iPhone Life magazine

iOS 6 Maps app superior to Google maps; will also be used in third-party apps

I'm really looking forward to iOS, and one big reason is Apple's new Maps app. Until now, the built-in app has tapped into Google's mapping service for all of its data. But Apple is showing Google the door, and is replacing the current app with a superior solution. AppleInsider has posted two detailed articles that tell you everything you need to know. The first article explains Apple's shift to its own mapping technology, and how that will impact Google. The second article explains why Apple's vector-based mapping is so much better than Google's bit-mapped apps. If you use the Maps app, or if you use third-party apps that access Google's map data, you'll want to read these articles.

Maybe your eyes glaze over when you hear the term "vector-based graphics," but it's really pretty simple. Think of a Walt Disney cartoon compared to a contemporary cartoon. In the old days, artists created a cartoon by drawing a series of images. If Donald Duck is walking, that necessitates a series of drawings in which each leg moves just a little bit, such that when these images pass sequentially in front of a projector, it gives the impression of motion.

That was tedious work. Today's animations typically use vector graphics. The shape of Donald Duck, in this case, would be mathematically described. A computer draws the image because the curves and lines are created through mathematical formulas. Having him walk entails  inputting some mathematical instructions. This is much more efficient.

Similarly, Google's maps are bit mapped. Every map is a bit-mapped image, and when you zoom in or out, you simply go from one map drawing to another map drawing of a different size. It's slow and jerky and inflexible. But Apple's vector-based maps are generated on the fly. As you zoom in, the transition is smooth. Plus, the data is more efficient. A vector-generated image takes up much less space than a bit-mapped image. This means that if you look at a map while connected, and then lose your connection, there will be enough data there to keep on generating an image for a radius of over 300 miles, according to AppleInsider's article.

There are many other advantages. To quote the article:

"In addition to smoothly accommodating any zoom level without getting jaggies and having to download new tile data, vector map data can also draw text labels very legibly in a way that accommodates the drawing of additional layers of data on top, such as labeled businesses, building outlines, and direction path lines that don't obscure map information.

"Users can also spin the map with a two-fingered rotational gesture. As the map rotates, labels can turn to remain legible. A compass icon points north; tapping it reorients the map to face north...."

This new approach to mapping will not only appear in the Maps app, but in any third-party app that uses mapping data, such as Yelp. AppleInsider says that this transition means that Google will lose half the traffic to its mapping service. The article explains that Apple is taking this step both to improve the value of its iOS devices, and also to sever its dependence on Google.

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Jim Karpen's picture

Jim Karpen holds a Ph.D. in literature and writing, and has a love of gizmos. His doctoral dissertation focused on the revolutionary consequences of digital technologies and anticipated some of the developments taking place in the industry today. Jim has been writing about the Internet and technology since 1994 and has been using Apple's visionary products for decades.