By Jason Snell
August 11, 2015 9:45 AM PT
2000 miles with Apple Maps
I’m back from our family’s summer vacation, during which we drove a total of 1986 miles1—from the San Francisco area to just north of Seattle, and back. There were plenty of backroads with weird names2, spectacular scenery, visits with family and friends—including two I haven’t seen in more than 20 years!—and all the silly stuff you’d expect to get when you lock four people in a minivan for nearly two thousand miles.
For most of the drive, our navigation aid was my iPhone running the latest iOS 9 beta. And while we were driving, I noticed a couple of interesting features in the iOS 9 Maps app. (At least, I think these are iOS 9 Maps features—they may be features of the current Maps app that I have never noticed before.)
For the first couple of days we were driving, my phone provided non-verbal cues when it was time to make or left or right turn. I had turned off voice assistance, but when it was time to make a left turn, the phone made a pleasant bing-bong sound. And when it was time to make a right turn, there was an equally pleasant bong-bing.
After a few days, this sound stopped, and we could never get it back, which made us all sad. My Apple Watch, however, continued to tap my wrist—thump-bump, thump-bump to turn left, tap tap tap tap tap tap tap to turn right—when it was time to turn, which I appreciated when I was driving. (As navigator, I would need to verbalize those cues so my wife would be prepared to turn.)
During one of our many drives, the Maps app slid down a bright yellow warning bar, indicating “Heavy Traffic Ahead” 1.3 miles away. There was nothing we could do about it this particular traffic, but it was a good warning that there was slower traffic ahead.
During another portion of the drive, Maps displayed a suggestion to divert from our existing route, one that it claimed would save us five minutes. We opted to ignore the request and continue on our present path, but it was the first time I’d seen that behavior in Apple Maps. (Many other navigation apps have offered this feature for years, of course.)
When it came time to stop, I also found that Maps (and Siri) made some excellent recommendations for restaurants. Previously searching for points of interest in Apple Maps was a crapshoot, but the new iOS 9 search screen offers up contextual buttons for nearby items (right now, since I’m writing this in the morning, it’s offering me Breakfast and Coffee & Tea searches). I found all of these searches to be superior to the old method of typing Restaurant in the Maps search box and hoping for the best. I also liked the Maps split view, which displays both a pin-filled map and a text list of search results on the screen.
I know that a lot of people have turned away from Apple Maps for good. Google Maps and Waze both have their adherents, and for good reasons. But as Apple pointed out at a recent media event, the stock Maps app is still the dominant player on iOS. It seems to be getting a lot better in iOS 9, in many different areas.
I just wish I knew where the bing-bong sound went…3
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