4 Ways Apple Could Improve the Maps App

Several reports and rumors have speculated that Apple is looking to dramatically revamp the default maps app. When the iPhone first launched, this app was perhaps the single best mode of finding where you were going on any device. It looked great, was extremely intuitive and had plenty of features. Unfortunately, though it has made a little progress in years since, it is definitely no longer the mapping pinnacle that it once was.

Today we’re going to toss around some ideas and suggestions for potential areas of weakness that Apple could benefit from updating.

Better Traffic

The first place that you can expect to see Apple focusing on is traffic. Why? Because they recently came out and said that they are doing just that. The recent scandal that revealed that iPhones track their users’ every move brought to light a sneak peek into Apple’s intentions for the future. Gigaom.com writes of Apple, “The company revealed it’s collecting traffic data from devices, too, in order to build ‘an improved traffic service’ for iPhone users.”

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The current, lackluster traffic feature

The Maps application does in fact currently have traffic data built in, but the functionality is really at a bare minimum. I expect to see much more robust and accurate traffic reporting in upcoming iOS releases, likely powered at least in part by users.

Beyond this, I honestly have no clue what Apple has up their sleeve in this area. Perhaps we’ll see a feature that allows you to choose the quickest route to a given location in light of traffic conditions.

Voice-Guided Turn-By-Turn Navigation

The default Maps application does have a feature to guide you through a trip turn-by-turn, but it’s fairly manual and really not that great at all compared to what we see from many third-party applications.

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iPhone default turn-by-turn directiosn

In fact, the iPhone’s technology is good enough that it can function quite well as a voice-guided GPS system similar to what you see in a stand-alone Garmin or TomTom device. If you’re an attentive and responsible driver, the last thing you want to be doing on a trip is constantly glancing at your phone. Automated vocal directions are therefore far superior, more convenient and safer than the current Maps system.

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The Garmin StreetPilot GPS App

Improved Local Search

One of the primary places that I think the iPhone Maps application falls short is in the area of local search. You can’t get around the fact that just about every location app in the App Store is doing this better than Apple right now.

All you really have in the default Maps application is the search bar. No quick filters, generic listings or any sort of quick way to just get a glimpse of what’s around a specific location.

Recently we reviewed MapQuest for Mobile, a shockingly good free alternative to the default maps app. Not only does this app have free voice-guided directions as per my previous suggestion, it also has a really nice local search feature that allows you to simply tap an icon to see certain business types in the area around you.

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Tap an icon to quickly view a category of businesses

This is just one of many apps in the App Store that are lightyears past the Maps app with local search. Also check out Localscope, Yelp and Google Places for other awesome options.

Route Control

The final area that I think Apple really needs to improve upon is route control (I hinted at this in the traffic section). It used to be the case that Google maps really didn’t provide many routing options, but these days you have complete control over customizing your trip from A to B. Simply click and drag on your route in the web interface to define your preferred roads.

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Customizing a route on Google Maps

On the iPhone Maps app, you’re pretty much stuck with what you get. Sure, you can drop a pin on a specific point and get directions from there, but this is definitely a work around and isn’t really intended as a route-customization device.

The ideal solution would allow you to directly customize your route as in the Google Maps online interface or at the very least present you with a few different options to choose from. It would also be nice to be able to add in destinations to stop at along the way.

Conclusion

As with all of the default iPhone apps, the Maps application is a fairly generic tool that gets the job done, but is definitely not the best solution available. If Apple is indeed looking to drastically improve the default maps experience, they have plenty of obvious areas to focus on, the above three representing only a few of many possibilities.

Hopefully some time soon we’ll see a much better maps app that will once again be good enough to call the best way to get where you’re going!


  • Les

    I just started playing with City Maps while it’s in beta testing…it’s fantastic and i know they are coming out with an iphone app for it as well. Sign up for the beta and check it out! It’s the coolest thing i have ever used…very different from other mapping applications.

  • http://www.wendtswelt.de/ André Wendt

    +1 for route control. That’s something I’m really missing, especially in a big city like Berlin.