 - Medium Zoom, Satellite/aerial View

Naver Maps, satellite view

Switching to satellite/aerial view, we get a bright and detailed image of the area on Naver, but of course, everything in Korean still. Don't be fooled by that "LOTTE WORLD" label; that label is not part of the map, but massive lettering on the roof itself. I quite like the little touch of "slant" in the angle of this image, for a better idea of perspective.

Daum Maps, satellite view

In some way, I feel that Daum's aerial views look more like actual overhead photographs, though I'm not sure if that makes it better or worse. Accurate, but feels harder to "read." Quite similar to Naver, once I "X"ed out those annoying overlaid adverts. One interesting detail you may notice here is the progression on the Lotte World Tower. Daum's imagery here seems to be a bit more recent; only the foundations are visible in the Naver imagery, but the tower is half complete here in the Daum imagery.

Google Maps, satellite view

After the colorfulness of the previous two, Google's imagery looks grey and washed-out. I wonder if this imagery was taken on a polluted day, or if the others digitally filtered out such haze. No English is present here. However, now we see a completed view of that Lotte World Tower. That thing really dominates the area. That would indicate this imagery is indeed the most recent of all, so it's strange that the quality should be so low (more on that below).

Bing Maps, satellite view

Meanwhile on Bing, we get fairly decent imagery, including some Korean names for attractions, but most are in English! Again, Bing seems to be the best option for English-speakers, with it's English labels and better image quality. 

Test 3 - Close Zoom, Satellite/aerial view

Now I want to move just to the southwest of the main LotteWorld complex, to the 잠실레이크팰리스아파트 apartment complex. I assume 레이크팰리스 here is "Lake Palace" and not, as my mind refused to disbelieve, a Rake Palace -- though, given the amount of money one presumably would need to live in this location, it's not entirely unlikely that many a fashionable or wealthy man of dissolute or promiscuous habits do indeed inhabit it.

But I digress. I want to move our view over here to demonstrate some other differences between the mapping services, as it's in these smaller local areas, and at maximum zoom, that they can be greatest. I'll focus our view on that nice-looking roundabout. Let's take a look.

Naver Maps, satellite view

The Naver image is decent and bright, but a bit blurry. Based on the plant growth I'd assume springtime. The tilt in our viewing angle is quite nice, again, for perspective. 

Daum Maps, satellite view

The Daum imagery here seems the most clear. Full-growth trees-- summer? Tiny details like car types, parking spaces, and even some playground equipment are visible. 

Google Maps, satellite view

The roundabout is fairly obscured by the buildings here in the Google imagery, which the Naver imagery managed to capture despite also utilizing the slightly angled view. We can see the building numbers, but strangely, the school is not identified here. Overall, not a great sight.

Bing Maps, satellite view

Bing's imagery is a bit blurry, but noticeably better than Google's. It also labels this school in English. This, overall, is the most surprising part about Bing: just how many little details, like this community school, are displayed in English. 

Test 4 - Close Zoom, Map view

We reach the penultimate stop on our tour. Here are the same views of the apartment complex above, but switched to the normal map view. I find this part most intriguing.

Naver Maps, default view

Naver often shows many details at this zoom level, and here is a good example. We learn a lot in this imagery:

  • the number of apartments in the complex (2,678)
  • the building numbers (for example, 123동)
  • the size of the apartments in that building (112.4 square meters, or 34 pyeong
  • the height of the building (the left half is 26 floors, the right half 23*) 
  • the orientation of the apartment numbers (those ending in a "1" will be on the right, through to "4" on the left) 

*An odd construction indeed but the height difference is visible when you look back at the aerial map views.

With all this detail, I can confidently say, without ever having visited this place, that in that building it's likely that apartment 2301호 has the best view of LotteWorld, which they can enjoy from their 34평 space. This is actually a fantastic way to be better informed during real estate hunting, or to familiarize yourself with the location/layout of the home of someone you're stalking visiting for the first time.

Daum Maps, default view

Daum includes the potentially useful detail of showing walkways along with larger roads, but sticks to showing only building numbers. 

Google Maps, default view

Google is going for a minimalist look. Only main roads are shown. What happened to our roundabout? The road layout here makes its existence a bit unclear, in reality, judging from streetview imagery [can't seem to direct-link to streetview], it's not actually meant for cars but for cycles/pedestrians. Perhaps this view then is more appropriate for motorists.    

Bing Maps, default view

Bing, interestingly, includes the same details about the apartments in the complex that Naver displayed: size, layout, etc. It also continues to identify the school in English. It too leaves out the roundabout, but like Google, includes other walking/cycling paths alongside the roadways. 

Test 5 - Traffic Conditions

Finally, we arrive at our last stop. Most online mapping services provide real-time traffic conditions. Let's see how the four mapping services compare in showing the current traffic conditions around Lotte World at 10:40pm on a Wednesday night. 

Naver Maps, traffic conditions

Traffic looks good on Naver in green along most streets, some yellow, bit of red along Songpa Boulevard but that's to be expected 24/7.  

Daum Maps, traffic conditions

Pretty similar view of traffic over on Daum.

Google Maps, "traffic" view?

Whoops. There's no option for viewing traffic conditions in Google. "Traffic view isn't available in this region" it says in the Android app. Well surely that's just because Google's foreign and all...

Bing Maps, traffic conditions

Oh, it seems Bing shows current traffic conditions too. Looks to match-up with the Korean services pretty well. 

To Bing or Not to Bing? 

By this point, it may seem that I've become a big Bing fanboy. But there are a couple of caveats regarding using Bing in Korea.

Issue 1: Lack of a dedicated app (and therefore lack of offline support)

Google has it's own Maps app with offline support (as does the Naver Maps app). Offline support is likely important for tourists and travelers. The Bing app, meanwhile, is simply a frame for the Bing Maps mobile site [here but the site auto-adjusts to your screensize], which might limit Bing's utility. A tourist would need wifi/data usage to get the most out of it.

But regardless, the sheer amount of English labels here is astounding. If you still don't believe me, take a look at this:

Bing Maps view of Gokseong, Jeollado, South Korea

This is Geokseong, a small little city in the middle of rural Jeolla province. Look at that map. Daily Sports Park!? Cooking Science High School!? Folk Village Conservation Association!?  This map is overflowing with English translations of even the tiniest places in the tiniest of towns. Who on Earth would ever be like "Hmm, I'm a foreigner who speaks no Korean, and I need to visit the Farm Products Agricultural Products Union in rural Jeollado"? Likely no one, and yet the information is there, in the Queen's English, for all to rely on.

Look at the same spot on Google. I won't even show it here. You know what it looks like already. Yes, that's right, not a drop of English.

This is great, right? Bing is clearly the victor here, right? Well, not so fast.

Issue 2: Troublsome search response

The second caveat is Bing's troublesome search response. Take a look at that map above again. "Jeonnam Cooking Science High School" -- try to find that by searching its name. You won't find it, in English, in any of the four mapping services. Even Bing itself doesn't know it [careful: it recommends a listing but that listing is a totally different place]. Now try searching for its Korean name: 전남조리과학고등학교. Try it on Naver, on Daum, on Google. All 3 know it. Bing? Nope. I cannot find a single search query that will bring up this result, among any variation in English or Korean, on Bing. Yet we clearly see it on the map. What's going on here?

The vast and wonderful English labeling on Bing's maps is great for casual exploring. But the amount of English search locations Bing recognizes is drastically less than the amount of English language name labels featured on its maps. Just because they show-up on the map doesn't mean they'll show up when you search for them.

Tourists and visitors should be aware of this limitation. A search for "Lotte Duty Free" on Bing returns nothing. Even searching the Korean 롯데면세점, at time of writing, returns nothing. Google, meanwhile, understands both queries.

Final Thoughts - Bing Ding Dong*

If you can read Korean, use Naver Maps.

I do, and my Korean language skill is pretty damn basic. It will find anything you search for, and provide a wide variety of public transport route/method options, and simply cannot be compared with Google's paltry listings. Full disclosure, I try all the time to use Google Maps first (let me love you damnit!), but always end up closing it and opening the Naver Maps app. The listings and imagery are just not there yet.

That may not necessarily be their fault: see [here] or [here]. In short: to provide greater imagery and accuracy, they would need to 'process' data in their servers internationally, but Korean law limits mapping tech to within its borders. Thus Microsoft
set out to find the best quality map data available and chose to partner with SK Planet as our maps provider. South Korea is a complex market with specific rules around the use of map data, so we had to get really creative in our implementation [Bing Blogs].

Despite the limitations, Bing Maps have really come a long way, especially in imagery. A few years ago, back in 2013, here is what Bing displayed on Facebook on the left. They were using map data so old, Yeongjongdo island hadn't been consolidated yet (when in fact, of course, it had been so for many years).

Bing imagery of Yeongjongdo Island, as seen on Facebook and on Bing proper

So, our journey closes. I'll keep my eye on Bing for more improvements. Keep it in your mapping arsenal, and if you're interested in this sort of thing (and if you read to this point, by God you are), I highly recommend this excellent post, exploring how and why Google offers different imagery depending on whether you're using their .com or domain:

By limiting the maximum resolution of its Korean imagery on, Google appears to have satisfied Korean regulators that it is obeying the relevant Korean laws. Thus, Google avoids having to blur or otherwise censor the satellite imagery base layer for Korea — something which it has successfully managed to avoid in China, India and elsewhere. [Ogle Earth]

* Yes, that was a Shinee reference. It's late. Please forgive me. 

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