Apple Maps has a hidden VR/AR trick in iOS 11

Walkthrough 3D cities are astounding, if you figure out how to see them.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
2 min read

In iOS 11, you can literally walk through (or, over) New York.

Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

I've been using iOS 11 public beta for a week and I never knew that it had a secret little bit of 3D magic hidden inside.

Apple's augmented reality in ARKit isn't available to try out in the public beta of iOS 11, but there is something that's close: Apple Maps. Walkthrough 3D flyovers in major cities come close to feeling like augmented reality, and they're definitely more advanced than anything that's been available before. The VR-type effect was discovered earlier this week. It's suddenly one of my favorite things in iOS 11.

To find the effect, go to a city that's 3D enabled in Maps, and tap on the city to see if it supports Flyover, a 3D tour that's been on iOS for years. Tap Flyover, and suddenly the view of the city can be moved around. Tilting an iPhone or iPad, or going for a short walk, will map into movement in the 3D city model.

Check out my screen recording below of Manhattan. I recorded this on iOS 11's built-in screen recorder on a 10.5-inch iPad Pro.

iOS 11 won't be finalized until the fall. For now, to see this effect, I'd recommend you install the beta on a secondary device that's compatible (and preferably one with an A9 or A10 processor).

And yes, as some have noted, ARKit's tech does seem to be working here: if I cover my rear camera lens, the Maps app asks me to uncover it so the camera can see nearby edges to navigate, which means it's using camera-based tracking as well as the iPhone and iPad motion sensors.

iOS 11's best features for iPhone and iPad

See all photos