iOS 15 Apple Maps: 7 best features available on your iPhone

iOS 15 maps
(Image credit: Apple)

Stop me if you've heard this before — Apple really focused heavily on improving its Maps app in its latest iOS update. This time, though, with iOS 15, Apple's changes really pay off based on our time using iOS 15 since its release last fall.

Long-time iPhone users can be forgiven for the skepticism, especially if they're still feeling burned by the disastrous transition away from Google-supplied Maps in iOS 6 back in 2012. But give Apple some credit — Maps has steadily improved since then, positioning itself as a worthy alternative to Google Maps. And iOS 15 continues to elevate the built-in mapping and directions tool on iPhones.

At least, that's what we thinking having put maps to the test, first during last year's beta process and now as the everyday software on our iPhone. While Apple continues to roll out iOS 15 updates, Maps is pretty set at this point. We're even finding tricks that allow us to zoom with one hand in Apple Maps. As for iOS 15, here are the features we've enjoyed so far.

iOS 15 Maps' interactive globe

The fun with iOS 15 Maps starts when you launch the app. You can now view the world as an interactive globe that Apple has built all the way down to the city level. You'll see details including mountain ranges, deserts, forests and oceans, reminiscent of the kind of globe you'd find in a classroom. Here, though, you can pinch to zoom and tap on details to get more information about the geographical sites that interest you. 

iOS 15 maps

(Image credit: Apple)

This is one of those iOS 15 features that requires an A12 Bionic or later, so if you don't own at least iPhone XR, you won't get to see Apple's spinning globe in action.

The new globe view sounds a lot like Google Earth, to be honest, and maybe this is a case of Apple playing catch-up with Google. But the company seems very proud of the amount of detail it's packed into this new globe view, and it has us intrigued about what we'll see when iOS 15 is in our hands.

iOS 15 Maps' more detailed city views

It's not just the globe that gets more detail in iOS 15 Maps. Search for a particular city, and you'll be treated to a more detailed view that calls out buildings, commercial districts and landmarks. Apple has even added trees that spruce up the landscape (and, presumably, reflect the location of trees in the real world).

ios 15 maps

San Francisco's Ferry Building in iOS 15 (Image credit: Apple)

My favorite edition here is the newfound attention to elevation in iOS 15 Maps' city views. I happen to live near San Francisco, a city with more than a few hills if you haven't read the travel brochure. And very often on a flat map, you won't notice that the very walkable distance that's just been charted out for you also includes a ridiculously steep incline. These new visual cues can help warn me when to rethink my plans to hoof it on foot — or to at least make sure I'm taking along some water and a sherpa.

ios 15 maps

That same view in iOS 14 (Image credit: Apple)

Roads are no longer yellow as they are in the preceding version of Maps, with Apple opting for a more realistic — and easier to spot — gray color. At night time, the map gets a moonlit glow, which Apple also hopes showcases its attention to detail.

Not every city offers these detailed views even after iOS 15's arrival. Apple's m.o. with these kind of features in Maps is to launch them in places like San Francisco, New York and London first, rolling them out to other cities over time. Once you've seen the iOS 15 Maps preview, though, you'll want this more detailed view sooner rather than later.

The driving view in iOS 15 Maps

Apple has retooled the view it offers when you get driving directions to a specific location, adding a greater number of details that should help you navigate potentially unfamiliar territory.

Specifically, Maps now shows lanes, medians, crosswalks and other road details that a driver in unfamiliar territory may benefit from seeing. Even better, when you approach particularly complicated interchanges, the perspective of the driving view changes to the road level sot that now you're seeing an at-a-glance view that helps you stay in the right lane.

ios 15 beta hands-on

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

One of my favorite additions to driving directions in Maps from the last few years was the visual cue that showed you where turn lanes were on roads and highways so you wouldn't blow past the place where you needed to merge right. Missing a turn is be even harder to do with iOS 15 Maps' retooled driving view. 

iOS 15 Maps transit changes

If I can take a bus or a train instead of driving, I'm going to do it, so naturally my ears prick up whenever Apple talks about the public transit changes in Maps. Improvements that we know about so far include a new transit view — yes, Apple's really changed up the views in iOS 15 maps — that includes updated details that really make transit routes stand out. Key bus routes will now be featured in Maps, and if you're following along in directions, the app will alert you when you're near your stop.

iOS 15 maps

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple claims the redesigned interface for transit is easier to use with one-hand — vital if you're standing on a bus or train and using your free hand to hold on. 

However, the best part about transit changes in iOS 15 Maps — at least to me — involves the ability to access nearby departures with a tap — perfect when you're hustling to make a bus and want to see just how much time you have to get to your stop. You can even pin frequently used routes iOS 15 so that transit times are always at your fingertips.

AR walking directions in iOS 15 Maps

In what sounds like another feature inspired by Google's street view directions, Apple is exploiting its fascination with augmented reality to guide you around unfamiliar areas — at least if you've got an iPhone with an A12 Bionic chip or later and live in the right city.

To trigger walking directions, scan the buildings around you. Once Maps has pinpointed your location, you'll get step-by-step directions, appearing as AR-powered overlays with arrows and street names superimposed on your iPhone screen.

iOS 15 maps

(Image credit: Apple)

My early tests weren't promising, though Apple was planning to polish the walking directions feature for San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Diego and London, where it's available initially. I plan to give AR maps another try in the near future to see what improvements have appeared.

iOS 15 Maps redesigns place cards

Place cards are the short summaries that pop up when you tap on a business, listing not only the address, but hours, contact info, user reviews and photos. I've found place cards are particularly handy for finding about restaurants along my route. 

iOS 15 rearranges those place cards, placing more important information higher up and featuring cleaner organization throughout the card as you scroll down. 

A new place for curated Guides in iOS 15 Maps

I enjoyed the local guides Apple first introduced a year ago with iOS 14, which surface information about a city or point of interest that you're researching with Apple's mapping software. The trouble is, I rarely use the feature — a pity since Apple's been steadily adding new guides to it over the course of the last year.

Apple wants to fix that for me, and presumably the other users not giving Guides their due. iOS 15 creates a home for Guides that will be editorially curated. Apple's hoping that this not only gets more people to peruse the content in guides but also that it helps you discover new places. And that, after all, is one of the chief goals of iOS 15.

iOS 15 Maps outlook

Apple lists other changes to Maps, such as a user profile that stores most used settings and favorites in one place; search should be better in maps with the ability to filter results. 

But really, it's the new views that have had the biggest impact on Maps users. If you've shied away from the built-in Maps app after getting burned in the past, iOS 15 is the perfect time to give Apple's attempt at mapping software another try.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.