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TV Maps review: Use the Apple TV to surf the world from your couch

Glenn Fleishman | April 15, 2016
Instead of squinting at a map on your phone, why not take a look on a big screen you already own.

The entry fields have the same limitations for entering text as every party of tvOS. I found myself swapping back and forth with my iPhone running the Remote app to bypass the wide-alphabet keyboard that tvOS still limits us to. While TV Maps uses autocomplete to fill in places names, for specific streets addresses and names that Siri doesn’t recognize perfectly, it can be easier just to tap the the details. This makes it slightly awkward, but it’s not bad.

tv maps siri voice
TV Maps can use tvOS’s voice dictation to enter place names and addresses.

The entry field also lets you dictate with a Siri Remote, and that generally worked well, as the dictation matches against Apple’s own directory of place names. However, you probably haven’t seem many things as funny as an eight-year-old yelling “Burj Khalifa!” at a Siri Remote, which determinedly tried to show him things other than the tallest building in the world. After several tries, we got there.

The weakest part of TV Maps is how it displays turn-by-turn directions, which enlarges every segment to fit the same screen size. While this is a built-in function of MapKit, it doesn’t work well on the big screen, and it’s definitely an area for the developer to put more custom effort.

The tvOS interface also suffers from places in which a developer has used multiple buttons, only one of which should selected. A slow swipe over lets you choose among them, and a fast one skips them by, as in choosing among route alternatives in TV Maps. I eventually mastered not switching routes to move around that view, and, again, Apple can make this better in a way a developer can’t.

If you select 3D in the location bar, you can rotate and cant the angle of the display, but I found in adjusting the angle, it was very easy to zoom out all the way to a full-globe view. In talking with the developer and by testing, it’s quite clear this is an issue with MapKit in tvOS, and Apple has to make improvements to sort it out.

tv maps sf satellite hybrid
The hybrid view is particularly compelling for panning and zooming.

There’s a sort of Easter egg in TV Maps. Press and hold the touch button and then select the settings (gear) icon, and you can choose Flyover Demo. This is a sort of screensaver that takes you from your current location, zooms out to the global level (with MapKit’s simulation of night and day parts of the Earth), and then flies you down to one of several preselected landmarks. The app spends a few minutes rotating the view of a castle or building, and then takes you the next destination. It’s nifty, although MapKit’s loading time and 3D rotation hiccups can make it a little less so at times; yet another feature that tvOS maturity will improve.

 

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