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Apple iOS 6 Maps cuts Google's exclusive lock on directions, opens door to third party apps

Walking directions

Walking directions are different from driving directions in a few respects. First of all, the given path is actually sensible for walking, rather than just being the driving route with a longer estimated time.

Secondly, similar to Overview mode in driving directions, you can navigate around the map to any point along your highlighted route or explore around to view anywhere else you want to look at (noting live traffic alerts, below). There's also the standard Location button to jump back to your current position, or, when touched a second time, enter compass mode to show your current facing location on the map (as existing Maps work).

You can also preview each segment of your walking route by swiping through the series of "street sign" turn indicators. You can also activate 3D mode (below left) or even Flyover aerial views (below right) and zoom in to get a sense of what buildings and other landmarks you will be (or currently are) walking past.

Unfortunately, there's no single button to push to toggle between walking and driving modes; you have to end one set of directions and calculate the new route, which feels like a hassle but realistically just amounts to three taps: the End/Cancel button, the Directions icon, and then new mode you want to enter: walking, driving or transit.

Transit directions

Apple's new iOS 6 Maps doesn't handle transit directions natively any more. In June, Apple's iOS software chief Scott Forstall explained why, when he told developers at WWDC:

"When building Maps, we looked around and realized the best transit apps for metros, for hiking, for biking, are coming from our developers. And so instead of trying to develop those ourselves, we are going to integrate and feature and promote your apps for transit right within the Maps app in iOS 6."

And so, for the first time since the debut of the iPhone, when you look up transit directions in Maps you won't be automatically directed to Google. Instead, you'll have to select third party helper apps to provide these types of alternative directions. The way Apple has implemented this allows third parties (including Google) to all compete for you attention, resulting in a more level playing field, more options, and competition for features and accuracy.

Currently, Google relies on its own internal algorithms to calculate transit directions in a wide variety of cities. While Maps is limited to transit-only directions in iOS 5 and earlier, Google also has data on how to bike around or hike off-road paths. None of these have ever been visible in iOS Maps, however. Now, if Google chooses to, it can (as can others).

Being able to pick your own specialized third party sources for transit and other transportation modes is great because Google's aren't always the best. In San Francisco, for example, the local Muni system of busses, trains and cable and trolley cars actually provides public "NextBus" realtime arrival data that is generally quite accurate, using GPS devices outfitted on each vehicle. But Google doesn't use this data for some reason.

The result is that if you compare Google's information on the next available Muni bus with any third party apps that do tap into this system, you get very different data (with the potential difference of getting to work on time or not).

However, until now there hasn't been any way to tell Maps that you prefer routing information from a source other than Google. In iOS 6, you'll now be able to look up a variety of apps capable of providing specialized directions for specific areas, and integrate them into the options available in Maps, without having to switch between each app to compare the routing information it has. Of course, because iOS 6 isn't out yet there's no way to search the App Store for Maps-savvy options (options are currently blank, below).

Rest assured that the wide range of transit, biking and hiking apps will jump on the opportunity to compete with Google for your attention. There's also the potential for linking other transportation modes into Maps, enabling specialized routing information options ranging from navigating a mall to charting a path across a ski resort to possibly even finding the cheapest route between cities when deciding between flying or taking a train.

As Forstall noted to developers in the audience at WWDC, "registering as a routing app gives you more opportunities to get your app in front of users. Routing apps are not limited to just driving or walking directions. Routing apps can also include apps that provide directions for the user's favorite bicycle or hiking trail, for air routes, and for subway or other public transportation lines."