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Apple Maps has a new 'flyover' mode in iOS 11 that looks like Google Earth VR.
Apple Maps has a new ‘flyover’ mode in iOS 11 that looks like Google Earth VR.
Image: screenshot/ Apple maps

You’re soon going to have a new reason to use Apple Maps.

Apple is adding a new feature to its mapping app that lets you go on 3D “flyover” tours of cities around the world. Though not technically VR, the feature is reminiscent of Google Earth VR and raises fresh questions about Apple’s plans for virtual reality.

The feature, which has not been publicized by Apple, is available now in the iOS 11 public beta. When you search for a location that has “flyover” enabled, you can dive into a first-person 3D view of the city.

Navigating flyover mode is a lot like watching a 360-degree video on your phone: you can change your point of view by moving your phone around or walking around. You can also go on a “flyover tour” for a more passive experience. 

The feature, which appears to be built with Google’s ARKit frame work, looks a lot like Google Earth VR, even though there isn’t yet a way to navigate Apple’s flyover in a VR environment. Still, the similarities, combined with the use of ARKit, raises interesting questions about Apple’s eventual plans in the space.

It’s easy to see how the flyover feature could eventually translate to a true virtual reality experience. Apple fueled more rumors about its plans for some kind of headset or eyewear earlier this week when its acquisition of a company that makes eye-tracking technology was revealed.

Whatever the longterm goal of Apple’s new flyover feature, though, it’s a pretty neat way to get an up-close look at cities without donning a headset or downloading a new app. It might even be enough to make you give the rest of Apple Maps a second look.

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