Now that the developer of this quick and quirky iPhone app mentions it, we don’t really know why Apple chose to separate the digital compass and GPS reception of the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 from each other. Presumably they must have been standing their books up on their desk, and sniggering behind them.
Whatever the reason, it does seem a little odd that the device’s two navigation aspects are kept apart. They don’t exactly have a digital Berlin Wall between them, but Google Maps just isn’t too keen on playing nicely with the iPhone’s built-in compass.
Metropolis Compass doesn’t promise too much, other than a much closer symbiosis between these two essential route-finding functions – and manages to do it with impressive style.
Google Maps’ satellite view provides the backdrop for the application, which overlays an attractive brass-effect compass directly over the top. As you turn around and rotate the device with you, the map – and its compass – remain in a geostationary position to help you find your way around using magnetic north.
It sounds pretty austere in explanation, and it is, but when you see the two components tied together so much more closely than the standard Google Maps function, it simply makes a lot of sense. Not content with pure functionality, the app adds a layer of steampunk gloss that really lifts it off the screen.
A subtle drop-shadow gives the compass overlay a real presence on the map, while a spotlight shadow around the rest of the screen puts your focus firmly on your current position. A small brass gear icon (for the menu) rotates in accordance with the device, which adds a nice mechanical effect to your movements, while a slider-bar makes one-finger zooming considerably more accessible.
At one time cars had a compass built into the dashboard, which was considered all you really needed to find your way around. Combined with some pretty basic local geography, this was true. Metropolis Compass returns to those simpler times, and does it with a technological and graphical flare that belies the simplicity of its purpose.
Well worth 59p for anyone who likes to find their way around by compass point.