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Tuesday, July 30, 2013, 11:55 pm PT (02:55 am ET)

Apple's iOS 7 3D Maps leave Google Earth, Nokia Maps 3D looking old fashioned

Maps in iOS 7 will gain a full screen mode that emphasizes how Apple's 3D Flyover imagery is much easier to navigate, more detailed and significantly more up-to-date than even the desktop 3D offerings of leading map vendors Google and Nokia, let alone their mobile app offerings.

iOS 7 full screen Maps

In full screen mode, iOS 7 Maps presents a view on iPhone 5 that's nearly as expansive and detailed as an iPad today


Apple Maps takes iOS from trailing to leading in 3D



At Apple's introduction of iOS 6 last fall, iOS 5 Maps had been serving up bitmapped tiles from Google, which supplied only a flat, 2D representation of the massing of modeled buildings (below left).

iOS 5 Maps vs Android Maps

iOS 5 Google Maps vs Android Google Maps


Google's own Maps+Navigation app for Android (above right) presented the same building models with the added ability to freely rotate the map, allowing users to see the shape of landmark towers from multiple angles and discern the accurate relationship of buildings and the roads around them.

iOS standard Maps

Apple 2D & 3D Standard Maps


While Apple also added 3D building massing models of its own to iOS Maps in Standard mode (above), it additionally enabled users to take Satellite maps into the modeled 3D perspective mode Apple referred to as Flyover (below).

iOS Sat & Flyover

Apple 2D & 3D Satellite Maps


Flyover gave Apple's new iOS Maps a compelling alternative to the Google Street View feature it was missing (the replication of which would be both a difficultly complicated and expensively inefficient task for Apple to attempt).

It also helped to make up for Apple Maps' other shortcomings, including having far fewer and often less sophisticated 3D building models (visible above in the Time Warner Center building, opposite Central Park in New York City; the latest Google Maps for iOS don't actually show the building in favor of instead presenting an indoor mall map, another feature Apple doesn't yet match).

Google Maps standard

Google Maps 2D & 3D Standard Maps


Flyover's alternative representation provides an additional sanity check for users trying to orient themselves on the map, and represents a feature that's still missing from even the new Google Maps for iOS.

When Google Maps' satellite imagery is taken into perspective (above), it simply appears as a flat, confusing distortion of the overhead view.

Google Maps satellite

Google Maps 2D & 3D Satellite Maps


To see realistic models, users have to leave Google Maps and launch Google Earth (below right), which lacks the same easy navigation controls and the traffic and directions of an actual mapping app.

Apple Flyover vs Google Earth

Apple Flyover vs Google Earth


Details in Flyover (above left) appear less sharply distinct in this screen shot, but in actual use it is far easier to position and read than Google Earth, and consumes a lot less memory. Google Earth frequently complains of running out of memory in actual use, and is both plodding and laggy.

The technology behind Apple's high performance photorealistic, interactive 3D Flyover map images originated at C3 Technologies, which Apple acquired in late 2011.

Nokia 3D Maps via C3



C3 had demonstrated its technology at CES 2011 (shown in the video below), eliciting the description of it being a "Google Maps on steroids."



Shortly afterward in April 2011, Nokia released a preview of its work in partnership with C3 to develop 3D Maps imagery for its web-based Ovi Maps, now branded as Nokia HERE.

Nokia stated at that time that C3's 3D mapping "uses modern camera equipment to capture as many as one image per second of the same object from up to 100 different angles. The images are then used to automatically reproduce the shape of the objects with very high accuracy. After that, an image processing software automatically drapes each shape with the texture chosen from the pictures of each object.

"The same process is being applied for all objects – buildings, houses, trees, and hills – the result is a seamless canvas of 3D-data where the resolution (8 to 12 centimeters per pixel) and quality is consistent over the entire model. This is the secret to C3 maps’ realistic look compared to competitors’ hand-made and cartoonish appearance."

Nokia said C3 had finished mapping parts of 20 different major cities in Europe and North America, promising more to come. However, Apple's acquisition of C3 has left Nokia with 3D imagery limited to just 25 cities, including parts of New York City (below).

Nokia Maps 3D

Nokia 3D Maps


Even within the limited 3D Maps Nokia offers, imagery appears to be considerably less detailed and often much older than those available through Apple Maps, and is also more difficult to position and navigate (although not as bad as Google Earth).

Nokia's 3D Maps also require a desktop web browser with support for WebGL, so they won't work on iOS devices. Nokia's HERE app for iOS doesn't include support for the company's 3D Maps either.