As recently predicted, Apple has officially revealed that the new version of its mobile operating system, iOS 9, and its next Mac operating system, OS X 'El Capitan', will feature a new version of the Maps software that includes transit directions.
This is an area where Apple is playing catch up with Google, and those of you who are using the Google Maps app already have access to transit info, so it won't change much in your life. For those of you curious about the backstory: The word on the street is that a few years ago when it came time to renew the contract between Apple and Google to keep Google Maps as the default app on Apple devices, Google wouldn't give Apple the turn-by-turn directions feature and asked for more information about Apple's users to show more ads within Google Maps. Apple refused, and so the contract was ripped up and Apple had to develop its own replacement for Google Maps pronto. Unsurprisingly, Apple Maps was pretty terrible at first (at least outside of the big U.S. cities) and many features were lacking. Google is a much more data-driven company than Apple, and they've been working on Google Maps for a decade, so it was too much to expect to think that Apple could build something as good in a much shorter amount of time...
Thankfully, Apple Maps has improved a lot over the years, and this matters because of the Power of Defaults. Now that Apple Maps is the default on Apple devices, over 60% of users stick with it. That's hundreds of millions of people without transit directions at their fingertips! We want mass transit to be as convenient as possible for everyone, so all popular mapping software should have transit data built-in!
Back to Apple's new announcement: Craig Federighi, Apple's SVP of software engineering, introduced the transit feature that will ship next fall with iOS 9. He highlighted a few of the things that Apple has done to make the transit feature user-friendly. For example, when you go in transit mode, the map changes to put emphasis on your various transit options, and roadways fade away to declutter the screen.
If you tap on a station, you can see all the lines with departure times. There will be support for multi-modal trips, so the app might guide you to walk to a subway station, or a bus stop, etc.
For trains and subways, the app will tell you exactly which station entrance take if there are more than one. Same for exits when you arrive at another station. You can see on the photos above and below how Apple is showing the size of underground stations outlined on the map, with all the entrances highlighted so that you don't waste time walking to the wrong one.
An updated Siri voice assistant will be able to interface with this transit feature, so if you ask it to guide you using the subway or bus, it'll figure it out for you:
For some crazy reason, there isn't a standard for transit agencies to use to put their data online, so only some North-American cities will be supported at first:
But Apple promises that more will be added quickly.
Hey, transit agencies, how about getting together and agreeing on a standard? The web wouldn't work if everybody's HTML was different... I'm sure that over time, transit agencies would save a lot of money by spreading the cost of developing and maintaining their software over all agencies, and transit users would no doubt get better info too.
Apple Maps' transit will also launch in 300 Chinese cities at once, including the big ones above. From what I've heard, that's because in China they do have a single standard for transit info, so you only do the work once and the data is in the system, rather than having to figure out how each city does things.
New versions of iOS tend to come out at the same time as new iPhones, so the new Maps Transit should be available around September 2015.