Apple Copies a Top Google Maps Feature, That's Quite Alright

Apple Maps DCE 6 photos
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution
The new Apple Maps in BostonThe new Apple Maps in BostonThe new Apple Maps in BostonThe new Apple Maps in BostonThe new Apple Maps in Boston
Apple has recently announced one of the biggest Apple Maps updates in a very long time: offline maps are making their way to the app, allowing users to navigate without the need for an Internet connection.
Many people believe this is just a minor improvement, calling the detailed city experience (DCE) the biggest overhaul in the history of Apple Maps.

While this could be true, the DCE is an update aimed at the entire platform, whereas offline maps are specifically targeted at the navigation experience. With offline maps, drivers like all of us here at autoevolution can head to the middle of nowhere without fearing we will no longer find our way back when the data connection drops.

The detailed city experience is indeed big news for the future of Apple Maps. Thanks to the new maps, the service now provides users with incredibly realistic data, such as crosswalks, sidewalks, parks, buildings, traffic lights, and so on. The 3D navigation is an integral part of the new experience, making it easier for users to figure out which way they must go to follow a recommended route.

On the other hand, the painfully slow rollout makes the DCE feel less important in Apple's strategy, as it just seems like the company isn't fully committed to this massive transformation. Of course, this is not true, but Apple needing years to bring such a major update to users across the world is certainly disappointing.

Going back to offline maps, this feature has long been a top feature request in the Apple user base. Especially as most alternatives already offer such capabilities, including Google Maps.

In many ways, offline support has become a must-have feature of a navigation solution, as drivers don't always stay within the borders of an urban area. We tend to explore and go to places where we've never been before, and as such, finding a navigation solution that we can rely on to find our way to the destination is vital. Until now, Apple Maps lacked such capabilities, forcing users to stick with the application only when an Internet connection was available.

Now everything is changing.

The new Apple Maps in Boston
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution
Many people believe Apple copies Google Maps with its offline maps integration. This is undoubtedly true, though I'm not sure that the iPhone maker wanted to follow in Google's footsteps and offer a similar experience.

If anything, Apple indeed went for a similar approach but eventually improved it significantly.

To download maps, you need to tap your profile icon and launch the Offline Maps option, just like in Google Maps. The next step comes down to selecting the area that you want to download, just like in Google Maps. You can refine the bounds and see how much space the downloaded data would use, just like in Google Maps. Apple Maps always shows a preview of the selection, just like Google Maps. Once a map is downloaded, it gets automatic updates when the app runs, just like in Google Maps.

The big difference is Apple Maps supports offline navigation for other means of transportation as well, including transit. Sure enough, the data wouldn’t be updated in real-time, but it could still come in handy when losing the Internet connection.

At the end of the day, it's probably safe to assume that Apple copied Google Maps' offline support. Is this a bad thing? Not at all.

Offline maps have become an essential part of every worthy navigation app, including Google Maps and any other application whose role is to get you from where you are to where you want to be. Sygic's GPS Navigation has them, TomTom has them too, and so does HERE. Most advanced navigation apps come with offline maps, so Apple Maps getting the same update makes perfect sense.

Sure enough, Apple's implementation looks a lot like Google's, and maybe this is the most obvious sign the iPhone maker copied its rival's idea, but eventually, the whole purpose of the update is to make it easier to find a destination without an Internet connection.

The new Apple Maps in Boston
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution
The offline map support is already available for testing in the iOS 17 developer build, and the first public beta due in a few weeks should also include the feature. As such, you can't try it out today if you're not a registered developer, but you should be able to do it sooner rather than later when this public beta goes live.

As for production devices, the offline maps will be integrated into the stable version of iOS 17 due later this year. Based on Apple's typical release calendar, the new operating system update will be released in the fall of this year, most likely in September. The update will be available for the iPhone XS and newer, so offline maps wouldn’t be offered to older iPhone models.
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About the author: Bogdan Popa
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Bogdan keeps an eye on how technology is taking over the car world. His long-term goals are buying an 18-wheeler because he needs more space for his kid’s toys, and convincing Google and Apple that Android Auto and CarPlay deserve at least as much attention as their phones.
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