With iOS 6, Maps and Siri, the iPhone Becomes the Ultimate Driver's Assistant

For iPhone owners, the device's place in the car has long been a no-brainer. Like any other smartphone, it houses at least two things critical to most drivers: music and GPS-enabled maps. Yet to date, Apple has not officially embraced its role in the driving experience - that is, until today. 

At the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco on Monday, Apple officially previewed iOS 6. The new mobile operating system boasts more than 200 features, but one of the more notable updates is a completely overhauled Maps application. They're also partnering with car manufacturers to tighten the integration of IOS into future vehicles.  

Crucially, the native Maps app in iOS no longer relies on Google's ubiquitous mapping service, which has been included on the iPhone since 2007. The relationship between the two giants has become more directly competitive (some would even say combative) since then. Last year, it became clear that iOS's Google Maps integration was doomed when Apple acquired C3 Technologies, the mapping company that built the guts of the mapping functions that Apple showed off Monday. 

Anybody who's ever used Google Maps on their iPhone as a de facto GPS system while driving knows how imperfect the solution is. The app was functional and its results were typically accurate, but it really wasn't optimized for driving. Now, with the new Maps app, the iPhone is. 

The UI of the new Maps app shares some similarities with its Google-powered predecessor, but sports a cleaner design that puts more visual emphasis on important information and landmarks. Rather than squeezing the navigational directions across the top of the screen, the new application puts the most important details front and center. Things like the remaining distance to the next turn and exactly what that turn is are given prominent real estate on the screen, even when the phone is locked. 

Maps works much more like a traditional GPS unit, and indeed is powered in part by data from TomTom. Not only does it have turn-by-turn navigation (much like Android users already enjoy), but its Siri integration will let drivers ask for directions verbally without having to type into the phone. In fact, it won't even be necessary to touch the phone in some vehicles, thanks to partnerships Apple has forged with manufacturers that would put a Siri-activation button directly into the steering wheel.

The new integration of Maps and Siri is huge. The risks presented by having a driver routinely looking down at their phone to read tiny directions were a big reason why it was always worth owning a separate GPS device. Between this and what Google offers natively on Android, those days may be numbered.

The new Maps for iOS will also include real-time, crowd-sourced traffic data. If a given route is likely to cause too big of a headache, Maps will suggest an alternative and tell you how much time you can save by taking it. 

Of course, the new app will also be available on the iPad (as will Siri), which could provide an even better experience for navigation, given its ample screen real estate.  

The new Maps application will be available in the fall on all iPhones going back to the 3GS, the second- and third-generation iPad and the fourth-generation iPod Touch. Siri is still only available on the iPhone 4S, although the public release of iOS 6 may end up coinciding with the launch of the iPhone 5. Third-generation iPads will also be getting Siri support with iOS 6. Update: Turn-by-turn navigation will only be avilable on the iPhone 4S and subsequent models, according to Apple's website.

Lead photo courtesy of Gdgt.