How to Use the Apple Maps App

smartphone maps navigation illustration

Stuart Kinlough/Ikon Images/Getty Images

With an iPhone if your pocket, you never have to be lost and you can get almost anywhere. That's thanks to the powerful combination of Assisted GPS and the Apple Maps app, both of which come built-in to every iPhone (Maps is pre-installed on the iPad and iPod touch, too). Assisted GPS, or A-GPS, combines standard GPS technology with information derived from cellular data networks for fast and accurate GPS readings.

While the Apple Maps app has long been thought of as inferior to Google Maps, Apple has made major improvements to its features, accuracy, and data, making it a strong alternative to Google Maps. In fact, Apple Maps even offers some features that Google Maps doesn't have. 

Whether you need driving directions, to find out what busses to take to where you're going, to find your way through an airport or mall, or just want a 3D view of a city, Apple Maps delivers. Here's how to use its most important and powerful features.

Getting Turn-By-Turn Directions with Apple Maps

Apple Maps driving directions

The thing Apple Maps (and all mapping apps) is most commonly used for is to get turn-by-turn directions. Because Apple Maps can take into account traffic conditions, tolls, and other data—and because it can speak to you while drive to tell you what turns and exits to take—it's a great co-pilot. Here's how to use it:

  1. Tap Apple Maps to launch it.
  2. Tap the Search bar and enter a destination. This can be a street address or city, a person's name if their address is in your iPhone's Contacts app, or a business such as a movie theater or restaurant (more on that in the next section). It could also be one of the recent locations listed beneath the Search bar.
  3. Tap the search result that you want.
  4. A pin or icon drops onto the map representing your destination. In most cases, the pin has a small label on it for identification. If not, tap the pin or icon to display information.
  5. Tap the Directions button (this also lists the estimated travel time by your preferred method of travel. More on that in the Settings section of this article).
  6. At the bottom of the screen, select the mode of travel. Although most people use Maps as they are driving, routes are also available in categories of Walk, Transit and Ride, which lists nearby driving services such as Lyft and Uber. The suggested route changes depending on the method of travel. In some cases, there will be no transit route, for example. 
  7. There may also be multiple routes to get from where you are to the destination. Each route displays how long it will take. Tap the one you want to use.
  8. Tap Go to start your turn-by-turn navigation.
  9. The app begins speaking to you, giving you the directions you need to get to your destination. 
  10. Each direction and the distance to that direction shows on the screen and updates each time you make a turn or take an exit. 
  11. When you get to your destination or want to stop receiving turn-by-turn directions, tap End Route.

Tips When Using Turn-By-Turn Directions

apple maps turn by turn directions tips

The basics of using Apple Maps for directions are pretty straightforward, but there's a lot more going on in the app. Here are a few tips you may find helpful:

  • More than just telling you what turns to take, Apple Maps can also tell you what lane you should be in using a feature called Lane Guidance. Keep an eye on the screen (or, ideally, have a passenger in the car do it) and look for the lit-up lane indicators at the top of the directions screen.
  • To help you avoid speeding tickets, Apple Maps also displays local Speed Limits for your directions, where available.
  • You can get also a list of the directions rather than to having them spoken to you. There are two ways to do this. On the screen where the Go button is, before you start turn-by-turn directions, tap the time estimate (you won't get location-aware directions this way, so no rerouting if you miss a turn, but your phone won't be telling you what to do). If you're already getting turn-by-turn directions, swipe up to reveal the panel at the bottom, then tap Details.
  • You can get better directions and arrival-time estimates if you add real-time traffic data to Maps. This will help you identify and potentially route around accidents, road work, and other delays. To start viewing traffic information, tap the i icon in the top right corner and then, on the Map tab, move the Traffic slider to on/green.
  • On a trip and suddenly in need of gas, a meal, or a bathroom? Apple Maps can help. You'll see small icons on the map for things like restaurants, gas stations, pharmacies, hospitals and more. You can tap on these icons for more information about them and update your directions to take you there.

Advanced Features of Apple Maps

Apple Maps Advanced Features

Beyond the basic navigational features of Maps, the app offers a number of useful advanced options. You access almost all of them by tapping the information icon (the letter i with a circle around it) in the top right corner. These features include:

  • Favorite Locations: Want to make it easy to get to work, home, a friend's house, or your favorite coffee shop no matter where you are? Then Favorite those locations. To do that, search for the location. Swipe up on the search details at the bottom of the screen. Tap Favorite. In the pop-up window, give the favorite a name and tap Save. Now you'll be able to use the name of the favorite (say, Home) to get directions instead of using the address. See your list of Favorites at the bottom of the swipe-up search panel on the home screen of Maps. 
  • Avoid Tolls or Highways: Want your driving directions to avoid roads with tolls, or to keep you on surface roads and off highways as much as possible? You can do that by changing a setting. Tap Settings > Maps > Driving & Navigation > Avoid > move the Tolls and/or Highways sliders to on/green and Maps will attempt to exclude those items whenever possible from your recommended routes.
  • Printing Directions: Want to print out that list of directions to your destination? From the Directions screen (the one with the Go button on it), tap the time to see the full list of directions for your route. Swipe to the bottom of the list and tap Share. Tap Print to send the directions to any AirPrint-compatible printer for a hard copy. 
  • Light Guidance: If you've used Apple Maps to travel the same route many times, you can use Light Guidance mode to get less-intrusive instructions. If your phone recognizes this as a common route, Tap for light guidance at the top of the screen. Tap it and most of the big instructions for how to get to your destination disappear (though you still get directions). To go back to the standard view, tap Tap for full guidance.
  • Nearby: The Nearby feature shows categories of businesses nearby, such as Food, Drink, Shopping, and Fun, among others. Each category can be expanded to a list of nearby destinations in that category. The Nearby categories appear when you tap the search bar from the Maps home screen.
  • Parked Location: Want Maps to help you locate your car in big mall or airport parking lots? It can if you enable this feature (your iPhone must be paired via Bluetooth with your car stereo or CarPlay unit). Tap Settings > Maps > move the Show Parked Location slider to on/green.

Location Sharing: You can use Maps to send your current location to friends and family to make it easy for them to meet up with you. Learn how in How to Share Your Location on iPhone or iPad.

Transit Directions, Ride Sharing, and Walking Directions

apple maps ride, transit, and walk directions

Driving isn't the only way to get around and Maps can help you navigate via mass transit, ride-sharing service, and on foot. Here's how.

  1. For each option, follow steps 1-5 from section 1 earlier in this article.
  2. On the directions screen, instead of tapping Go, tap Transit, Ride, or Walk.
  3. If your local mass transit system has been mapped by Apple (see the full list here), tapping Transit will show you options using bus, subway, light rail, ferry, and other methods to get to your destination. Pick your preferred route and tap Go.
  4. If you have ride-sharing apps like Lyft or Uber installed on your iPhone, they are available by tapping Ride. Your installed ride-sharing apps, and their estimated prices appear. Tap Next for the one you want to use.
  5. The Walk directions are pretty simple to understand: you'll just get a long list of streets and roads to walk (using an Apple Watch with Maps is helpful in these cases, since the Watch vibrates to let you know when to turn). If any of the roads you have to walk are unpaved, Maps provides a warning. Tap Go to start your walk.

If you want Maps to default to one kind of transportation (mass transit, for instance, because you live in a big city and don't own a car), you can change that setting. Tap the Settings app > MapsPreferred Transportation Type section > then tap Walking or Transit and all of your directions will default to the selected option going forward.

Indoor Mapping

Apple Maps Indoor Mapping

Finding your way to just the right shop, restaurant, or bathroom in a large indoor space like an airport or mall can be a challenge. If you've ever been lost in that situation, you may have wished for turn-by-turn directions like you have in your car. Well, for some limited locations, Apple Maps now has them!

Apple has full lists of locations with indoor maps here:

To use indoor maps, search for one of the airports or malls from those lists (if you're already inside the location, you can only just open the Maps app). Use the Nearby icons—Food, Drinks, Shops, and for airports, Terminals, Gates, and more—to browse lists of options. Tap the place you want to go and Maps will provide directions to it.

As with other maps, you can zoom in and out to see more detail. You can also browse by floor, terminal (in airports), parking levels, arrival and departure levels (at airports), and more. 

Augmented Reality Flyover Cities

apple maps 3D flyover feature

Getting driving directions isn't the only way to explore a city, not if you've got Apple Maps, at least. You can also enjoy augmented reality, 3D flyovers of over 300 cities worldwide (here's the full list of included cities, from Apple). These flyovers show you the city as if you were taking a helicopter tour through the streets and between the buildings. Here's what you need to do:

  1. In Maps, search for a city.
  2. If the feature is available, the results page includes a Flyover button. Tap it.
  3. This shows the city as a 3D model that you can move through. Move your iPhone left and right, up and down to see different parts of the city and different angles. You can also pinch the screen to zoom in on locations. Swipe left/right/up/down to move through the city.
  4. To take that helicopter-style tour, tap Start City Tour.
  5. Tap X to close the flyover feature and return to the standard Maps experience.

Do Not Disturb While Driving

iOS 11 Do Not Disturb While Driving
image credit: Apple

Distracted driving is a major cause of accidents and Apple has included a feature in iOS 11 and up to help us focus on the road and cut down driving risk. Do Not Disturb While Driving blocks calls and texts while you drive, and sends automatic responses, so you can keep your eyes on the road.

Do Not Disturb While Driving isn't a part of Apple Maps, but it's a good idea to learn how to use it. Learn all about Do Not Disturb While Driving here.