One the integral pieces of iOS has been its Maps application, which up until now was powered by Google. Google Maps is a favorite, regardless of mobile platform and even on the desktop. It’s how we find places, get directions and see actual photos of locations. With location based services and the explosion of social apps that offer checking in, the Maps application is a key component in iOS. In iOS 6, the Maps app gets a major overhaul and it’s now an Apple designed app. At some point, you’ll be able to download a standalone Google Maps application. So how does the new app stand up to the old standby? Read on for our full review and guide to Maps in iOS 6.

iOS 6 Maps Guide and Review


How do I get the new Maps app?

That’s the easy part. When you upgrade to iOS 6, it will replace your current Maps app with the new Apple app. The new Maps icon is ever so slightly different from the older icon, that you might not even recognize the change. Both share the familiar “Route 280”, with only slight additions to the mapping on the icon. Once inside the app, here’s a visual guide to the new interface, which isn’t that much different.

iOS 6 Maps Guide

How to find and map locations
When you open up iOS 6 Maps, you have a search bar, access to your contacts and an icon to provide you with your current location using GPS. Whereas Google Maps has a directions tab at the bottom, Apple has moved this to the left of the search bar. It brings up Start and End options and you can select Drive, Walk, Bus. Subway and train information is not available in Apple Maps, but it’s planned to perform a hand off to routing apps with train information that should be available in the App Store. For now, it’s a major weakness and will cause a big amount of disappointment for those who rely on Maps to provide mass transportation information and routing.

Let’s say that you type an address into the Search Bar. When you compare both of the apps after the initial search, it’ll appear as if Google trumps Apple’s version. Not so. Apple here has made a conscious decision not to overwhelm with streets when viewing such a broad area. This could be a positive or negative, depending upon your preference.

Pinch out maps

Pinch your fingers out to zoom in on your location and Maps will scale information including neighborhoods, streets and points of interest. Tap on a POI will show the address, provide options for Directions To or From Here, sharing via email, message, Twitter or Facebook. You can also save ‘Bookmarks’, which is accessible from the bottom tab after entering the contacts icon on the mapping page of the app. To remove a bookmark, swipe to the right.

Maps location bookmark

Finding your location is as easy as tapping on the GPS icon in the bottom left corner.

There are three ways to find locations.

  1. Tap on the arrow at the top right and enter the address.
  2. Enter it into the search bar.
  3. Tap on the contacts icon and select an address from Bookmarks, Recents or Contacts.

Where does the data come from in Maps in iOS 6?
The data comes primarily from TomTom, but there are also others including MultiNet, AND and business listing data comes from Acxiom.

What’s New And What You’ll Love In iOS 6 Maps
Up until now, things should seem pretty familiar. So what’s new and why you’ll the new Maps. First off, let’s compare screenshots between the two. Which one would you rather look at on a regular basis?

iOS 6 Maps vs iOS 5 Maps

Turn by turn navigation
The biggest feature in Maps and perhaps iOS 6 as a whole could just be turn by turn navigation with voice guided directions. If you’ll notice our Penn Station screenshots, the Apple version has a car icon next to the pin. Tapping on it immediately puts you into routing mode. Tapping on the ‘menu’ icon on the bottom will bring up directions in a list format, should you need them for reference before you begin your trip. The top menu bar provides the number of available routes, estimated time for the trip and the miles. Press Start and this is where iOS 6 Maps kicks into gear.

Turn by turn navigation in iOS 6

Your iPhone will instantly be transformed into a full-fledged GPS navigation. The voice guided navigation is aided by large green street-sign inspired banners that advise you of your next turn. There are some limitations as compared to a paid navigation app such as Navigon. For example, once in navigation mode, you can scroll ahead on the map. The only way to advance the map is to drive toward your destination. Having used both extensively, I found the ability to look ahead to be extremely useful. Again, let’s not forget that this is absolutely free.

Tip: If you leave Maps during navigation, you’ll see a pulsing bar at the top of your screen, which will prompt you to ‘Touch to return to navigation’.

Since Maps is heavily integrated within iOS, there are some major benefits are 3rd party navigation apps. For one, you can search your iPhone for a contact, tap on the address and off you go. From the Contacts app, tapping on an address instantly brings up Maps and the car icon that denotes turn-by-turn navigation.

As we noted in our upcoming iOS 6 Siri Guide, you can find movies, showtimes and then tap on the theater to bring up the location in Maps. It’s this sort of deep level integration, that when combined with robust features such as driving directions, that helps put Maps in a class of it’s own. Navigon simply isn’t permitted to have those sorts of iOS hooks, but it’s still our overall favorite turn by turn navigation app. With Apple’s entry into their wheelhouse, it will force these third party nav apps to innovate with features not found in Maps.

Yelp Reviews On POI’s
When you reveal POI’s within Maps, you’ll see the associated Yelp rating along with the number of reviews. Tapping on the blue icon will information about the destination, but more importantly, the second tab pulls review data directly from Yelp. In some cases, you’ll also see photos. Let’s say you are in NYC and consider a restaurant. In Maps, you can view those around you and immediately see reviews and user contributed photos. If you are in the car, a quick tap puts you into navigation mode. Overall, a very seamless experience.

Yelp reviews POIs in Maps

3D Mode / Flyover
One of the other new features is the inclusion of 3D mode. Click on 3D and it presents a symbiotic 3D view. No, there are no glasses needed. If you recall, Apple has been busy over the past few years purchasing mapping companies. The result of that can be seen in the new satellite view they call Flyover, often best when viewing major cities. The clarity of the buildings is nothing short of spectacular and most noticeable on the iPad. If you are viewing a major city, take NYC for example, you’ll see a new building icon to the right of your GPS icon. It combines 3D view, with real imagery that not only helps with finding a location, but provides perspective of a busy city street. This was something not attainable in the previous iterations of Maps.

Flyover

Using The Page Tear To Reveal Mapping Options
You can use the ‘page tear’ at the bottom right of the Maps app to reveal options:

  • Drop Pin: You can select a location, should you want to navigate to a specific location on your map.
  • Print: Print your map from iPhone or iPad. (see our guide on how to print from iPad)
  • Show/Hide Traffic: Maps will pool traffic data from millions of iPhone users and provide you with up to date traffic data.

There are also a few options for your maps:

  • Standard: This is your standard map view with street names and POIs.
  • Hybrid: Combines satellite view with street names.
  • Satellite: Top-down image of the location.

Pros:

  • Free Turn-By-Turn Navigation
  • Stunning 3D Imagery
  • Improved UI
  • Yelp Reviews Integrated

Cons:

  • Requires Hand-Off Apps For Mass Transit
  • Questionable mapping data
  • No street view

Conclusion
Replacing the default Maps app could have been a jarring experience. To Apple’s credit, they’ve added new features and retained much, but not all of the look, feel and usability that users have come to expect from Maps.  Over the years, I suspect they will slowly migrate folks into what they perceive as a better experience for customers. With iOS 6 Maps, they’ve had moderate success while seizing control of the mapping application from Google. Those of you who have relied on this application for mass transit information can only hope the App Store is stocked with supporting hand-off apps. Street view is also a glaring omission. While Apple’s Flyover view is stunning, there is a certain level of usefulness in Street View that is not replicated with Flyover.

If you don’t fall into the category that relies on these two features, you’ll likely find the new Maps app to be a major improvement. If you upgrade to iOS 6, you have no real choice. Maps replaces the old Google based Maps. The inclusion of turn-by-turn driving directions will be front and center. While the 3D mode is moderately useful, when coupled with the improved UI, there’s plenty to like here with iOS 6 Maps. And remember, at some point we’ll see Google Maps in the App Store as a stand alone application. With iOS 6 Maps, Google Maps and third-party developers like Navigon, there are no shortage of choices and competition among this group will result in continuous improvements. Maps in iOS 6 is good, but there is definitely room for improvement.