AppleInsider is reporting that Apple has some plans up its sleeve for the Maps app on the iPhone. According to a recently published US Patent, Apple is working on a way to dynamically scale portions of a map so as to emphasize critical markers or points of interest, and present that information to the user.
Apple’s patent calls it Schematic Maps, and at its heart it is an attempt to take all the mapping data available and distill it down to something that it more useable and elegant for the user. By compressing the map to only include salient points, the map can be reformatted to fit more information on the relatively small iPhone screen.
Apple defines a Schematic Maps as one “that present(s) information in a format that presents only information that is most relevant to a given situation in order to provide a simple and clear representation sufficient to aid a user in guidance or orientation.” That means that you won’t see every single street between here and the restaurant you want to go to, but a clean and uncluttered map that shows you only what you need to know to get there.
How would the iPhone determine what to show and what to leave out? According to the patent filing, “All the map features within the region of geographic focus can be ranked by a processor in a usefulness index according to a value system that provides higher values or greater weight to map features that are likely to be the most important features to a user viewing the schematic map. The usefulness index can be a list or a table or other data structure that organizes the map features according to how useful or important the feature is to the likely purpose of the map.”
Apple envisions two main uses for this Schematic Map system. The first and most obvious is for directions from Point A to Point B. The second is a more general region map, which would give you highlights of interesting locales, one more akin to a tourist map than a regular map.
This is where Apple’s strengths in usability and design will pay off. While it used to be novel just to have maps on a phone, leave it to Apple to find a way to create better and more useable Maps for the iPhone.