Wednesday, September 30, 2009

iPhone and Google Maps: Go to here -- just drop the freakin' pin

For the past year or so I've been really annoyed that I couldn't pick out a spot on an iPhone map and get directions to it. It's such an obvious need, so why did Apple omit it?

Sometimes I wanted to tap real hard to see if I could get a pin to stick.

Today, when I was switching from Map to List view, the "Drop Pin" button caught my eye. I'd ignored it for a while. What the heck did it do, anyway?

Riiiggght. It drops a pin on the map. It seems to leave it there, after the first time I did this the button changed to "Replace Pin". I didn't see a way to "Undrop Pin" -- maybe once you put it on any map it's bound to a map forever.

You can move the Pin around, bookmark it, get directions to it, etc.

Just what I'd wanted, though I do think the UI is less than intuitive.

Once I'd figured this out I went looking for documentation. My copy of Pogue's Missing Manual for iPhone (3G version) didn't mention this feature, but Google tells me it was introduced with firmware 1.1.3.

Apple has some documentation. As a fringe benefit, I now understand the two modes of the nameless icon and I see that Apple advises us to turn off location services when it's not in use ...
Apple - iPhone - Learn how to use all the features of iPhone.

Your current (approximate) location is indicated by a blue marker....

As you move around, iPhone updates your location, adjusting the map so that the location indicator remains in the center of the screen. If you tap [the nameless target thingie to the left of the Search button] again or drag the map, iPhone continues to update your location but stops centering it, so the location information may move off the screen....

... To conserve battery life, turn Location Services off when you’re not using it. In Settings, choose General > Location Services.

... Tap the blue marker, then tap [the blue arrow] iPhone displays the address of your current location, if available. You can use this information to:
  • Get directions
  • Add the location to contacts
  • Send the address via email or MMS (iPhone 3G or later)
  • Bookmark the location
Use the dropped pin:
Tap [upturned page icon, lower right], then tap Drop Pin.

A pin drops down on the map, which you can then drag to any location you choose.

Replace the pin:
Tap [the upturned page icon], then tap Replace Pin. iPhone drops the pin in the area you’re currently viewing.
You can get directions to the Pin. Am I the only geek who missed this? Did Pogue miss it too?


So how can you do this on Google Maps?

Yeah, I didn't know how to do that one either, but seeing it on my iPhone convinced me it has to exist though.

The trick is the right click. I'm not used to right clicking on web apps doing anything interesting, but Google Maps does have a context menu. You can get directions to whatever you right clicked on. That's a truly lame UI, but it's good to know how to do this.

This is an example, by the way, of the curse of being an elder geek. There's almost nobody to show me interesting stuff; my few geek peers assume I know it all or, like most people lucky enough to have a job, they're crazy busy.

I think we need to explore new ways to create documentation. I'd love to read an iPhone document titled "Fifty things longterm users tend to miss ...".

No comments: