Apple's new iOS 6 Maps support automatic offline use for a wide area

Posted:
in iPhone edited June 2014
Vector maps in iOS 6 are so efficient that Apple can cache a very large surrounding area for offline browsing and GPS navigation when traveling outside of WiFi or mobile data coverage.

Introducing iOS 6.0 Maps
Using Maps Offline
2: Maps and visualizations
3: Transit directions
4: Map labels & local search
5: Routing & traffic

Going offline with vector maps

Apple's new Maps are a huge leap over iOS 5 maps in pure technology: the use of vector maps (mathematically described, resolution independent map information rather than static bitmapped pictures of map tiles) enables fast, sophisticated navigation of 2D and 3D views with fluid panning, rotation and perspective, in contrast to the flat, static map images provided by Apple's previous version of the app.

Using vectors also results in much less data use (an estimated 80 percent less), as your iPhone can download large areas of maps faster (eating up less of your data plan and battery).

The efficient outlines can also work offline far further after you lose your data connection. For example, while iOS 5 Maps would load Google's map tiles of the immediate area being browsed at a couple zoom levels for offline browsing (generally less than a 10 mile radius), Apple's new vector maps, once loaded in San Francisco, allowed us to browse an entire continent of high level maps (state outlines) while offline, north from Anchorage, Alaska to Lima, Peru and from Honolulu, Hawaii to Montr?al, Canada.

At a highway level detail, we could actually navigate most of California, and on a simplified level, the western half of the United States. There were detailed street-level maps available of areas we'd never even looked at while online, as far away as Salt Lake City, Utah (about 740 miles or 1200 km east). Thanks to vectors, you can even view these offline maps in 3D perspective.

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This vastly expanded new capability allows travelers to load detailed maps for a very large area and navigate around via GPS, which remains active even if you turn mobile roaming off (or lack wireless service in that location). Under iOS 5, it was tricky to maintain 2D cached map tiles for even significant part of a single city.

Even more surprisingly, iOS 6 Maps also loads basic satellite images and major city labels for the entire globe. When you switch to hybrid mode while offline, Maps overlays its cached vector road paths and city labels over higher quality satellite images that let you visualize the Earth's topography in useful detail over more than a 100 mile (160 km) area, also in 3D perspective view.

When taken offline, the old Maps under iOS 5 wouldn't show anything beyond the local, bitmapped map tiles already downloaded, nor any portion of the rest of the globe, even on a basic level. Additionally, the static, bitmapped nature of iOS 5's Google map tiles meant that even if there were some standard and satellite images cached, the app couldn't layer them together to present a hybrid view (and it also lacked any ability to show those maps in 3D perspective).

No real alternative vector maps for iOS 6, yet

Native apps by Google and Nokia (for Android and Windows Phone, respectively) also use vector maps, but their web sites available to iOS users still use bitmapped tiles. The technology to support vector maps in a web browser (WebGL) isn't quite there yet, and so far is still pretty taxing even for desktop computers. To bring vector maps to iOS 6, these companies would need to offer a native app.

Conversely, the web's current limitations in supporting 3D vectors also suggests Apple has no immediate plans to bring its iOS Maps to the web (like Google and Nokia have via bitmaps), although it may deliver a native Mac app (or integrate features into iPhoto's geotagging Places feature, for example) for desktop users.

If Google does port its Android maps to iOS, it will certainly also use vectors. However, Google's existing native app for Android doesn't currently offer the same kind of benefits Apple's new Maps has; when taken offline after loading maps around San Francisco, Google's native Android Maps could only zoom out enough to show the most basic state boundaries for part of the northwest U.S. (zooming out any further, we lost any coverage for California).

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Rather than showing navigable road detail for most of California as Apple's Maps do, the latest Android Maps, despite vector support, could barely cover the 49 square miles (126 sq km) of San Francisco after losing connectivity.

Major highway routes degraded to a blocky mess within ten miles of our loaded location, and even city names disappeared after 40 miles (64 km). Highway 101 vanished into dead ends just 70 miles outside of San Francisco.

Taking maps offline manually with Android

Offline Maps, a new feature in Google's Android Maps released this summer, lets you manually select a regions you can save to your device. However, Google limits this support to an area of about a 50 mile (80 km) radius. Google provides full detail for offline map regions, but the area of coverage is much less than Apple's iOS 6 Maps caches automatically.

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Just outside the manually saved offline region (indicated by the horizontal line in the third image, above), Android Maps degrade into an unusable blur just 40 miles away from our location. Apple's automatically cached offline maps gracefully scale down in detail to remain useful, a much better implementation of vector map technology.

To capture greater detail of specific areas for offline use in Apple's iOS 6 Maps, all you have to do is zoom in on the regions you want to view offline. After zooming into street level maps in Fairfield, Santa Cruz, Antioch and Sacramento, the new Maps allowed us to zoom back in at the same level of detail to all those areas once offline.

Additionally, Android Maps will not allow you to bring up its layers menu without a data connection, making it impossible to try to load satellite images or a hybrid view for offline use, even for areas captured with the Offline Maps feature.

If Google's latest version of Android Maps is any indication of what it will offer iOS users, it needs to put a lot of work into its vector maps imaging to catch up to Apple's technology in Maps. At the same time, we'd like to see official support for saving offline maps of specific areas within iOS 6 Maps, because it's not clear how long or how much detail Maps saves for you after you've browsed a region.

There's no doubt that the "automatic offline support" in Apple's new Maps is infinitely better than the old iOS 5 Maps, however. It's also surprising that Apple hasn't made available for sale specialized packages of offline maps, such as national parks or regional trails, hiking and camping maps, and similar detailed, offline maps for iOS 6 users.

In addition to better handling of offline maps, Apple uses its new vector maps to progressively reveal detail on the map, as the next segment details.

Introducing iOS 6.0 Maps
Using Maps Offline
2: Maps and visualizations
3: Transit directions
4: Map labels & local search
5: Routing & traffic
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 180
    lerxtlerxt Posts: 180member
    Problem is you can't then search and initiate navigation after being off line, like you can with Nokia maps.
  • Reply 2 of 180
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    "Conversely, the web's current limitations in supporting 3D vectors also suggests Apple has no immediate plans to bring its iOS Maps to the web (like Google and Nokia have via bitmaps)..."


    That's certainly a plausible reason for that but I think WebKit's dominance, the number of browsers that support WebGL, and what I've read about the ease to install WebGL support on IE 6+ browsers means it's not something they couldn't do.
  • Reply 3 of 180
    tylerk36tylerk36 Posts: 1,037member


    Oh no heaven forbid we hear some thing positive about Apple Maps in iOS6.  OMG help me I was never lost and can be found.

  • Reply 4 of 180
    hill60hill60 Posts: 6,989member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Lerxt View Post



    Problem is you can't then search and initiate navigation after being off line, like you can with Nokia maps.


     


    If it's not there there is not much point:-


     


     



     


    Nokia Maps


     


     



     


    iOS 6

  • Reply 5 of 180
    slurpyslurpy Posts: 4,960member


    The flack maps has gotten is despicable and insane, and has really made me lose faith in humanity. What a bunch of whiny, entitled, spoiled brats we've become. There are so many incredibly impressive things about this product, and what Apple has managed to accomplish at LAUNCH is positive insane. I can't believe flyover is now mocked and defined as 'garbage' and 'crap' because of people desperately looking for the worst looking stuff at the worst angles, ignoring the fact that 99% of the time it looks stunning. I've browsed 20 cities in 3D and my mind gets numb trying to imagine the level of work that must have taken, as well as the technical ability, algorithms, etc to make the 3D look near photo realistic. We're talking entire cities rendered, with residential areas, not just the core downtown. The cartography is gorgeous. Vector maps cache brilliantly and are incredibly well designed. Turn by turn has been flawless in my experience. Yes, there's missing/wrong data which there inevitably will be. But the fact that Apple hasn't gotten a shred of credit for the package, which in many ways is superior to Google maps (design of cartography, flyover, turn by turn interface, caching, iconography, etc) from a company that has never been in the mapping business, is just depressing.


     


    Yeah, lets bitch and mock imperfections when an entire city is being rendered in 3D, while the competition is using flat jpegs, thats not petty or anything. Just imagine the bandwidth costs Apple is incurring for this compared to flat tiles. Its insanely ambitious. 

  • Reply 6 of 180


    So essentially Apple is far ahead of any other competitors when it comes to the future of mobile mapping which is vector maps.

  • Reply 7 of 180
    tylerk36tylerk36 Posts: 1,037member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Slurpy View Post


    The flack maps has gotten is despicable and insane, and has really made me lose faith in humanity. What a bunch of whiny, entitled, spoiled brats we've become. There are so many incredibly impressive things about this product, and what Apple has managed to accomplish at LAUNCH is positive insane. I can't believe flyover is now mocked and defined as 'garbage' and 'crap' because of people desperately looking for the worst looking stuff at the worst angles, ignoring the fact that 99% of the time it looks stunning. I've browsed 20 cities in 3D and my mind gets numb trying to imagine the level of work that must have taken, as well as the technical ability, algorithms, etc to make the 3D look near photo realistic. We're talking entire cities rendered, with residential areas, not just the core downtown. The cartography is gorgeous. Vector maps cache brilliantly and are incredibly well designed. Turn by turn has been flawless in my experience. Yes, there's missing/wrong data which there inevitably will be. But the fact that Apple hasn't gotten a shred of credit for the package, which in many ways is superior to Google maps (design of cartography, flyover, turn by turn interface, caching, iconography, etc) from a company that has never been in the mapping business, is just depressing.


     


    Yeah, lets bitch and mock imperfections when an entire city is being rendered in 3D, while the competition is using flat jpegs, thats not petty or anything. Just imagine the bandwidth costs Apple is incurring for this compared to flat tiles. Its insanely ambitious. 



    The problem is there are more Apple Haters than lovers.  There are mega corps who want to see Apple fail.  This was a successful campaign.  Kinda like politics but worst.  At least in politics there are some boundaries.  But in the tech world there is no mercy.  Especially when you have 10s of millions even 100 million on legal teams and strategists to hurt the other guy.  If Steve Jobs was still alive he would have brought this stupid map issue to its knees and any one who caused or made it a problem would have trembled at the mere thought of facing the man.  This too will pass and Maps will be a mega app for the iPhone and iPad.

  • Reply 8 of 180
    bdekokbdekok Posts: 10member
    It's actually quite impressive how much it remembers when you turn on Airplane mode. The detail and range is staggering. I'm quite liking (warming up to) the new Maps app, but it could use a bit more polishing.

    It's the detail I miss from the old Google API iOS5 maps app, such as border boundaries, creeks etc… Yelp! is quite nice, but it is only as good as the crowd uses it. This means not all restaurants, POI, etc are covered. Hopefully this will included in the near future.

    I don't care for transit stuff as it was never available in Australia anyway (that I know of) and street view (which I hardly use) is available in another app (Live Street View).

    BUT, I'd really, really like the routing logic updated. It does not pick the best routes and always seems to ignore or bypass tollways; why is that? This should be available is settings, i.e., ignore tollways, freeways, ferry crossings etc.. It should also have a choice of shortest or fastest route. These things are currently missing (not that the iOS5 version ever had it though).
  • Reply 9 of 180
    Is offline caching in iOS 6 Maps actually saving to flash memory or only showing what's resident in RAM? For example, the iPhone 5 has 1GB of RAM so is the offline cached area smaller in 512MB RAM devices like the iPhone 4S or 256MB RAM iPhone 3GS? If you load an intensive game like Infinity Blade II and switch back to Maps is the same map area maintained?
  • Reply 10 of 180
    Breast pump is broken. AppleInsider to the rescue.
  • Reply 11 of 180
    smiffy31smiffy31 Posts: 158member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by ltcommander.data View Post



    Is offline caching in iOS 6 Maps actually saving to flash memory or only showing what's resident in RAM? For example, the iPhone 5 has 1GB of RAM so is the offline cached area smaller in 512MB RAM devices like the iPhone 4S or 256MB RAM iPhone 3GS? If you load an intensive game like Infinity Blade II and switch back to Maps is the same map area maintained?




    in iOS caches are usually in the filesystem, there is a local (to the app) sub directory for tmp files. Alot of apps (dropbox, goodreader, browsers) even allow the user to adjust the max size of this space), the files are therefore stored in the flash memory of the app and eventually in the RAM for the current viewed part. The worst then after running Infinity blade II is thet the app wil have to refetch from flash to RAM to display

  • Reply 12 of 180
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,148moderator
    <strong>Vector maps in iOS 6 are so efficient that Apple can cache a very large surrounding area for offline browsing and GPS navigation under Airplane Mode or when traveling outside of data coverage.</strong>

    That's a huge improvement over the last version of maps. All they need to do to improve any inaccuracy people find is have a crowdsourcing feature directly in the app so that people can report an issue wherever they find one. These requests can get logged to a server with a unique ID and queued based on frequency of submission so the most important inaccuracies are fixed first. Fraudulent submissions can have their unique ID ignored from the queue.
    The technology to support vector maps in a web browser (WebGL) isn't quite there yet, and so far is still pretty taxing even for desktop computers. To bring vector maps to iOS 6, these companies would need to offer a native app.

    They could use other open standards:

    http://www.giscloud.com/apps/map-editor
    http://editor.giscloud.com/

    but the performance isn't as high as WebGL yet:

    https://www.scirra.com/blog/58/html5-2d-gaming-performance-analysis

    so there would be no smooth zoom. It would have to rasterise at predefined levels. It'll just take a few generations before the hardware is fast enough though and will likely come sooner than cross-platform webGL support. I'd like to see webGL gain traction but security is the priority.
    There's no doubt that the "automatic offline support" in Apple's new Maps is infinitely better than the old iOS 5 Maps, however. It's also surprising that Apple hasn't made available for sale specialized packages of offline maps, such as national parks or regional trails, hiking and camping maps, and similar detailed, offline maps for iOS 6 users.

    I agree - the cached way of doing maps do mean that updates are totally automated but they could have an in-app purchase for special offline maps at say 99c. Say you go abroad and know you will never have data access, you could manually buy and load a detailed map of the region you are going to.
  • Reply 13 of 180
    akf2000akf2000 Posts: 223member


    very cool, Apple, I like me some offline map shitz.

  • Reply 14 of 180
    richlrichl Posts: 2,213member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Slurpy View Post


    The flack maps has gotten is despicable and insane, and has really made me lose faith in humanity. What a bunch of whiny, entitled, spoiled brats we've become. There are so many incredibly impressive things about this product, and what Apple has managed to accomplish at LAUNCH is positive insane.



     


     


    The iPhone is premium product and so people expect a premium experience. The great thing about the original iPhone was that it didn't try to do everything - instead it focused on the basics. It gave you the best phone, the best e-mail client, the best music player and the best web browser. Other phones can better cameras or more features, but that didn't matter to iPhone users.


     


    The new Apple Maps app seems to focus new features over the basics. The fundamental features, especially when outside of the US and China, are a significant step backwards. A lot of aerial photography is B&W, obscured by clouds or doesn't zoom in very far. Places are mislabeled and major landmarks aren't labelled at all. Instead, we've got some highly advanced new features that are let down by poor basic features. Turn-by-turn navigation is great but doesn't work so well when it tries to route me via a pedestrian footpath.


     


    It feels unfinished. If people want to be beta testers, they can buy a cheaper Android device.


     


    This topic is boring now though. Virtually every other site has moved on. I think it's time for AI to move on.
  • Reply 15 of 180


    Thanks for the article. This explains why I can successfully use the maps through a very sparsely populated area of Tn,Ga, and Al with a hiccup. These maps work great for me and the explanation deserves more press coverage. It appears one should browse the intended use area over WiFi or LTE before getting on the raod in an area of weak cellular coverage. If I wanted to criticize Apple, I would suggest they give users the explanation you gave rather than letting the situation get out of contol.  Thanks

  • Reply 16 of 180
    saareksaarek Posts: 1,029member


    Technically the new maps app is brilliant, for use as a GPS to get someone from A to B it's pretty much up there with the best. But where it falls down is the low res or black & white maps that covers much of the world and missing data in terms of where things are.


     


    Simple example, open up google maps in the browser and the school, chip shop, supermarket, post office, off licence etc etc are all listed around me. Open up Apple Maps and you get the road names and nothing else at all.


     


    As a GPS it's class, for everything else that we have come to expect of maps on the iPhone/iPad it's useless.


     


    Sure, in the US it's better than in the UK or anywhere else but that is not really an excuse.


     


    Yes it will get better, yes one day it will be superior in every way to Google Maps, yes if I wanted to I could live in my browser for map data but that is hardly a premium experience is it.


     


    Apple Maps is a beta product, the apology from Tim as nice a guy as he is does not make up for that.

  • Reply 17 of 180
    ....for offline browsing and GPS navigation under Airplane Mode....

    As soon as I am in airplane mode GPS is unavailable, what am I doing wrong?...
  • Reply 18 of 180


    I can't reproduce this. I just looked at Melbourne, Australia on Apple Maps on my iPhone. A city that I've never looked at before in maps. I let Maps sit at the default zoom level on Melbourne and waited several minutes, then turned on flight mode. I wasn't able to zoom into Melbourne (maps got blurry) and I was only able to see a little bit more than the original rectangle around Melbourne when zooming out.

  • Reply 19 of 180
    MapsWithMe for iOS and Android has full offline support for vector maps of all countries in the World (OpenStreetMap data is used).
  • Reply 20 of 180
    djrumpydjrumpy Posts: 1,116member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Marvin View Post

    I agree - the cached way of doing maps do mean that updates are totally automated but they could have an in-app purchase for special offline maps at say 99c. Say you go abroad and know you will never have data access, you could manually buy and load a detailed map of the region you are going to.


    If it's based on open maps, then why charge anything for it? Especially if you are already caching a lot of this data today. I suspect this will improve drastically over the new month or three. I live in the US, so I'm very pleased wit the new app, but I do still think the complaints are overblown with most posts claiming complete buggary but never posting a credible example. I've yet to see any impacting credible complaints posted other than missing foot traffic info (subway stations, etc) for folks overseas or 'bad' addresses that lack things like zip codes.



    I do think they need to incorporate this data and simple search even for those without Siri. No reason this couldn't read back names and dates with the appropriate voice libraries downloaded rather than relying on Siri to read off turn by turn. Even if it was a simple 'Turn Left in 50 Feet" rather than Turn Left on Marshall Street in 50 Feet". Throw the older devices a bone ;)


     


    I'm fortunate to have the latest pad and phone but half of my household doesn't. I would much rather have them using a spoken nav than trying to look at a phone for directions and being distracted.

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