In thinking about the iPad, whether I would want one, and if so which version would I buy, I thought of a good idea for added functionality to Maps.app.
When you get ready to go on a trip, you pack your bags and toiletries, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll double-check your iPod (or iPhone) to make sure you’ve got whatever music and videos you’ll want on the trip.
But if you’re going on a road trip, you traditionally needed to get your maps in order, too. These days, I just use my iPhone for the task, but if I were to buy an iPad, I’d definitely like to have the larger, more-easily-scrutinized maps on that huge screen. But what if I decided not to buy the 3G iPad? It’s pretty much useless for maps once you’re out of WiFi range.
So, what if Maps.app were modified to allow caching of a plotted route? Say, you plot your route from point A to point B, and you tap a button labeled “Cache this route.” And the app would show you a progress bar (with cancel button) as it caches all map tiles for all resolutions along the way. And, with any cached route, if you tap on any button that would obliterate the route — say, the Search tab — a modal dialog would ask you if you’re sure you want to clear the cached route.
Maps.app currently does cache a certain amount if information on the fly, but only at the resolutions you’ve already viewed, and only for a certain amount of time (or until the buffer is full, and it has to rotate in new data).
I’m not deluding myself into thinking Apple would ever do this. But it seems to me that the sky is the limit in the software of these devices, and the answer is not necessarily to diversify your product into six unique SKUs. Steve Jobs knows this. It’s one of the first things he fixed when he came back to Apple: reign in the out-of-control number of motherboards, and by extension, products. Now, with the iPad, it does make sense to sell 3G and non-3G versions. But the truth is, I’d imagine at least one of each flavor will be cut from the lineup within six months. And for the people who can’t justify the cost of a 3G model, yet don’t see enough utility in the non-3G model, it really does make sense to add a little more cache-it-offline functionality to the cheaper models. And it could set a good example for the third-party developers to follow suit.