The launch of Apple Maps was famously plagued by a number of frustrating bugs, including inaccurate mapping directions, Salvador Dali-esque satellite photos, and completely misplaced landmarks.
As a personal example which highlights Apple Maps’ quirky early behavior, I remember once instance where I used Apple Maps en route to a wedding only to wind up in a school parking lot. Thankfully I had Google Maps on standby and managed to get back on the right track.
But Apple Maps, much like Siri, has improved rather steadily and quietly over the past few years. While there is obviously still room for improvement, using Apple Maps is hardly the roll of the dice that it was just a few years back. And now, with the launch of iOS 9, the notion of Apple Maps going head to head with Google Maps isn’t as laughable as it once was.
With iOS 9, Apple Maps at long last comes with built-in transit directions, a feature Google Maps has seemingly had since forever ago. As to why it took Apple a curiously long time to incorporate transit directions, some reports hinted that Apple’s mapping team was plagued by employee turnover, poor planning, mismanagement from the top, and internal politics.
With all of that drama presumably a vestige of the past, it’s time for Apple Maps to look forward. I spent a considerable amount of time over the last 4-5 days taking transit directions in Apple Maps (in Chicago) for a spin and it performed as well, if not better, than third-party transit apps.
While most transit apps, at a fundamental level, all deliver the same information, the transit directions in Apple Maps are extremely polished. The layout is intuitive, informative, helpful, and reflects an attention to detail that is nice to see after the anticlimactic release of Apple Music.
What’s more, Apple’s maps team isn’t resting on its laurels. Based on a number of rumors and recent acquisitions, it apparent that Apple is still working hard behind the scenes to develop a best-in-class mapping application. They’re not quite there yet, but the groundwork is already being laid out.
Remember those mysterious Apple-owned vans that users spotted in increasing number earlier this year? Well, Apple is using them to traverse roads across the globe in an effort to create their own version of Google Street View.
9to5Mac reported earlier this year:
In addition to assisting with in-house data collection, the Apple Maps vans are equipped with cameras to collect Street View data. Apple does not believe that classic Street View interfaces developed by Google are intuitive to the user, according to sources with knowledge of Apple’s work on Maps services, so the company is exploring new ways to present Street View imagery.
And to top it all off, Apple has had a string of intriguing mapping-based acquisitions in recent months. Just last week, Re/Code reported that Apple earlier this month acquired Mapsense, a mapping analytics and visualization startup. Even more tantalizing is that Apple this past May acquired Coherent Navigation, a mapping company which developed specialized software capable of providing “location information accurate to within centimeters.”
All in all the future is looking bright for Apple Maps. Though transit directions are currently available in just 11 cities outside of China — Baltimore, Berlin, Chicago, London, Mexico City, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Toronto, and Washington D.C — their long-awaited arrival is a signal of things to come.