At a glance, the new map data format used in iOS 6 appears to be twice as efficient as its predecessor. To the user, the obvious change is that the maps load and scroll faster, but there are end-to-end savings:
- Longer battery life as the Maps app spends less time computing and displaying the maps.
- Fewer missed turns in navigation as the app has an easier time keeping up with people on the move. This also translates to savings of time and fuel.
- Less memory used for map data, which may also mean that map pages don’t have to be reloaded as often.
- Reduced data load because of the smaller volume of map data. This affects the cellular network especially, but also allows a proportional energy savings at Apple’s data centers (or more likely, an increase in the number of users supported).
- Lower data fees for cellular users who pay based on the amount of data they transfer.
The reduction in the data load on the AT&T cellular network in the United States may have been the deciding factor in changing the Maps app so abruptly. No one can claim that AT&T has plenty of excess bandwidth in major cities, or that there is an obvious way for it to acquire more. For the most part, the network will have to fit into the existing bandwidth even as the number of users increases. This becomes especially urgent as new generations of phones that aren’t as data-efficient as iOS come online between now and the end of the year. Aside from charging users for the volume of data they use, reducing the data load for map data is the most obvious way to make everything fit.