The most important app on your iPhone is about to change

There have been persistent rumors over the past month or so that Apple will be replacing (upgrading?) the current Maps application with the new version of the iPhone operating system (iOS 6).  This has been expected for a while as Apple has purchased a variety of companies that work on parts of the map ecosystem. The screenshot above is a speculative screenshot of what the new app might look like in 3D view.

I’ve written before about how Maps may be the most important app on the iPhone.  Many people use the Maps app every day and it certainly has changed life for many folks – no more having to print directions or write them down before leaving the house on a drive, walk or trip. Despite any flaws or missing features, the Maps app has been a key part of the transformative experience of owning an iPhone.

Many people refer to the Maps app on the iPhone as Google maps.  It’s true that for now the underlying data comes from Google but like all the native apps on the iPhone, the app has always been built and maintained by Apple. Ever since Google launched Android and incurred Steve Jobs’s wrath, it was assumed that Apple would replace Google as their backend and it seems now is the time.

The rumors are that the app will receive a full overhaul – the backend will be owned by Apple and the visual look and feel will change to, particularly to include a 3D viewing option.

I will withhold judgement on whether or not the app will be an upgrade, but to me, the most important things that should be done to improve the functionality of the maps app are (I’ve written about these before):

1. Include turn-by-turn directions.  This means that rather than having to push “next”, the phone automatically tracks your progress and visually and orally provides the next set of instructions (just like your car’s GPS does).  It also corrects the directions automatically if you go off-route. Google’s app for Android does this well. The reason this used to be hard is due to licensing costs for using the underlying map data in this way. Google got around that by creating their own set of map data.

2. Include an option to download offline versions of maps for specified metro areas.  The GPS doesn’t require the cellular network to work and the app could be fully functional with offline maps. This would serve 2 functions:

  • Maps would load when network service is slow or unavailable (e.g. subway underground). There is nothing more frustrating than being lost and late to a meeting and watching a map try to load in the background.
  • When roaming outside one’s core country, one could use the maps app to navigate in an unknown city without paying exorbitant data roaming charges.
I’m not convinced that Apple will build an app that has great features and functionality vs. just more interesting design and views (e.g. 3D). So, I  hope that once Apple replaces Google from its backend that Apple approves a native Google Maps app for the app store. I also hope that Google builds and submits such an app that’s as good or better than their Android Maps app. Real competition for an app that is as core as Maps would be very healthy.

8 responses to “The most important app on your iPhone is about to change

  1. Ron, I use MotionX-GPS as my map app for when I’m travelling, hiking, or otherwise outside of cellular data range. It allows you to download maps and calculate GPS directions without being connected to data. Came in very useful on a couple of European trips and even Bay Area hikes.

    • Thanks Bill, great advice. Does it work well for metro areas also? For walking/transit/driving directions?

  2. Matthew Pulliam

    Ron, try UpNext cities for that — you’re already in NYC, which has one of the most detailed of the downloadable maps.

    Re: TbT, that requires moving from the Significant Change Location services in iOS to the battery-sucking Standard Location services. If AAPL baked it into the standard Maps app, they might have difficulty advertising competitive battery life without a bunch of *caveats and **fine print in every spot.

    • Thanks Matt! Will check out UpNext. Still would prefer that the native app functioned that way.

      Re: TbT – I agree that could be an issue but couldn’t they only switch to Standard Location services when you asked for directions or even when you specified TbT? There was an article in the Wall St. Journal yesterday (http://on.wsj.com/LtVssH )that said that Google wouldn’t agree to let Apple use TbT and that was one of the reasons Apple decided to go it alone, so makes me think that Apple will include it in iOS 6.

  3. Pingback: Google preempts Apple with Maps upgrade announcement | Ron Feldman's Blog

  4. Pingback: Google preempts Apple with Maps upgrade announcement | Ron Feldman's Blog

  5. Matthew Pulliam

    Looks like you were right about TbT in iOS 6… Good call!

  6. Pingback: Recent Apple Announcements – Summary and Reaction | Ron Feldman's Blog

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