Map Happenings

Mapping Industry Tidbits, Activity and Musings

The Long Journey of Apple Maps: Abject Horror to Surprise & Delight

As you might already know I worked at Apple Maps for a little while. I had the privilege of joining the team back in October 2013 and I finally elected to part ways earlier this year. When I arrived in 2013 things were in a pretty sorry state and there was a huge mountain of work to be done. Actually — several mountains. 

Back then Maps — as Apple calls the team internally — was pretty much the laughing stock. The product got grilled and rightly so. Tim Cook had to issue an apology and Scott Forstall, the SVP in charge of iOS software and responsible for Maps, got fired.

At the same time some of the criticism was actually pretty hilarious. One particularly acerbic piece of wit came from someone at Transport for London (TfL). For those of you not familiar, TfL often provides very specific information and advice in each London Underground station. In September 2012, shortly after the release of iOS 6, this sign was spotted in a tube station on the Victoria line:

Credit: @binny_uk on Twitter

My favorite criticism, however, came from a fantastically creative group called Puppet Shed Films who created a sumptuous parody of the Apple Maps Flyover feature.

Flyover allows you to, well, fly over city scapes using high resolution photography draped over 3D models. Today Flyover is actually very good, but unfortunately in its original form the 3D models were a bit, shall we say, melty. This resulted in some very peculiar and unintended effects like bridges that dissolved into rivers.

Puppet Shed picked up on this and developed this masterpiece video:

Credit: Puppet Shed

All joking aside things have changed quite a lot since 2012…

Ten years later Apple Maps is not too bad. 

Now, before someone on the Maps team lynches me and inflicts grievous bodily harm, I should hasten to add that when I say “not too bad” I am writing in English, not American. If you speak English as a second language — and, yes, I include all of you Americans in that group — then you may not be aware that English people tend to take pride in the understatement. So “not too bad” in English roughly translates to “pretty fucking good” in American. 

[Side note: If you ever struggle with understanding what British people mean then I advise that you refer to this rather useful translation guide. It’ll go a long way to keep you out of trouble. I’m not sure who wrote it, but whoever did deserves a medal.]

“What do you mean Apple Maps is pretty fucking good?” I hear the fans of the Mountain View mapping app and that popular cartoon mapping app say.

Well, let’s just agree that it’s come a long way. It now has some pretty useful features — some of which are now better than the competition. But let’s also agree that while the accuracy and reliability of Apple Maps has been vastly improved there’s still work to be done.

And like any product there are nooks and crannies that people don’t always know about. 

So with that in mind, let us now switch to a few tips that I use all the time …

Tip Number 1: Quickly Flip Maps Between Dark Mode and Light Mode 

Personally when I use iOS I much prefer dark mode1. I’m guessing many of you  feel the same way. 

However, when you select dark mode it also automatically flips Apple Maps to dark mode too. 

Now I don’t know about you, but while the aesthetics of dark mode maps are lovely, for an aging curmudgeon like me they are a tad more difficult to read. Unfortunately there is no separate setting in Maps that allows you have light mode maps and keep dark mode for the rest of iOS. 

So what is one to do?

Well, here is a workaround:

Go to Settings > Control Center and add Dark Mode to the list of Included Controls:

Then, whenever you want to quickly switch from dark mode to light mode in maps, just swipe down from top right and tap this button:

Voilà! You’ve switched iOS from dark mode to light mode — and therefore also switched maps from dark mode to light mode too. When you’re done looking at Maps you can quickly switch it back. 

Tip Number 2: Create & Share Lists of Your Go-To Places

For some time now Apple Maps has included curated guides from well known publishers around the world. They’re pretty cool and they can be quite informative and useful. Maps has also given you the opportunity to create and save favorite places like home or work (not that ‘work’ may ever be a true favorite of yours I realize). 

But what you can also do is create your own lists of places, or to use Apple Maps vernacular — your own Guides. I have a number that I’ve set up in Maps myself: 

To create one simply tap the “add to Guides” button on the place card for a business or landmark. You can then very easily add the place to an existing Guide or create a new Guide:

The cool thing is it’s also very easy to share these personalized guides once you’ve created them. 

I did this only the other day. One of my good friends was on her way to London, so I shared the list of my favorite London restaurants with her:

Guides can easily be created, edited, renamed, deleted and shared in Maps on iOS, iPadOS or macOS. On macOS you can also easily drag and drop places from one Guide to another. 

Number 3: Use Siri to Effortlessly Share Your ETA

Now some of you may already be familiar with the “Share ETA” feature in Maps. In iOS 15 you get to it by tapping “Share ETA” when in navigation mode.

Now when you’re in the midst of driving this can be a bit of a pain, particularly if the person with whom you want to share your ETA is not in the pick list that Share ETA provides. 

So, instead you can use Siri. 

Now, personally I hate Siri. Well, I don’t hate Siri per se, I just hate having to say “Hey Siri!”  I wish Apple would allow you to rename the wake words as Alexa does… then I could issue a command like Captain Kirk: “Computer!”, or perhaps if I’m feeling particularly grumpy: “Oy, Bozo!” 2

The workaround for this dilemma is of course simple: press and hold the crown of your Watch for a second or so, or on iPhone, the right side button. Siri will then thankfully activate without you having to utter those nauseating wake words.

With Siri thus engaged you simply give the command to share your ETA, for example: “Share my ETA with Tina!”

There are two nice things about this feature: 

  • First it will automatically give the recipients updates if you get delayed, for example, due to traffic
  • Second, the feature plays nicely with Android users: they’ll be sent SMS texts instead of Maps notifications

So that’s this week’s Map Happenings. I hope you enjoyed it.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for future episodes!

1  Settings > Display & Brightness > Appearance

2 This of course raises the whole ethical topic of AI assistant abuse. I’m sure we’ll see much discourse on this topic going forward. John Gruber has already mused on this: “I like saying thanks to my AI assistants. My wife thinks I’m nuts. But I worry we, collectively, are going to be dreadfully rude to them by the time they’re essential elements of our daily lives.”

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