Odds are, you’ve never tried to use your Mac as a dash-mounted GPS. The thought likely never crossed your mind. And yet, if you ever plan trips before leaving, or perhaps still print out paper maps as a backup against vacation disasters, you likely still visit Google Maps online semi-frequently. You might even have Google Earth around still for the occasional scenic virtual stroll around the globe.
Maps for Mac is now the best way to plan your trips, if you’re comfortable relying on Apple’s maps data. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s a nice extra on the Mac, one you’ll likely find yourself reaching for instead opening a new tab for Google Maps.
The World at Your Fingertips
If you’ve ever used a maps app, you pretty much know how to use Maps for Mac. There’s the globe to explore by hand, complete with the default 2-finger multitouch gestures for zoom and rotating the map. You’ll find small info icons on locations of interest that you can select to get more info, or right-click anywhere to pin a spot. And, there’s the inevitable search box in the right corner, where you can look up locations and get directions. So far so normal.
There’s three things that really set Apple Maps apart on the Mac, though: iOS sharing, printing options, and deep OS X integration. The first was one of the first things demonstrated about Maps for Mac at WWDC ’13, where Craig Federighi showed off how you could look up directions on your Mac and send them directly to your iPhone. And it really is that simple. It only works with devices connected to your own iCloud account, but there’s really nothing extra to it. Just find directions, tap the send icon, and send it to your iPhone. You’ll then get a notification on your iPhone that, if you accept, will open the directions on your device. Then, there’s automatic sync setup, so your recent direction searches and pinned locations from your iPhone will automatically show up on your Mac the same way iCloud bookmarks show up in Safari. There’s nothing to tweak, but it should just work without you thinking about it.
If you’re not an iPhone user, or happen to prefer to keep paper maps around, Maps for Mac is great for you too. Just find the directions you need, and hit print, and you’ll find options to include full-sized print maps that look surprisingly nice, along with turn-by-turn directions and accompanying tiny maps at each spot. Or, you can just save your maps directly as a PDF. Nothing revolutionary, per se, but it’s sure a nice simple way to get print maps.
Some of Mavericks’ new features don’t seem as backed into the OS as they should be — most notably, it’s frustrating that iBooks isn’t integrated with QuickLook and Spotlight, and tags should be a bit easier to tweak and discover in Spotlight themselves. But Maps has been worked rather deeply into OS X. It’s not in Spotlight, unfortunately, but you will find quick-links to open an address in Mail or Contacts in Maps. Select any address text in any app, and you’ll be able to preview it in Maps directly in the app or copy a maps:// address to your clipboard — and if that doesn’t show up, there’s a Services option to do the same thing. Plus, there’s now a Maps API so new Mac apps can integrate Apple Maps data going forward, just like iPhoto does now.
Whether you’ve had trouble with Apple Maps on your iPhone, or have simply been scared off by others’ reports of issues, you should absolutely give Maps another shot both on your Mac and your iOS devices. The Mac app works very nice, but the important thing is the maps service powering it — and at least for my own use in Bangkok, a place Google Maps hasn’t done the best job, Apple’s Maps has done quite the good job.
Though it’s a bit of a memory hog at around 500Mb on average, it’s generally faster than using Google Maps online, and its printout options are far nicer. With the added bonus of being able to easily send directions to your iOS device, there’s no reason not to at least try it out. And who knows — you might find you like it enough to switch.