Apple's path to a home-brewed mapping solution has been long and dangerous, but it's almost come.
12 years ago, iPhone launched with Google running its pre-installed navigation software; Five years later, the astounding debut of Apple's own Maps app led to the launch of a key exercise from Apple; Apple Maps has improved steadily over the years, but apparently the biggest weakness is that it has never really included Apple's own maps. The app is Apple, but the maps have always come from other sources.
Last year, Apple announced an upcoming change that had been years in the works: The maps would soon contain the company's own maps, and they would be transformative. The new maps began rolling out in the US last fall with iOS 1
The timing of the spread of the first batch of map data gives the Apple Maps app a major upgrade on iOS 13, which represents the company's biggest push to overtake Google Maps as the world's most reliable, go-to mapping service. Apple Maps in iOS 13 represents – if you're in the US at least – Apple's cleanest vision to date for a modern mapping service. Here's everything it gives.
The hallmark of iOS 13's Maps is Look Around, which acts as a direct competitor to Google's popular Street View. It allows you to see and move through a 3D representation of the world from the perspective of a car on the road. Google launched Street View over 12 years ago, so Apple is ridiculous for the Look Around game, but it aims to atone for the delay by offering a more modern and elegant experience than Google.
Look available is available where available by touching the binoculars icon in the upper right corner of the screen. This loads a significant thumbnail view of the site you selected, which can be expanded to full screen with a tap.
When Look Around is enabled, you can move around the map in a few different ways. Touching and dragging on the map view, not the Look Around preview itself, basically touches the binoculars icon on the map, which you can navigate by moving your finger; Each time you pick up and release your binoculars, a nice touch of haptic feedback triggers. The binoculars icon on the map represents a car driving on the road, so if you drop it in, for example, a field, it will automatically move to the nearest road and display the correct Look Around preview there. When the binoculars are in place, they emit a light beam from the front that represents the current field of view – a smart parallel to the car's headlight.
In addition to direct map-based interactions, you can adjust your Look Around view by also tapping and panning around in the Look Around preview; You will see the binoculars icon on the map following your movement in Look Around. In addition to just scanning the surroundings, you can also move places in Look Around by tapping anywhere in the view. No matter what location you press, you will immediately start moving towards. The smoothness with which this movement works is one area that Look Around really shines on.
Unlike the stuttering, distorted experience Street View provides, as you move through Look Around, it feels like driving in an actual car, including high-quality views of the world around you. The difference is undeniable.
The video above shows how the car-like experience of Look Around is not only limited to just speeding on the road, it also applies when navigating to specific points of interest. Touching & # 39; See & # 39; s Candies & # 39 ;, a business in Saratoga, California, not only moves your view of that place, but the camera even panics from the road to the destination right when you arrive. Here's another example, which shows Look Around navigating into a McDonald's car park.
When you look at Full Screen, the Map module panel contains the address you are looking at with sharing and expense reporting buttons as usual, but it also contains options to hide or show labels, and my personal favorite feature: a date that informs you about exactly when the photos you last saw were updated. When exploring a new place through your device in advance of a potential visit there, it can be very helpful to know where the photos are.
I've loved exploring the world with Look Around, it's a monumental addition to Apple Maps. Unfortunately, it is also the one feature of Maps & # 39; iOS 13 update that requires Apple's first-party map, making it exclusive to areas where the new maps are available. Anyone outside the restricted space can still try out the new feature by browsing through specific locations in the United States.
Redesigned Navigation Panel
Outside of Look Around, some of the biggest changes to the new Maps app lie in an improved navigation panel. Favorites have been renewed and made more accessible, while a new collection feature makes it easy to save groups of places to visit later.
In earlier versions of maps, places you marked as favorites were more distinct on the map, accompanied by a small heart icon, but access to your favorites list was often buried in the navigation panel, usually at the bottom of the panel or hidden in a submenu. It seemed like a strange UI decision for places you designated as important to keep one of the least prominent places on the panel. In iOS 13, the problem is solved, and favorites now live where they belong: in a row near the very top of the panel.
While favorites used to be a feature of saving a place you might want to remember later, it is primarily focused on providing quick navigation to places you visit regularly. For this reason, Home and Work favorites are built in by default, so directions to these two important places are just a click away. You can technically still mark any place as a favorite, but the primary user interface for viewing favorites – a single horizontal scrolling row – encourages being selective with your choices. Navigating to a location regularly makes it a perfect candidate for favoritism.
You can add a new favorite, just as before, by looking at the detail screen and pressing the Add Favorites button, which is near the bottom. Alternatively, there is also an "Add" button located just inside the favorite row on the top level of the navigation panel; tap it, you'll see Siri suggestions for places you might like and the opportunity to search for a place, and then press the + button next to the correct search result.
A compelling new feature in favorites is called Del ETA. With each favorite you save, you can configure automatic ETA sharing that will start when you start driving or navigate to that favorite. For example, if you set up ETA sharing for your home with your partner, they will receive a notification every time you navigate there. This notification includes your current ETA, and the recipient can open it to see your current location, the route you are going to take, and a live ETA update inside Maps. You can share ETA automatically with multiple people per favorite location, although only iOS 13 users will receive full notification and Maps app experience; Non-iOS 13 users will instead receive a text containing ETA. Automatic ETA sharing is configured by tapping & # 39; See all & # 39; over the favorite line, and then turn & # 39; i & # 39; button next to a favorite.
Finally, I want to mention the visual features of the favorite series. The favorite location is represented by an icon and a color corresponding to their location type. Home and work have house and suitcase icons in blue and brown, respectively, while restaurants will display a fork and knife on an orange background, close a martini glass in purple, park a tree in brown, and so on. Another important visual detail about favorites is that they show each distance from them, or the time it will take to navigate to them. This further enhances the favorites' design purpose: Apple intends to use them in frequently visited places. If you just want to mark a place to keep in mind later, this is where the collections light up.
Collections are groups of places that you can save for later access. As favorites, they have the advantage of being more clearly displayed on the map, so they are easy to see at a glance, but they also offer a lot of flexibility you won't find with favorites. A collection is basically just a list of places, so it can serve any purpose you need it. You can use collections to plan upcoming vacations, keep track of all the places you want to visit on the trip; You can also have collections dedicated to exciting coffee shops, potential nightlife or restaurants that have been recommended to you. Each collection can have a name and even custom photo sets of you, so you can really make it your own.
I moved to Manhattan last year, and while in the past I have used favorites as a way to identify different restaurants, parks and shops to explore in the city. The maps gave no way to organize the favorites further, so I ended up saving those places in Apple Notes as well, where I could sort them into different categories. However, in iOS 13, there is no need for an Apple Notes supplement – I've been able to set up different collections for different parts of New York City, so the next time I'm in Brooklyn, Chelsea or the Upper West Side, I can check out the collections dedicated to these neighborhoods and find a number of saved places that are worth visiting. Because my wife and I love coffee shop dates, I have a dedicated coffee collection that contains various places we will try in the future; All of these stores are stored in dedicated neighborhood collections, but there is the benefit of collection flexibility: sometimes I want to look for locations by geographic area and sometimes I just browse through places to get coffee – collections allow me to do both.  All location listings in the new Maps app have a & # 39; Add … & # 39; button near the top, which you can tap to add that location to a new or existing collection; If a place already belongs to one or more collections, it will display it on the listing. You can also add locations to a collection by visiting the collection, pressing the + button in the bottom right, and searching for locations from there.
More than a personal reference source, collections can also be shared in iOS 13. If you tap the share icon when viewing a collection, or swipe left on the collection listing and hit & # 39; Share & # 39;, an iCloud link is created that both Apple and non-Apple users can access. On an Apple device, it will open in the Maps app, displaying the list of aggregated places along with a blue & # 39; Add Collections & # 39; button, so those you share with can store your collection with one tap. Non-Apple users will be directed to Maps & # 39; s web interface, where they can view the entire collection, but will not be able to store it for themselves since they do not have an iCloud account. Whether or not you share it with Apple users is not in any case a shared collaboration. When a collection is shared, it becomes static at that time, and any future changes you make will not be shared with others, and those who have added the collection to their own app also cannot make changes that are shared with you. This is an unfortunate limitation, as fully collaborative collections would be a powerful feature, but it may be an improvement for iOS 14.
I wouldn't say much about the new Apple-built maps, and instead largely refer you to Matthew Panzarino's exclusive project story about the project and Justin O. & # 39; Beirne's depth comparison of the old and new maps of Northern California. These two articles combined, provide tremendous insight and details on what's new about Apple's map.
I haven't been able to try out the new maps in my home in New York City, but after spending considerable time digitally crossing the US west coast, here's my one-sentence summary of Apple's internal maps: they feel a lot more like the real world than anything that came beforehand, knocking out both Apple's previous maps and even Google's.
Personally, I have always preferred the presentation of Apple's map over Google's. I have found them easier on the eyes, easier to compare with the world around me, and overall more comfortable to use. That's more true than ever with the new Apple-designed maps. There are now more green spaces and visual details for things like beaches, baseball fields, parking lots and much more. All this makes it easier to understand the context of your surroundings.
It is certainly an argument that can be made for a simpler, more down-to-earth map that prioritizes roads and activities above all else, making it easier to see these elements to neglect a view of life. Each person's preferences may vary here. But for me, I love the path Apple goes here.
One of Apple's promises for the new maps is that they will be more accurate. Again, I have not been able to test the claim, nor will my tests in a city in the world be sufficient. Whether the promise is correct or not, a change that is certainly a net positive, Apple's newfound ability to make data changes itself, without having to go through a third-party vendor. When reporting inaccuracies, either by users or through the device probe systems Apple trusts, these problems can be resolved quickly and efficiently on-site by the Apple team.
What I've seen in California makes me extremely anxious. for the new Apple-generated maps coming to my home. The good news is that the end of 2019 will be here shortly; The bad news is that the wait time for anyone outside the United States can prove to be painfully long.
All the Rest
Real-time transit. Transfer data in Apple Maps is much better with iOS 13, because it is provided in real time. Although it is unclear whether real-time transit will be limited to specific areas only, or whether all existing transit-supported locations will have it, I have used the beta version for almost two months now in New York City, and it has been great. When I start navigating somewhere, I can see exactly how long it will take before the next several trains or buses arrive. Viewing a particular train station in Maps shows the complete list of uptown and downtown trains, their normal schedule and when the next trains are coming; tapping on a train shows the entire route, all scheduled departures for the rest of the day, and the exact times for each of the respective trains are scheduled to arrive at each station on the route. Real-time transit support has eliminated my need for other transit-focused apps, as Apple Maps does everything I want.
Flight status information. Maps now offers a few features related to flights. Using Siri intelligence, the app can detect flight information from Mail, Wallet and Calendar and view relevant data such as departure times, terminal and port locations, and even updates for flight delays and cancellations.
Natural guidance from Siri. Along with the more natural speaking voice Siri gets in iOS 13, Siri will use more natural, human-like vocabulary when she gives directions to Maps. For example, instead of saying "In 500 feet turn right," as a human would never say, Siri would instead say, "Turn right at the next traffic light."
ETA sharing for non-favorites. In addition to the automatic ETA sharing available with favorites, Maps also allows ETA to be shared per turn. Unfortunately, this option is only available for Drive navigation, not for walking, transporting or riding. After starting a Drive route, you will see a button in the bottom panel to share ETA with others.
Many users, including me, have been relying on Apple Maps for many years. But for many believers from Google Maps, who may be wondering if Apple has closed the gap enough in iOS 13 to deserve a switch, the following list of Google features remains particularly absent from Apple Maps.
Offline maps. Google enables map download for certain areas on-demand, and Apple does not. Any offline caching Apple Maps can perform is completely invisible to users.
Timeline. Some consider Google Maps & # 39; timeline as an invaluable story of where they have been, while for others it is an eerie reminder of technology's toll on privacy; the latter user group will not be surprised to find that the privacy-centric Apple Maps does not feature such a feature.
Popular Times. Google uses its extensive data to determine which times of day a place is occupied or not. This feature, called & # 39; Popular Times & # 39;, is absent from Apple Maps, which still relies on Yelp for business information.
AR mode. Although the rollout has been slow since it was announced on Google I / O 2018, Google Maps provides an augmented reality mode on certain walkway devices. We may not see a similar feature in Apple Maps until the company's long reputation for AR glasses debuts, but with Look Around and an increasingly powerful ARKit, the chips are all there for Apple to do something special about AR.
Events. Google Maps can keep you informed of all the interesting things in your area with the event feature. Apple offers nothing similar.
Apple Maps in iOS 13 is the biggest step forward the app has ever taken. With new and greatly improved maps, Look Around, collections, relocated favorites and more, a tremendous amount of progress has been made in raising Maps to new heights. It is now a more legitimate Google Maps alternative than ever before.
That being said, due to the huge amount of work required to accurately map the entire world, Apple Maps of iOS 13 is fragmented for different geographical areas. While the new Apple-designed maps and Look Around have been promised to the entire United States before 2019 are over, it's unclear what availability will be this fall when iOS 13 first launches. And if you are outside the United States, it may be a long, slow way before you enjoy this development. Look around and the new maps, and what you have left in iOS 13, is an app that is still significantly improved, but probably not enough to tempt you away from Google.
If it was just as quick and relatively easy to build a map a process as adding features to Notes, Safari or Files, Apple would undoubtedly have a better story to tell for iOS 13 users outside the United States. Alas, some things take more time.
Whether you get the full new map experience, or you're limited to just a few iOS 13 features like collections and ETA sharing, this is still the biggest map update since iOS 10. Throughout its lifetime, maps have been the recipient of small, iterative improvements over a long time. Perhaps now that Apple owns the entire pile of mapping data, it may begin to compete on its own terms and change the common perception that Apple Maps is second class to Google.