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Monday, October 08, 2012, 05:45 pm PT (08:45 pm ET)

In-depth Review: Apple's iOS 6 Maps & the alternatives 2: Maps and visualizations

Standard 3D Perspective views

Turn on "3D" in standard view, and Apple puts the map into perspective view with building and landmark models that erupt from the land, where these are available. This view does not show topographical changes in the landscape.

This was never supported in iOS 5 Maps, although it is similar to Google's "3D" building model perspective view on Android, which is supported in "over 100 cities." Nokia is expected to similarly add 3D building models in Windows Phone 8. Neither firm supports any sort of perspective view in its web app. Some GPS apps do show 3D models in their turn by turn instructions.

Apple calls this feature "3D Buildings in Navigation" (as opposed to its photorealistic Flyover) and currently says it is supported in just 23 US cities (Flyover is, counterintuitively, available in more cities).

Outside of these cities with building models (which also show up in 2D and 3D turn by turn directions), 3D Standard mode is essentially a tilted perspective of the map. Apple separately provides 2D building outlines for most major cities internationally, but when put in "3D mode," these remain as flat as the rest of the map.

Apple's flat, 2D building outlines are similar to those shown by Nokia and MapQuest and what Google shows on the map in both iOS 5 Maps and via the web, although again, these other companies opt to show this type of detail earlier at further out zoom levels.

Apple's new iOS 6 Maps is unique in offering to depict 2D maps in perspective view on iOS. Google does show a similar perspective view in its Android app, but just as with its 2D maps, it does not deliver the same level of clarity in roads (below), but does offer more detail in its building models. On both platforms, you can freely rotate and zoom in on the map in this perspective view.

So what's the point of putting 2D maps in perspective, particularly if you're somewhere other than the few places Apple currently supports with "3D Buildings in Navigation"?

Being able to rotate the map and put it into 3D perspective can help when navigating complex intersections or simply orientating yourself on the map, such as at this freeway intersection, below.

The map options above don't offer map rotation or perspective views, which are in general a feature of vector maps, like those used in GPS style apps (such as Waze, pictured below)

Apple's support for vector maps in the new iOS 6 Maps does let you rotate and put the standard map in 3D perspective, and will even set up views for you automatically when in turn by turn directions mode. Note that Apple's automatic turn by turn maps are even more detailed. This indicates Apple is purposely simplifying its Standard maps to make them easier to read.

Apple's new iOS 6 Maps don't cover all the features of a dedicated GPS app, but is comparable in turn by turn navigation features to the mobile apps of Google and Nokia, as we'll look at in more detail later in the segment on driving directions. If Apple's navigation style is too simple for your tastes, you'll be happy to find that Apple's iOS App Store offers the largest selection of mobile GPS app alternatives, ranging from free to subscription to paid versions.