Jacob Krol, writing for CNN, interviewed Apple Maps’ David Dorn, its product lead, and Meg Frost, its design lead, about the app’s steady improvements since its introduction in 2012. The story covers many of the features added in the fall with the release of Apple’s latest OS updates, which we’ve covered before, but adds the context of what Dorn and Frost’s teams were trying to accomplish with the changes. For example, with respect to complex roadways the updates have meant that:
“At a glance, drivers can understand a complex intersection more quickly than ever before,” said Frost. “And that detail helps with that split-second decision of which turn they’re going to make. So we want it to be both safer and visually satisfying to navigate.”
“We pick the amount of detail we find appropriate and create a 3D mesh of the building landmark itself. And we apply it to the base map,” explained Frost.
In the past couple of years, Apple Maps has really hit its stride, at least in the places that I’ve used it. Maps are more detailed, I’ve encountered far fewer errors than in the past, and the experience of using the app with CarPlay is excellent. Although it’s nearly 10 years old now, Apple Maps still feels new to me because of the relentless iteration on the original app. By its nature, Maps demands constant attention, but it also shows how a competitive app category goes a long way toward keeping an app fresh and innovative.
All of these place links get redirected to Apple Maps with Mapper.
Ever since Apple rolled out the redesigned and improved Apple Maps in Italy last month, I’ve been increasingly switching my usage of maps for exploration and turn-by-turn directions from Google to Apple Maps. I prefer Apple’s overall design sensibilities, I find Look Around drastically superior to Google Street View, and the integration with Apple Maps and the Lock Screen for turn-by-turn navigation is excellent.
However, I still have to keep Google Maps installed on my iPhone for all those times when a particular point of interest (usually a shop or restaurant) isn’t showing up in Apple Maps’ search results. And because the Google Maps app is still installed on my iPhone, every time I tap a search result with an address from Google search, it automatically redirects to Google Maps. I’ve always found this annoying, but now even more so since I consider Apple Maps my primary navigation app here in Rome.1 Now, thanks to a Safari extension, that Google Maps redirect nightmare is finally over.
Earlier this summer Apple began testing the expansion of its updated Maps data in Italy, a rollout that started with North America before continuing in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain, and Portugal. Today, the company officially launched its new Maps data in Italy, San Marino, Vatican City, and Andorra, along with a host of related features.
Maps is unique among Apple system apps. Most system apps, like Notes or Reminders, are only updated at the same time that major revisions of the company’s underlying operating systems are released. Tweaks are sometimes made with OS point releases but never separate from the OS updates themselves.
Maps is different because so much of the experience is tied to the data that the app delivers. That allows Apple to add mid-cycle updates that aren’t tied to an OS release. There are many recent examples, like the addition of COVID-19 travel guidance for airports, vaccination site locations, and places offering volunteer opportunities. At the same time, the company continues to expand and enhance the accuracy and detail offered by Maps at a deeper level with its ongoing initiative to rebuild the app’s underlying maps worldwide.
Apple has been at it, improving Maps since iOS 6, and it’s a task that by definition will never truly be finished. However, the introduction of new features in recent years and broader expansion of its effort to deliver rebuilt maps to more of the world has allowed Apple to refine the app across the board. Using the latest map data the company has collected has enabled it to redesign the Maps experience, providing more relevant information to users, and expanding its view of the world around us.
Apple has celebrated Earth Day for many years, but the company has more going on for 2021 than ever before including an environmental justice initiative, content tie-ins across several services, and an Apple Watch challenge.
With more people being vaccinated all the time, air travel has picked up too. To help iPhone, iPad, and Mac users understand each airport’s health requirements, Apple has begun adding COVID-19 travel guidance to airport place cards in Maps.
The data includes information like requirements for face coverings, health tests or screenings, and quarantine guidelines, along with links to each airport’s travel guidance webpage. The data is sourced from the Airports Council International, which announced the partnership on its website today. Commenting on the feature, Airports Council International’s World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira said:
Having this information displayed in Apple Maps will help to make this crucial data much more broadly accessible to passengers. This will help passengers to plan their journeys and be reassured that their health and safety remains a priority for the industry as we all work towards a sustained return to operations and global connectivity. Collaboration remains key to a globally coordinated recovery and we are grateful to our members for the partnership we have forged to deliver this important tool that will contribute to the rebuilding of passenger confidence in air travel.
The new Maps feature is currently rolling out to more than 300 airports worldwide, so if you don’t see it for your local airport yet, check back later.
Maps’ new airport travel guidelines are rolling out internationally.
The new travel guidance adds to Maps’ growing database of COVID-related information available to users, such as the recent addition of COVID vaccination sites in the US and details on testing sites. Travel requirements during the pandemic vary from airport-to-airport, so it’s nice to see Apple is giving its users a convenient place to go to understand the guidelines before leaving home.
In a press release today, Apple announced that its Maps app has been updated to include the COVID-19 vaccination locations. According to the company:
Apple today updated Apple Maps with COVID-19 vaccination locations from VaccineFinder, a free, online service developed by Boston Children’s Hospital that provides the latest vaccine availability for those eligible at providers and pharmacies throughout the US. Users can find nearby COVID-19 vaccination locations from the Search bar in Apple Maps by selecting COVID-19 Vaccines in the Find Nearby menu or by asking Siri, “Where can I get a COVID vaccination?”
Apple says that the feature currently includes over 20,000 locations and lists operating hours, address information, telephone numbers, and links to vaccine providers’ websites. The company will continue to update the list as new locations become available. Apple has also opened up a registry process for businesses that provide COVID-19 testing and vaccinations to submit their information, which will be added to Maps after it is validated.
With vaccinations being offered at a wide variety of locations run by a combination of governmental entities and private companies, this is a terrific resource that I know I’ll be using when I’m eligible to be vaccinated.
February is Black History Month, and Apple has announced a long list of ways it is celebrating across its products and services. In a press release the company said:
Apple is bringing customers a variety of new and updated collections and exclusive content that highlight and amplify Black creators, artists, developers, and businesses. From curated features across the App Store, Apple Music, the Apple TV app, Apple Books, and Apple Podcasts, to new Apple Maps Guides, the Apple Watch Black Unity Collection, Today at Apple sessions, and more, here is a look at what is in store across Apple’s products and services this February.
In the App Store, Apple is featuring stories with Black developers and highlighting social justice apps along with entertainment and gaming apps. The month-long feature extends to other services too:
Music will feature Black musicians and include related content like playlists, essays, videos, and custom artwork
Maps Guides, which has seen many updates recently, will feature Black-owned businesses in collaboration with EatOkra
The Apple TV App will include ‘Essential: Stories That Honor Black Families,’ plus two free episodes of The Oprah Conversation featuring ‘Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents’ by author Isabel Wilkerson
Apple News will have curated topic groups and Apple Books will showcase a collection of relevant books and audiobooks
The Podcasts app will highlight Black voices including Michelle Obama, Joe Budden, Phoebe Robinson, and Baratunde Thurston, plus an extended promotion of shows featuring relevant topics
Fitness+ will spotlight songs from Black artists, and the first Time to Walk episode for February will feature author Ibram X. Kendi who will discuss racial justice and resiliency
Today at Apple will feature virtual sessions and tutorials moderated by Kimberly Drew with Black artists including typographer Tré Seals, creative director, filmmaker, and photographer Joshua Kissi, and visual artist, photographer, and educator Shan Wallace
Shot on iPhone will feature 30 Black photographers
Apple’s Black Unity Collection limited-edition Watch, Sports Band, and watch face.
On the product side, Apple has introduced the Black Unity Collection that includes a limited-edition Apple Watch 6, a Black Unity Sport Band, and a Unity watch face. Apple is also supporting six groups dedicated to promoting and achieving equality and civil rights in the US and around the world. The Watch and Sports Band will be available beginning February 1st and the watch face will debut with watchOS 7.3, which Apple says will be out later today.
The Black Unity Sports Band and Unity watch face, which changes dynamically as the Watch moves, include the green, red, and black colors of the Pan-African flag, and the Sports Band has ‘Truth. Power. Solidarity’ laser etched on the inside of the band’s fastening pin. Similarly, the limited-edition Watch has ‘Black Unity’ etched in the Watch’s crystal back. Apple will also kick off a special month-long Unity Activity Challenge on February 1st that is achieved by closing Move ring at least seven days in a row.
iOS 14 introduced Guides into Apple Maps earlier this year. As we covered in our summer preview series, the feature surfaces local city guides from third-party sources. These are integrated directly into Apple Maps so that you can see the exact locations of the activities that the guides highlight. Since the initial release of Guides, Apple has continued to expand the feature, adding more guides and debuting support for more cities.
Recently Apple introduced a new set of Guides from VolunteerMatch. These are meant to expose local service opportunities, making it easier than ever to volunteer in your community. VolunteerMatch Guides in Apple Maps are available for Chicago, Atlanta, Washington DC, New York, New Orleans, Houston, Boston, Seattle, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Each guide contains a variety of different opportunities to volunteer. When you find one that interests you, the Guide directs you to the VolunteerMatch website, where you can get more information and learn how to get involved.
I think Apple Maps Guides have a ton of potential to help people get more engaged in their cities. I’m pleased to see Apple continuing to push heavily on expanding this feature to more locations and new publishers. VolunteerMatch feels like a particularly great candidate, as seeing service opportunities directly on the map is such an easy way to spread awareness of them.
If you live in one of the cities mentioned above, or just want to check out the feature, you can access the VolunteerMatch Guides in Apple Maps from here on iOS, iPadOS, or macOS.