Update: See my new road test, review, and star-rating of the turn-by-turn directions utility of the iPhone 5 and the Maps app of the iOS 6 operating system (and find out why it gets only 2.5 stars out of 5).
Update: See the latest on iPhone 5S GPS and navigation.
The Apple iPhone is a great device that's had one glaring omission: No free turn-by-turn directions included in its operating system. All that and much more - when it comes to location services - are changing with the iOS 6 operating system due out this fall.
Apple made a number of significant strides forward in GPS and location-based services in its latest operating system that powers iPhones, iPads, and iPods.
Apple has long relied on ties to Google Maps to provide mapping and directions on its devices. That may end completely with the release of iOS6. Apple has contracted with TomTom, which also owns Tele Atlas and its vast, worldwide mapping database, to provide mapping and turn-by-turn directions technology. Over the past few years, Apple has acquired other companies to help it bring its mapping up to technological leadership, including C3 Technologies, and its 3D mapping capability. That acquisition put the interactive 3D views into the new mapping and directions.
Spoken Turn-by-Turn Directions
The addition of spoken turn-by-turn directions (the app speaks the actual street name of your next turn, rather than simply saying "turn left"), is a big step forward for Apple's standard set of apps. Currently, you need to purchase one of the excellent iPhone navigation apps to get that functionality. The new iOS6 will not only add that capability, it will integrate directions with other apps more closely than ever before.
Traffic Detection & Avoidance
TomTom is a leader in the development of "crowd-sourced" traffic detection and avoidance, taking a system live in Europe years ago. The company's HD Traffic technology, which combines data flowing back from users out on the road with more conventional sources such as traffic monitoring stations and emergency services feeds, is likely key to traffic detection & avoidance built into the new Apple OS.
Siri Voice Integration
Apple introduced advanced speech recognition and apps integration with Siri, and Siri may find one of her most useful jobs in helping with GPS navigation. You will be able to activate your Maps app verbally, ask Siri for directions to your destination, and then hear your spoken-street-name directions along the way. Voice recognition has been marginally useful in GPS units I've tested to date, so it will be very interesting to see if Siri can do better. In iOS 6, Siri will also be more tightly integrated into things like restaurant searches and reviews, movies, and app launching, making her an even better travel companion.
Flyover and Interactive 3D
A number of GPS systems currently have 3D views to help you get oriented, but Apple is promising to take this feature up a few notches with its flyover and 3D interactive views. Apple's 3D includes a huge database of actual aerial photography, rather than the simple vector renderings used in much GPS 3D today. Not everyone may be able to use 3D however, since it is said to work only with A5-chip powered devices, including the iPhone 4S, and iPad 2 and 3 models.
Other iOS6 Features Tapping Location & GPS
A number of other key features of iOS 6 will tap GPS and location data. The new Passbook feature, which stores flight boarding passes, will automatically show the pass appropriate to your location. Find My Friends is a free Apple app that lets you track a group of friends (with their permission) in real time, which is great for ski areas, amusement parks, concerts, etc. You may also geotag your photos, and let Siri search for services based on your location. Apple is also working with car companies to integrate Siri and Apple device connections into controls, such as a "Siri button" on the steering wheel.
Overall, GPS and location-based technology is more tightly integrated, and more useful, than ever before in the new iPhone, iPad, and iPod environment created by iOS6.