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Eight tips for iOS's Maps app

When it comes to getting from Point A to Point B, the Maps app that comes with your iOS device can keep you heading in the right direction. From telling you where you are to showing you where to go, Maps is an incredibly full-featured offering, especially for a built-in app.

Easy as Maps may be to use, sometimes you can lose sight of the details. Here are some tips for mastering Maps—some basic, some you might not know about—that can help you spend less time fumbling with the app and more time getting to where you want to go.

Note that most of the tips below work with every version of Maps, but we’re specifically focusing on iOS 5’s Maps offering. Also, in some cases, the iPad version of Maps works a little differently from what’s on the iPhone; we’ll specifically highlight the instances where that’s the case.

Use the Current Location button

Tap the Current Location button (a swallow-tailed arrow in newer versions of Maps, a crosshairs in older ones) to center the map around where you are right now. A blue dot will drop into the exact center of the displayed map; that’s where Maps thinks you are.

And if Current Location can’t seem to find you? Exit Maps and head over to Settings. Find the Location Services option, and make sure that it’s turned on. Tapping on Location Services takes you to the on/off switch, plus a list of apps and whether they’re allowed to pinpoint your location. Scroll down the alphabetical list to Maps and make sure the switch is in the on position.

By default, Maps is oriented with the top of the screen as North. But if you tap the Current Location button a second time, the map will spin around. While it’s still centered on your current location, now the top of the map is oriented to what’s ahead of you. This is especially handy when you’re on foot and need to know whether the place you want to go is in front of you or behind.

Zooming in and out

The pinch gesture is a natural fit for iOS zooming, and it works in Maps, A pinch will zoom out to show more of the surrounding area, while a reverse pinch zooms you in for a closer look. For a more controlled and precise zoom, however, try a tap. Double-tap with one finger to zoom in; the place you tapped remains under your finger. Single-tap with two fingers to zoom out.

Drop a pin

Say you want to bookmark your location, either for reference later or to share your exact location with someone else via email, iMessage, or MMS. Dropping a pin is a quick way to mark a place on the map.

Drop a pin anywhere on the map by touching the map and keeping your finger down. From there, you can drag that purple pin to another location if you want, or drop another pin somewhere else by touching the map and holding your finger down. Note that you can’t have two dropped pins on the map at once—dropping a second one removes the first.

Get rid of a dropped pin by touching the white arrow in the blue circle (officially called a Disclosure Control but you can think of it as the Details button), then tapping Delete Pin. On an iPad, it’s a white “i” for info in a blue circle. Same location, same purpose.

All about flags

Every pin—dropped or not—has a flag containing information and options. Dropped pins show their flags automatically, but other pins, including Current Location, do not.

Reveal a pin’s flag by tapping the pin; tap anywhere else to make the flag go away. Touch the Details button (far right of the flag) to get a whole lot of good stuff, including buttons for Directions To Here; adding the pin’s location to your Contacts; sharing the location via email, text message, or Twitter; and for bookmarking the pin.

Get back to the map by touching Map at top left. Touch the flag’s Street View icon (far left—a white bust in an orange circle) to see a photo of the location. It’s not live, but in some areas, that photo gets updated as much as every couple of months, so it’s worth having a look every now and then: See your trees with leaves and without, see your roses blooming, see whose car is in your driveway, and so on.

More about Street View

Street View on the iPhone always spins to a landscape orientation and there’s nothing you can do about that. On the iPad, however, Street View works in either landscape or portrait.

Regardless of whether you’re using an iPhone or iPad, enter Street View mode and try swiping left and right, or up and down: The photos will spin as directed, and the little circular map icon at bottom right will indicate the direction you’re looking in.

Move down the road by tapping the big arrows overlaid on the street. Zoom in a little with a double-tap and zoom back out the same way (or pinch/reverse-pinch). Leave Street View by tapping the Done button at top right—if it’s not visible, just tap the screen. You can even save a tap by simply touching the little circular piece of the map in the bottom right.

Search mode

Search mode lets you search for places, like San Francisco and Austin, Texas. It also lets you search for stuff—coffee, barbecue, ATMs—for which it will look in the vicinity of the currently displayed map. It also lets you search for any locations you’ve bookmarked (use the Bookmarks icon near the end of the Search box) and for anyone in your Contacts. You’ll find it a whole lot easier to search for “Joe Smith” (and have Maps pull up his address on the map) than to type in his street address.

The Maps app shows the results of your search as pins on the map, and while you can tap-tap-tap to show each pin’s flag, one at a time, you can see information about all of the pins simultaneously by going into List mode. Do so by tapping the page curl at bottom right, and then tapping List. Tap an item in the list to display it on the map, along with a flag.

Directions mode

There’s a good way and a better way to get directions to any pin’s location. The good way is to tap the pin (to show its flag), tap the Details button, tap Directions to Here, and finally tap Route. Even better, though, is to tap the pin, tap the Directions toggle (bottom of screen on iPhone, top of screen on iPad), then Route. You’ve saved a tap and believe me, they add up. Use the page curl to reveal options to show or hide traffic and to see the directions in a turn-by-turn list view.

Siriously

iPhone 4S users can use Siri to make Maps even easier to use. Try saying “Give me directions to the nearest Apple Store” or “Find me a coffeehouse.” Ask Siri to “Show Cupertino on a map” and it will do so. Ask it to show you the home or work address of anyone in your Contacts and it’ll do that too; tap the result and see it on the map.

[Christian Boyce shows people how to get more from their Apple devices. He has offices in Santa Monica, California and Austin, Texas.]


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