When you request directions, you'll not only get step-by-step instructions; you'll also have the option of choosing one of several alternate routes. Once you settle on the best way to get there, you can hit "Start" to fire up navigation mode, at which point Siri starts barking out orders. A note on Apple's preferred style of skeuomorphism: every step appears at the top of your screen in the form of a street sign, giving you the distance as well as a heads up about what to do next. What if you prefer to leave the display off and simply listen for the voice prompts? The app can run in the background, and your lock screen wallpaper even turns into the current navigation step, so you won't be tempted to touch your phone and unlock the screen. It's a clever addition, and we suspect drivers will appreciate that little detail. Traffic data is also presented in these new Maps. Granted, this was already a feature on iOS, but it's much improved here. The information is now crowdsourced, meaning Apple will judge traffic by looking at your speed and position (not to mention, millions of other commuters with iPhones). This allows for more accurate real-time reporting of delays, accidents and other complications that might cause you to be late for work. (While iOS had traffic reports with Google Maps, the data was only crowdsourced by Android users.) Road construction and closures appear as small icons; click on one and a card will pop up from the side, giving you all the information you need about the hold-up. Maps will also recommend new routes if it determines you'll save commuting time by making the switch.
Speaking of which, small icons can be found all over the place as points of interest. Click on a restaurant icon and you'll be greeted by its name, overall Yelp rating and options to get directions or contact information. You can also go directly into its Yelp page and take a peek at individual reviews. (Apple also cleverly sneaked in an easter egg: all of its stores are represented by an Apple logo.) Google Street View fans will be disappointed to see that there isn't really an equivalent feature here. Still, you'll still be treated to a couple new options that aim to provide a similar level of granular detail. Flyover is Apple's take on the "birds-eye view" feature found on Bing Maps: you get a 3D render depicting an aerial view of large cities as if you were, you know, flying over them. This means you can see streets, parks, buildings and every other aspect of the city -- and you can finally use multitouch gestures to rotate the maps (again, this was a Google Maps feature sorely missed on iOS). You won't find the Flyover feature available everywhere yet, but it's so far available in a handful of major cities, with more to follow.
In case you can't make use of Flyover, you should be able to take advantage of 3D view, which comes complete with Google Earth-like topographical capabilities -- pan over a mountain, for instance, and you can see the various canyons, slopes and other details. Rounding out the feature list, the Maps application also includes pinch-out maps that let you see a globe view, and information cards for businesses and points of interest.
Big city folk, you're going to have one significant qualm with the new Maps: there are no public transportation options for navigation. The button is present (next to driving and walking) when you plug in your destination, but when you attempt to set up a route, you're taken to a "Routing Apps" screen that makes references to the App Store. This makes sense, given that Apple is supplying developers with a transit API, but we can't imagine that homegrown public transit options aren't already in the works. Until an official solution is put into place, however, this omission is likely to frustrate urbanites who rely on subways and buses as their primary means of getting around.
We also noticed that there may be some amount of concern with the infant Maps search results. Apple has partnered with Yelp, a highly respected service with a healthy database of its own, but plenty of businesses not aligned with the site may be missing out. In our comparisons between the old Maps and new, we found that the results varied wildly between the two: Google typically yielded more results, though we noticed that the new Maps was able to find some businesses and points of interest that Google couldn't. If you're missing the old Maps, there may be some good news on the horizon: Google is rumored to be working on its own standalone Maps app for iOS, which would give users the best of both worlds. In general, the new Maps is a work in progress and won't be perfect. It may even be frustrating for many users who have grown accustomed to the familiar look and feel of Google Maps. However, we're intrigued by the direction Apple has taken (pun intended); Apple is now addressing many concerns we've had with Maps in the past, and though there are certainly some things that need massaging, we're optimistic that the app will continue to expand in scope, coverage and functionality.
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Back when it was announced in June, Passbook was the one addition to iOS that had many people predicting the iPhone 5 would come with Near-Field Communications (NFC) built-in. Why? The feature's main function is to act as a wallet of sorts: instead of hunting through your iPhone to find a barcode, coupon or boarding pass, you can find these types of items bundled together in one place. It wouldn't be difficult to imagine this application being expanded to include mobile payments and maybe even work badges, hotel room cards and car keys compatible. As you may have seen in last week's keynote, such wireless technology didn't even get a mention. The iPhone 5 does not, in fact, have NFC, and gossip-mongers will likely turn their attention to next year's model (the iPhone 5S?). But this doesn't mean Passbook is useless in the meantime. On the contrary, anyone who shops, travels or attends concerts and other events will likely find it convenient. As new items begin to pour into your Passbook, they'll show up as a stack of tabs, each one spanning the width of an iPhone screen. Pull up any tab and it'll be presented as a card, complete with barcodes and any other relevant information. (Delta boarding passes, for instance, will look very similar to the ones you'd find in the official iOS app, and are just as scannable.) Whenever you have multiple items in a specific category -- let's say you've purchased tickets to more than one concert -- they'll show up under the same tab. The first card will be seen, but you'll need to swipe horizontally to check out the rest. This can be a little confusing the first few times you use it, so be careful not to lose your bearings. Fortunately, Passbook has also been integrated with the iOS lock screen, which means your boarding passes and event tickets will appear there as notifications when the time approaches. Overall, the convenience of this new feature intrigues us, and it should become even more useful over time as more developers take advantage of it. We sadly weren't able to test it with real boarding passes or coupons, but we were able to generate a few sample cards via a third-party website to get a good idea of the user experience (have a look at our screenshots to see what we're talking about).
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Find my Friends / Find my iPhone
iOS 5 users will likely be familiar with these two geolocation apps -- Find my iPhone can help you locate a lost or stolen device, while Find my Friends will let you hunt down your family, friends and colleagues -- and with iOS 6, they'll look much the same. However, they've still been enhanced with new features that should make the apps even more tempting to use. For starters, Find my iPhone is now introducing a "Lost Mode," a new option which triggers an alert sound on the device and provides a remotely set phone number for good Samaritans to call and coordinate a place to return it.