Earlier this summer, Apple announced a number of changes to its Maps application as part of an upcoming update to iOS 13. Now that the new operating system is finally out, the tech giant is beginning to roll out those changes in the US. It started with California and Texas and as of this week already includes the Northeast US.
Some of the new features are on par with Google Maps, while others are still lagging behind. For example, Apple Maps offers detailed transit directions in only 10 cities, which, while incredibly useful, pales in comparison to Google, which has transit directions to thousands of cities and cities around the world. There's a new feature called "Look around" that lets you know ̵
Another new feature lets you share your ETA in real time with friends. And now it's easier to group your favorite places and frequently visited places together. There is also an emphasis on privacy: Apple uses machine learning to blur the faces of passers-by and license plates and even their reflections.
However, let's put aside the obvious comparisons and talk about aesthetics. The new Apple Maps just look a lot better. The first thing you notice is the greenery. Before, white beige was replaced by a map that was more topographical and environmentally accurate. Buildings have more depth and detail, and the images in Look Around feature fresh, high-resolution features that look more lifelike.
Apple first launched its Maps app in September 2012 as a replacement for Google Maps, which are standard on the iPhone since its debut in 2007. But problems came to light almost immediately, with many users quickly discovering that Apple Maps lacks many of the details of Google Maps. Transit directions were incomplete, landmarks were misspelled, and the Flyover feature of the app showed highly distorted images. Against the backdrop of a messed up startup, at least one manager was fired.
The big redesign started slowly in 2018 when Apple rolled out an updated, data-rich part of its iOS 12. Maps looked significantly better, but they covered only 3.1 percent of the US focused on Northern California. (The plant was announced as an accent last year as well.)
With iOS 13, Apple continues to buy past bugs and does so by reinvesting in the infrastructure needed to perform an exclusive mapping service. Apple uses hundreds of cars and planes with LIDAR cameras and sensors to collect data, traveling 4 million miles and adding hundreds more every day.
Aerial imagery, in particular, was helpful in restoring the app's previous Flyover feature, which provides an AR-style, bird's-eye view of major cities. Apple hopes to eventually bring Flyover to 350 cities around the world.
Real-time transit information is a nice addition, including live departure times, interruptions and cancellations of public transit systems such as MTA, Amtrak, ferries and more. But Apple will need to step up its transit integration if it wants to stay competitive – not only with Google but also with Uber and Lyft, which have made great progress in recent months to add transit details to their respective applications.
Apple Maps will now give more natural sound, thanks to Siri. Instead of saying, "Turn 1,000 feet to the left," Siri says, "turn left at the next traffic light." These new natural language guidelines are available in New York today, September 30. Internal maps for 500 airports and malls are also available.
The early days are still for Apple Maps, but the product certainly looks much better. Of course, if Apple wants to convince consumers to switch from Google or Waze, all they have to do is pick up the pace and finish mapping the rest of the world. Then we will have a real battle with the cards on our hands.