The designers of Apple Maps guided us through the latest update
Apple Maps first launched in 2012 and became the default mapping app on iPhones everywhere. Its first incarnation was not so well received by everyone, and since then Apple has been rolling out stable updates for years to get it on the right track. Now, Apple has rolled out a brand new Maps – a 3D experience with significant amounts of visual detail, improved accuracy, and many quality-of-life upgrades.
To unpack the latest Apple Maps innovations you should know about, CNN Underscored spoke privately with David Dorn, product lead, and Meg Frost, design lead, at Apple Maps. From 3D buildings in cities to clearer navigation instructions, here’s everything you need to know.
Brand new interface for better navigation and accessibility
Apple takes a 3D approach with the map starting in a global view and extending to city streets. And whether you’re navigating the suburban roads of New Jersey, crossing the George Washington Bridge to the Bronx, or perhaps taking a cross-country road trip along 66th Street, it’s reflected throughout. As Dorn and Frost explained, these newer elements – buildings, precise linetypes, and climate-appropriate trees – are placed on the map.
“Before the new map, we had a two-dimensional product and we actually had a flat image of the world. So we took the opportunity to create a realistic globe that accurately represents the size of the countries in 3D,” said Frost.
Watching on Apple devices with a larger screen has additional perks, with new capabilities like discovery or educational tasks on a single screen. iPad. You can split the screen and take screenshots to create a virtual tour or follow the instructions for some cities. One standout feature is the Overpass; for selected landmarks, like the Freedom Tower in NYC or the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, you can get a virtual tour of the place. It’s reminiscent of Google Earth in this mode.
There’s a night view converted to 3D, and Apple’s design team took the time to customize the 3D builds with lights to get a starry night view. It looks great on a iPad Pro 12.9 inch.
So what’s new with this 3D approach to a precise map? Well, it’s really about the details. When navigating somewhere on your iPhone, you’ll notice that you’ll see clearer details about the lanes on a road. Lanes are accurately described – with road markings – and intersections show pedestrian crossings. Not only does it help with accessibility since you’ll know those elements are there, but it extends to knowing which lane you need and how to get there properly. Even with the leaner, you’ll find the right pitch when navigating complex highways that feature aboveground elevation roads with intersecting flyovers.
It’s been on the iPhone for car, bike, walking, and public transit navigation since iOS 15 launched in September, but now this updated interface is finally coming to CarPlay. New environmental elements, along with detailed route information, make for an easier navigation experience with – hopefully – less wrong turns or yelling at GPS.
“At a glance, drivers can understand a complex intersection faster than ever before,” says Frost. “And that detail helps in the snap decision they are going to make. So we wanted it to be safer and visually satisfying to navigate. ”
Detailed landmarks to use for educational purposes – or just for fun
Arguably, the biggest feature of the new Maps is what Apple calls landmarks, in addition to the updated look and feel of streets and trees — yes, trees. While we didn’t talk about this on this call, many people talked about Apple adding trees with precise climates and environments to the map. It’s a good approach and a step up from other mapping services.
But the real story is that Apple has modeled important buildings and elements in cities. The team worked with locals to select structures that would be rendered in a super-accurate way. After Dorn’s team decides on the milestone, Frost’s team then does it manually – manually.
“We choose as much detail as we see fit and create a 3D mesh of the building landmark itself. And we apply it to the basemap,” explains Frost.
Radio City Music Hall in New York City complete with matching colored lighting. The archway, the trees and the inner pond Washington Square Park pristine look. And Philadelphia Museum of Art complete with a Rocky statue at the bottom. In DC, Apple’s recreations of national monuments and memorials can be used on a Mac or iPad in class for educational purposes.
It’s also a first for major digital maps – Waze and Google Maps don’t go as far or as detailed as 3D reconstructions of these elements.
Apple has certainly built a better reputation for Apple Maps with its most recent updates. It’s more precise, and this year has a real big flourish – including some useful features beyond the big 3D upgrade.
With Transitions, you can pin your favorite and most frequent lines. You can also now rate and review local establishments like restaurants or shops. This update comes in the card that appears when you search for a location and tap for more. Dorn notes that this is one of the most used parts of Maps, and it’s clear that this update gives you more important information at once and is intended to make navigation easier. It also expands to explore with a feature called Guides. Apple has worked with editorial partners to help you get to know a city – discover things to do or find some restaurants to tick off your bucket list.
And if you have a Iphone and Apple Watch, you can use Apple Maps for a hands-free experience. Thanks to the haptic feedback on your wrist, you can tell whether to turn left or right when using walking directions, as the watch will gently tap your wrist. It’s been a favorite feature of ours since wearing the watch.
Frost expands on Apple Watch experience as a great way to navigate while cycling. Apple Maps affects altitude – since you’ll need to pedal more uphill – when navigating to bike. And you can get that entire experience on your wrist with haptic feedback that won’t take your eyes off the road.
If you are using HomePod Mini – our runner-up for a smart speaker – you can start your navigation journey from home. Ask Siri for a place, then ask for directions to your iPhone and you’re on to the race. It is similar to what can be done with Google Home and Android phones. It is quite convenient.
Plus, if you get lost, you can use AR walking directions in select US cities. It’s similar to finding a lost person AirTag, but you’ll point your iPhone around you, and it’ll show real-time arrows, distances, and directions. We’ve tried it once or twice and it really works.
However, the best integration is that you can easily share your ETA with a contact on the go. It’s included with CarPlay or navigating on a Iphone, but you can also ask Siri to share it. Your location shows up in that user’s Maps app to track until you reach your destination.
Dorn described the advantages as a three-pronged approach to why Apple Maps should at least be considered the map of your choice. First, Apple is making a big investment in Maps to continue to improve it. Privacy is at the heart of it, in that you don’t need to create a separate account and they don’t track your location for data purposes. The third is the design and ecosystem that Maps participates in. Integration with other Apple devices and services is an important aspect of this service.
But Apple Maps is not the only choice for users. Google Maps and Waze are the top two mapping options, and both excel with unique features. Google’s service works on multiple platforms and has been providing simple navigation for any mode of travel for some time now. Meanwhile, Waze is community focused and works to help you get traffic in real time. They go beyond traditional GPS by using other members of the app to figure out their way around. The problem is that there are a lot of players in this space and each one is trying to make an accurate map with some useful features.
And if Apple Maps is doing its job right, Dorn says it can remove the user’s “perceptual load” and allow you to focus on the road. Precise details and precise environments can definitely help you stay on track.