iOS 6 maps are better for applications

I’m very happy to see the new look brought to iOS maps via Apple’s switch to an in-house solution. Much noise has been made about the errors and the lost detail. I think the lost detail is an improvement.

The other night, a friend and I did a side-by-side comparison of my app HistoryPointer on iOS 6 and iOS 5 (bonus points if you can figure out where we were sitting). HistoryPointer displays a bunch of points of interest on a map (further details aren’t especially relevant). On the top is the HistoryPointer running on iOS 6 (with maps from Apple); on the bottom it’s running under iOS 5 (with maps from Google).

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To my eye, the iOS 6 version is much easier to read when you’re looking for the overlaid points of interest.There are fewer labels on the Apple map than on the Google map. The color scheme is less intrusive. There are some problems with label placement on the Apple map: State Route 99, for example, near the right-hand edge, is missing its street name (Aurora Avenue) on the Apple version even though other less important streets are labeled.

I see lots of potential in this move. There’s a control panel to adjust label size on map views. There’s obviously some dynamic label generation and pruning going on. I like the prospect of enhancements to MapKit to allow programmatic control of many of these parameters. Imagine what you could do with API to do these things:

  • adjust the size of (or omit!) certain kinds of labels.
  • control the orientation of the map to maximize the use of the screen space. North doesn’t always have to be up.
  • apply a custom color scheme, so that your overlaid data is easier to read.
  • omit certain kinds of features. Not everyone wants driving directions. There are many applications where the streets, highways, and manmade features are simply clutter.

Think about the possibilities. How would you like your app’s MKMapView to be different? File those radars! I have several of my own in mind.

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2 thoughts on “iOS 6 maps are better for applications

  1. Great point Hal, this really illuminates one of the reasons why Apple is investing so heavily in maps. With so many location-based applications on iOS today, it behooves Apple to extend its platform into the tools app developers can utilize in their apps instead of relying upon Google. It makes perfect sense to bake this into the OS as an offering and invest in order to make it right.

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