Apple Maps — A Glimpse into the Future of Topographic Maps

Like many iPhone and iPad owners I upgraded their operating system to IOS 6 yesterday. I spent a fascinating hour or so playing with the new Apple Maps application.

Apple Macs is one of the most controversial changes in IOS 6 as Apple have dropped Google Maps for their own system. Some really dislike the new system while others like it. I use maps mainly for walking around cities and for this everything works well so I’m reasonably happy. There sees to be less clutter on Apple street maps which I like.

You do loose some things that are very useful though, especially Google Street View. I don’t use Street View on a phone but I use it a lot on the iPad. If I’m booking a hotel I’ll use it to have a good look at the hotel and the area in which it is located.

Apple’s Maps doesn’t have this but it does have a 3D fly through service which looks fun. I had assumed this was just a gimmick but I think it could be quite powerful. Coverage is at the moment limited to the big cities. I really enjoyed flying through the centre of Birmingham — your height above the streets and angle of attack can change and you can swoop down quid effectively. While you can’t look at the house number or the front door you do get a better overall view of the landscape and the neighbourhood than you do with Street View.

But what does this have to do with Street View?

How would this 3D system work with a hill? Well, although it is early days you can see a good demo of this. I am in Edinburgh for the weekend and staying next to Arthur’s Seat. Looking up my hotel I can fly over and around the hill in 3d looking at a 3D photographic view of the hill. It is simply stunning. Paths can be sen clearly and in great detail. Fissures, gaps and mini corries can be easily seen.

As this approach roles out over the whole country it we could se something that will revolutionise the planning of a hill walk or, say, Munro trip. Maybe this technology is not quite new but to see it working on an iPad while you are sitting on the coach is remarkable. I hope Apple have the intention of covering the whole country.

Google are currently expanding their Street View system to include National Trails in the USA but on this first look the Apple 3D view will take things a lot further.

If you have IOS and 3D maps installed on your device navigate to Edinburgh and have a look. You’ll be impressed.

This will be the future of topographical mapping.


  1. chris yapp says:

    think i,ll keep my two baked bean tins and string thanks

  2. I live in a backwater of a backwater but Google covered this area well. Apple’s Maps are poor by contrast. When Google Maps app comes out, I’ll pay for it because I used to use it a lot. Cyclemeter seems to use the installed map app, so that’s been messed up as well.

    Added to the removal of RSS from Safari, the change of maps app is making wonder if Apple are losing the plot.

    • I don’t disagree with you – I was talking about potential. Go flame somebody else and next time read the post before you comment on it!

  3. Sorry, Andy. This was not intended as flaming. I just reported what has happened. You are right about Edinburgh and the Lakes look amazing, but check out the Pennines. I apologise for offending you, but that was absolutely not what I intended. Reading my comment again, it isn’t that bad – the one change would be to add the word “here” to my second sentence.

    It’s Apple I’m not happy with. I’ve lost facilities with Mountain Lion and with iOS 6.

    • Zed, sorry – I understand and agree with what you said – but where it works if is interesting. It offers a glimpse into the future of topographic maps!

      Using Maps to navigate Edinburgh and it is OK.

      Just don’t live in the Sticks I guess 🙂

      I can see what Apple are trying to do. They have always been brave enough to ignore legacy. But maybe they have it wrong this time!

  4. I should have addressed what you wrote because you are right. For the areas covered, it’s a game changer. As a Munro bagging whippersnapper, I spent many evenings poring over OS maps, seeking the best corries to camp in and the best ridges for scrambling up to the summit. As my knowledge of the Highlands grew, I came to be able to predict what the vegetation would be like and whether the person who drew the map had been too exuberant with the crag symbols. Neophytes no longer need to play a guessing game because they can see what’s what on their handheld devices. And jaded, old timers can get back into seeking out those special wild pitches because 3D aerial shots not only inform, but also encourage.

    Given how long Apple took to add New York to their app, it might be some time before coverage includes Mullardoch. By the way, Bing has great aerial photography for the areas I’ve checked. Is there a technical reason why Apple have done what they’ve done?

  5. Hi Andy – maybe I am missing something with what the Apple maps app can do, but doesn’t Google Earth (certainly available on Android mobile devices) already do the 3D satellite view you are talking about?

    • I was commenting on IOS really – stuff on tablet and phone. I tend not to use GE on desktop machine as it feels clunky. On a tablet …

      Manipulating the hill view with your fingers is a superb experience.

  6. I fail to see what’s new here too. I can do this with Google Earth on my Android phone and on my Nexus 7 tablet. And Mullardoch is there! In fact GE has just updated and it now has mountains on it and you can “fly” a tour round them. Just looked at Ben Wyvis and Cairn Gorm and it’s quirte impressive. Gives a good idea of the terrain.

    • True — Chris — i just never use gE for some reason!

      Still, these technologies do point to the future!

    • Agree. I’ve used Google Earth on Android phones for ages. It’s no game changer what Apple are doing now. The facility behind the idea has been around some time Andy.

      I love using GE for double-checking viewpoints and what have you for potential hikes and so on.

      I don’t know why -but I prefer using it on my mobile than PC.

      It be nice if GE were to be able to offer the ability to ‘download’ an area for the user so there’s no need for a signal to view the area upon your visit. ie, much like Google Maps do now. You can choose an area and save the map for ‘offline’ use.

      • I was only talking about Apple stuff as that’s what I use.

        A couple of things though. I don’t like Google Earth on my desktop. The higher resolution of the Retina screen makes a big difference.

        For overhead satellite images I prefer Bing!

        • Good point actually. I do like the sat imagery on Bing. Well, I say sat imagery. They in fact use aerial photography from that company who took images of the UK from above as part of a millennium project for the Queen.

          That’s probably why it looks lots better.

          Know what you mean about the Apple stuff, Andy. It’s just I think myself and others were referring to your ‘the future’ angle within this post. As already noted, much of the possibilities you look to have already begun happening.

          And I expect they’ll improve more for all concerned (iOS, Android etc) now OS mapping data is free to share and use (under strict guidelines of course).

          It’s got to the point now, that a part of me cannot help but feel that we’re witnessing (and arguably already are) the end of GPS guidance for automobiles now. I see more and more friends and the public use iPhones and such like for navigation on the roads now.

          Thanks to the likes of Viewranger and Memory Map, I see more smartphones on the hills for navving instead of dedicated GPS devices too.

          Times are a changing indeed.

  7. Just for interest I re-downloaded Google Earth onto my phone. I can’t manipulate the image like I can with the new IOS! The IOS system is more intuitive.

    Of course, Apple Macs have virtually no hills so we are still only talking about potential. However, it is clear that the technology works well and I guess in time we will see coverage extended.

    Ironically, I find that I prefer Google Earth on my desktop machine as this gives me more of what I want.

    So, this does represent the future or one vision of it. It seems to me that system lock in is the real problem — whether you are an Apple or an Andriod user.

    Apple wants to sell me content and Google wants to bombard me with Adds! I suspect we will need new purchasing models!

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