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The iPhone explored: The Internet on your phone

Maps

Despite having a class-leading Web-browser and easy-to-use—if not feature-rich—e-mail and text-messaging applications, it’s the iPhone’s Maps program that is perhaps the most impressive of its Internet tools.

Viewing maps Tap Maps on the Home screen and you’ll see a miniature version of Google Maps. Type an address or other query in the search field at the top of the screen—Maps supports all the same types of queries as Google Maps itself—and then tap search to display a Google map with the search results, displayed as one or more pushpins. Double-tap to zoom in, repeatedly if necessary; tap with two fingers at once to zoom out. (Yes, this is the only app on the iPhone to use the two-finger tap.)

Drag your finger around the screen to reposition the map. As with Google Maps on the Web, tapping the Satellite button at the bottom of the screen gives you a photographic satellite view of the map. (At this point, there’s no Hybrid or Street View, as there is with the Web version of Google Maps.) A traffic button—with an appropriate car icon—displays live, color-coded traffic information, although only for major roads in or near major cities.

If you’ve used Google Maps, the iPhone version will look very familiar.

You can also search for businesses, or even types of businesses, by entering the search term and a city and state or zip code. For example, to find a donut shop near the Apple campus, you could type

donut cupertino
and tap Search; the result is a map of the area with nearby donut shops displayed. If you’ve already found the location—say, Cupertino—you can simply enter
donuts
and tap Search; Maps will search the current map area.

But it’s when the search finishes that the usefulness really starts. For starters, after searching for a business or type of business, tap the List button at the bottom of the screen to view a list of all matches, sorted by distance; tap one to re-center the map on that location.

When you’ve located the desired address or location, tap the blue > icon next to the location name, and a useful screen appears that lets you quickly view the location’s address; get directions to or from that the location; add the location to your Maps bookmarks; or add the location to a new or existing contact. For businesses, the screen even includes a phone number and, if available, a Web page; tapping one calls the number on the phone or opens the page in Safari, respectively. I’ve never found it so easy to locate and contact a store or restaurant.

Tap the blue > next to your Maps search results and you get everything from the place’s location to driving directions.

The contacts integration also works the other way. When you begin typing a search query, Maps displays any contact names that match; tap one, and Maps goes directly to that contact’s address. From there you can use the options screen to get directions to that location. As long as you keep your Mac’s contacts up to date, you’ve got instant access to maps of—and directions to—each contact’s address, whether a friend or a place of business.

Tapping the blue book icon next to the search field brings up Maps’ quick-access lists. The first tab, Bookmarks, lists any address or business you’ve bookmarked; tapping one shows a map of the location. The second tab, Recents, displays all recent Maps activity, with each task labeled by type: Search (for a Google location search), Location (for a specific address), or Start/End (for driving directions, explained below). Tap one to bring it up again. Finally, Contacts displays your contacts list; tap any contact to bring up the contact’s address in Maps.

Getting directions A map is useful, but most people use maps to get somewhere—thus the popularity of sites such as Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, and MapQuest. The Maps application’s other immensely useful feature is driving directions.

Tap the button with two opposing arrows at the bottom of the screen and the map search bar changes to a two-field directions search bar. Tap in the top field to enter the starting position, and then tap in the bottom field to enter the destination. Both fields offer the Bookmarks button, so you can quickly use a bookmark, recent location, or contact as the starting or ending point. If you do a search for your own address and bookmark it, finding directions to and from your home becomes as simple as tapping the Bookmarks icon next to the Start or End field and then tapping the “home” bookmark.

The S-arrow button lets you swap the contents of the Start and End fields. Tap Route and Maps will display (what it thinks is) the best route between the two points. You can tap the Traffic button to view traffic levels along the route.

Maps can display your directions in a handy step-by-step format.

When using Google Maps on the Web, you can click on each step of the directions to view a mini-map of that particular turn; Maps on the iPhone offers a similar feature. Tap the Start button that appears on the route screen, and the route map will zoom down to the first step. The bar at the top of the screen displays the textual directions for that step— Take the ramp onto I-280 S - go 3.0 mi —as well as left and right arrows to go to the previous and next step, respectively. Each time you proceed to the next step in the directions, the map zooms out and then back in to the map of that step.

You can also view the directions as a textual list by tapping the List button at the bottom of the screen. Tapping on any step in this list switches the view back to map mode and displays that step on the map. All in all, this directions mode is very effective—though, for safety’s sake, it requires a passenger to handle the navigating, so that the driver can keep an eye on the road.

It’s not obvious, but you can edit the Start or End points, or start a new driving-directions search, by tapping anywhere in the bar at the top of the screen. You can also switch back to standard map mode at any time by tapping the driving-directions button again.

Maps wish list As useful as the Maps application is, there are a few things Apple and Google could do to make it even better. First, you can’t point to a location on the screen and bookmark it; you have to enter a specific address, or choose a place of business, and then bookmark that. But given the detail of Google’s map and satellite images, it’s easy to find a location you want to bookmark—or get directions to—without knowing its address. Second, I wish there was a way to re-route a section of driving directions. For example, say you want to avoid a particular road, or take a particular street. And finally, it goes without saying that if the iPhone actually had GPS capabilities—so it would always know exactly where you are—Maps would be one of the coolest tools on any portable device.

Final thoughts on Maps

Although missing true GPS functionality, Maps gives the iPhone all the place-finding and direction-giving functionality of Google’s mapping Web site, but adds integration with the iPhone’s other applications.

Rob Griffiths contributed to this article by sending many SMS messages.

[ Senior Editor Dan Frakes covers more iPhone matters at iPhone Central ]

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