Hidden Features Of iOS 6 Maps App


It is well known that iOS 6 Maps app comes with new features such as 3D Flyover and the much needed turn-by-turn voice navigation that was not available in the iOS 5.x Maps app.

iOS 6 Maps app offers two more features that are not so well known.

Significantly Less Data Usage:

Apple’s Maps app uses vector graphics to draw the standard view, whereas the iOS 5.x Maps app powered by Google’s mapping data uses rasterized graphics. Charles Arthur of The Guardian explains the difference:

The key difference between raster and vector graphics is that raster graphics are a fixed-frame set – essentially, a picture – whereas vector graphics are files where the images they encode can be scaled up or down without requiring any extra data. There is a cost in terms of CPU to using vector graphics – but the big advantage is that you don’t have to download any extra data once you have the tile.

While we knew that this would make the iOS 6 Maps app more data efficient than the Maps app powered by Google’s mapping data, we were not sure by how much. According to a report by Onavo –  data compression and analytics firm who carried out side-by-side comparison tests, Apple Maps is up to five times more data efficient than Google Maps or uses up to 80% less data than Google Maps.

Our data experts performed an identical series of activities on Google Maps and Apple Maps that included searching for several US cities, addresses and airports and zooming in and out to locate specific locations. On Google Maps, the average data loaded from the cellular network for each step was 1.3MB. Apple Maps came in at 271KB – that’s approximately 80% less data! On some actions, such as zooming in to see a particular intersection, Apple Maps’ efficiency advantage edged close to 7X. [..]

[..] it seems that even in Satellite View, Apple has considered data usage. Our tests found Apple Maps uses only half as much data as Google Maps for the same Satellite searches and views (an average of 930KB for a single page load on Google Maps vs. 428KB for Apple Maps).

So if you’re a heavy maps user then this could have a significant impact on your data usage.  The lesser data also seems to improve the load and rendering times as Apple Maps feels much faster and smoother than the older Maps app.

Offline Maps:

iOS 6 Maps app also caches a much larger area for offline browsing. With iOS 5.x Maps app one could only browse about a 10 mile radius when offline, but in case of the iOS 6 Maps app, AppleInsider reports:

Apple’s new vector maps, once loaded in San Francisco, allowed us to browse an entire continent of high level maps (state outlines) while offline, north from Anchorage, Alaska to Lima, Peru and from Honolulu, Hawaii to Montréal, Canada.

At a highway level detail, we could actually navigate most of California, and on a simplified level, the western half of the United States. There were detailed street-level maps available of areas we’d never even looked at while online, as far away as Salt Lake City, Utah (about 740 miles or 1200 km east). Thanks to vectors, you can even view these offline maps in 3D perspective.

While users have criticized Apple for the new Maps app, it is important to note that features like vector graphics, turn-by-turn navigation have been available on Google Maps for Android for the last two years, but did not make their way to iOS, as Google considered the features as a competitive advantage for Android, which was the reason Apple was forced to launch its own mapping solution.