Things Apple Maps (and CarPlay) could do better

Gushi
8 min readMar 5, 2023

Like an addict at a self-help group, I shamefully confess:

“Hi, I’m Dan, and I use Apple Maps.”

I tried Waze once, sure. This was back when I had an iphone 4S, before Apple Maps was doing turn-by-turn (which came with the move from Google map data to TomTom), back before Apple Maps had traffic awareness, back before Apple Maps had road hazard awareness. The net result was that Waze sucked my battery down in a few hours, even when not foregrounded, and even after I force quit it, it did…things, until I uninstalled it.

But, pretty much since CarPlay was something I had, it’s been Apple Maps. I know there were some teething issues that people still complain about, but I firmly believe that the only way to make Apple Maps better is to use it. Has it steered me wrong? In the early days, but…not for a while, and the annoyances are rarer all the time. And the pros, they outweigh the cons:

Apple maps integrates well with the “time to leave” and “Travel time” notifications in my desktop calendar. I love that it auto-navigates to upcoming events in my calendar as soon as I sit down in the car. I love the ETA sharing feature that’s available with both iOS and non-iOS users. I love the on-wrist haptics that come up on my apple watch, should I decide to simply turn off my car’s screen to limit eye-dilation and distraction. A third party app may *try* to come close to this level of platform integration, but they just won’t get the whole enchilada.

But, on a friend’s page recently, I rattled off a list of things that really, really could be done better. Rather than bury it in a semi-private post, I want to share it here.

Almost all of these apply to Apple Maps as an in-car navigation aid, specifically when using a CarPlay head unit. Most will also apply if you’re the clip-the-phone-to-your-dashboard type, but that’s not how I prefer to use it. I firmly believe that your phone’s screen should be out of your eyesight while driving.

  1. Talk to my car over the OBD2 port, please. There are a number of adapters that will bridge bluetooth or wifi to that port, for around $50. The apps that come with them can diagnose problems, clear codes, and some include extra features like accelerometer-based crash detection. Modern OBD2 ports also expose fuel-tank levels: Detect when I will need fuel, and when I hit 1/4 of a tank, poke me and show prices. Know which filling stations I prefer (i.e. the ones I might have reward cards in my wallet for). Show me my MPG. Show me my average speed, which the phone can tell from the GPS, even if it’s not talking to the car itself. Build in fuel tracking into the main OS.
    (As an aside: there’s a great app called OBDfusion which will let me see extra engine data, like the temperature gauge my car didn’t come with, but Apple won’t approve it for CarPlay use because…looking at gauges is unsafe, apparently?).
  2. If I’m doing a long trip and say “Find me a gym” find one that’s actually ahead of me and easy to get to, and back on the road, not one that’s behind me. Look at my app library and know which gyms I use (I currently have memberships at two because no single one covers my usage). Tie into those apps in order to get the list of active gyms, instead of using generic map data, which has in the past taken me to places where gyms once were.
  3. What would be stunning, and stellar, and totally Tony-Friggin-Stark level to this level of finding things? “Hey Siri, find me a 3-star or better Hotel in the next 20 miles, and make a reservation.” A group like Choice Hotels would die to be onboard with this. I’m sure so would companies like Holiday Inn, or even Motel 6. Or aggregators like bookings.com or hotels.com (not an endorsement, just examples).
  4. My friend James’ pet peeve: If I say find me a Starbucks, let me set, in the app, preferences for my store types. Don’t find me one in a mall, or in a grocery store, find me one with a drive-thru. (My solution is to just not drink Starbucks).
  5. CarPlay limits the use of keyboard input, and will refuse to display an onscreen keyboard. Many head units have a detection feature to determine if the parking brake is applied, and it would be great if these radios could expose this knowledge to CarPlay and tell me when I’m parked. Show a full keyboard if it’s I’m parked. Or, absent that level of integration, even simpler: Apple Maps has a speed sensor and a location sensor. If I’m in a parking lot, or perhaps if I’m stopped and have been for more than two minutes, enable the keyboard.
  6. There are a few voice commands that are missing. For example:
    “Hey Siri, take a screenshot”. (Yes, I want to keep screenshots of CarPlay locations where I’ve seen something interesting). Or even “Hey Siri, take a screenshot and send it to Jen.” Okay? Is that too niche? How about FindMy (or ‘Find My Friends’, as it was formerly called):
    Hey Siri, where’s (partner)?
    You don’t need to show me on a map, just tell me:
    Partner is at home” or “Partner is not at a named location, but is about ten miles north of you”. This isn’t secret information, I could see if if I opened the phone, but maybe make it so I’m less tempted to do so.
  7. Apple’s along-the-way waypoints are very limited. You can request a new destination and ‘add a stop’ really cannot re-order your along-the-way stops from point A to point B. You can only add a waypoint immediately next. Even if I cannot do it on the CarPlay screen, let me drag-and-rearrange waypoints on my phone.
  8. CarPlay doesn’t use the phone’s GPS — it uses the one in the head unit. (on the other hand, if you’re streaming your directions over Bluetooth, you’re using your phone’s GPS). Sometimes this is more accurate, sometimes woefully not. My pioneer unit has gone bananas and failed to realize what direction I’m facing, resulting in near-constant requests to “turn around”. Give me the option to toggle which source I’m using.
  9. Apple Watches encourage you to get up and stand and move around from time to time, for your health. Please, extend this to when I’m in the car. Long-term driving is stressful and reminders to take breaks are now built into many vehicles’ adaptive cruise controls. Giving me a popup that says “There’s a rest area ahead, you should stretch.” feels useful, especially because the phone knows how long I’ve been driving, seated, with my car paired to my radio. Some people may find it annoying, and they can turn it off (just like reminders to breathe, or handwashing timers), but…I’d like it, especially because I tend to miss the stand reminders when I’m driving.
  10. There’s a huge failure in the concept that you can only have “one route”. This isn’t how long trips work. Let me plan a master road trip and save that. For example, I am driving from Washington State to New York. This takes 3–4 days. At the end of each day, I will stop, get out of my car, and want to shut off the annoying navigation screen, go into a rest area or hotel or truck stop, and use my phone like a phone without having to dismiss onscreen maps every time. (Oh, and if I turn off my car but still sit in it, turn off the screen!)
    — In the morning, I will want to go find a breakfast, perhaps a coffee shop, perhaps more provisions for my trip, before I signal my GPS to get me “back on the trail”. If I’m sharing my ETA with people, iOS could maybe extend that to only the “main quest” and let people know I’ve stopped for the night, rather than just “I’ve stopped sharing my ETA”.
    — This, in turn, could become more useful — Siri could use it to figure out how many days your trip should realistically take, rather than based on pure driving time.
  11. Show me my driving log. It’s my data. Whether I navigate somewhere or not, if my phone is paired to my car, I’d like to see how far I drive on a regular basis. I’d like to see how often I get out of the house for my own good. I want to know how many “city miles” versus “highway miles” I’ve done. I’d like to be able to flag specific trips as deductible for tax purposes. (As above, where my main trip from New York to DC may be deductible, but all the little side trips may not).
    I get it, people are afraid that this data could be used to track you, but news flash: your phone is already pinging every tower along the way. You’re already being tracked. You might as well be able to export it to a spreadsheet, or be able to look and figure out “Which day did I drop off my dry cleaning?”
  12. Okay, this isn’t about maps, but it’s definitely about iOS and roadtrips. I am driving with my phone in carplay mode, navigating. Let my passenger stream music to my phone from their collection, same as with airplay, without taking over the whole radio. Because honestly, that’s one of the most important functions of the shotgun driver.
  13. This one’s marginal to a small subset of people, but Apple really needs to bless “delivery driver” apps to run in CarPlay. The major chains like Uber Eats, Doordash, and Grubhub all have their own “deliverator” apps, but there are also specific apps for people like Domino’s drivers — which, without being CarPlay-blessed, require the driver to be looking at (and potentially, illegally handling) their less-safe-than-CarPlay phone. Do the world a favor and let these coexist.

A lot of the above features seem hinged on one silly iOS limitation. In order to have Siri integrate with an app on the phone, while you’re driving, that app needs to be permitted on the carplay screen. Even if there’s no UI to speak of. Siri can answer simple questions like “tell me a knock knock joke” but she can’t display or read anything in a third party app. She can’t tell you how many new Facebook notifications you have (even if it’s none). Apps that are running in the background eventually get killed off, so using an audio app that’s not carplay-blessed (say, listening to Lofi Girl on the youtube app) is a non-starter.

If Apple opens up the ecosystem to allow for shortcuts to be called within apps, without those apps displaying a UI — but instead just pushing a map location (or a list of map locations), it could be groundbreaking.

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Gushi

Gushi/Dan Mahoney is a sysadmin/network operator in Northern Washington, working for a global non-profit, as well as individually.