Apple finally made the switch to its in-house mapping service in iOS 6, replacing Google’s database that powered earlier versions of the Maps app. The app, and by consequence Apple’s back end, is one of the biggest new features of iOS 6.
The transition from Google’s backend to Apple’s own has been long in the making, at least three years if you count since Apple’s first mapping related acquisition, Placebase.
So how is Apple’s end product, that took three years, fifteen partnerships and three acquisitions to build? Read on.
Apple’s rewritten Maps app doesn’t display static images served from a machine somewhere in the cloud like the earlier version, instead it receives vector data and renders it in real time as you pan or zoom maps. This, as you might have guessed, is not only much lighter on the network, but also much faster, since it avoids fetching a new set of images for every zoom level.
Not just the back end, but even the Maps app interface has changed right from the icon to the color scheme. The toolbar at the bottom has now been replaced by two buttons on the left, one for the compass and one for switching to the 3D view. There’s also a curled page indicator, which when tapped reveals a menu to print, show traffic, drop a pin and switch the imagery type. The menu also features a rather large TomTom logo, perhaps indicated the amount of data Apple’s borrowing from them.
(Image via SAI)
Another new feature in the maps app is turn-by-turn navigation. This is a major missing feature in present iOS versions, which Apple will finally be addressing with the iOS 6 upgrade. Once you’re done putting in your start and end points, you would be presented with all viable routes from which you can select one, and tap the start button to receive turn-by-turn navigation. The voice instructions are given by Siri, but it’s an iPhone 4S only feature, which is as strange as the iPhone 3GS not getting offline Reading list support.
To make up for the lack of Google’s huge places database, Apple has partnered with Yelp to show reviews and photos of locations right within the maps app.
Another key feature of the new Maps app is “Flyover,” a 3D, fully interactive, view of major locations around the globe. The view comes up when the 3D button at the bottom left corner of the screen is tapped. You can manipulate viewing angles via touch gestures like zooming, panning and rotating, and the app responds appropriately. Google will be offering a similar feature in their upcoming Google Maps app for iOS devices, and it’ll be interesting to see which of these would trump the other (assuming Apple approves Google’s app).
You also get real-time traffic information, which is used to calculate the ETA to the destination. The effectiveness of this feature would of course be dependent on the active input of iOS 6 users.
Though Apple shipped the new Maps app with turn-by-turn navigation, they miss out on an important feature many people tend to rely on — transit directions. Apple’s relying on third party developers for that:
When building Maps, we looked around and realized the best transit apps for metros, for hiking, for biking, are coming from our developers. And so instead of trying to develop those ourselves, we are going to integrate and feature and promote your apps for transit right within the Maps app in iOS 6.
Apple’s map solution also doesn’t have the Street view feature, which is one of the popular features of the current Maps app.
Flyover and turn-by-turn navigation will be available only on iPhone 4S and iPad 2 or later.
Here’s a video walkthrough of the new Maps app on the iPhone and the iPad shot by the folks at Apple n Apps:
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