Despite getting a lot of flack over the mapping inconsistencies and irregularities in its homegrown Mapping application, Apple’s new Maps are vector based as opposed raster-based and as a result enable iOS users to still browse Maps in surprising detail even when there’s no data connection, assuming of course that a user has visited the area of interest previously so that the mapping imagery has been cached.
The use of vector maps, which are resolution independent rather than static photos of map tiles, employees upwards of 80% less bandwidth than its predecessor and thereby allows the app to store much more map data on the device for future use.
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 Montréal, Canada.
Even more impressively, AI found that they could effectively navigate all of California’s highway system and even close up views of areas never previously visited before such as Salt Lake City, Utah. TUAW did their own test and came away equally impressed.
What I found was that I was able to peruse maps at street level of accuracy offline, provided that I had previously looked at those locations while online to load the data. For example, the images in the gallery below show my home location, a state-level map of the Western US, most of South America, street maps of Ushuaia, Argentina and a satellite view of a neighborhood in Auburn, Wash., that I lived in as an child.
All told, offline maps are extremely helpful if you find yourself stranded in an area with little to no reception, or even as a means to cut back on cellular data costs.
Remember that Apple’s Maps app is still a baby, and going up against Google Maps, with years of solid experience under its belt, is no easy task. Growing pains are to be expected, but dare we say that the framework is in place for Apple to deliver a mapping experience that does, in the words of Tim Cook, live up to Apple’s high standards.