Apple and Google, sitting in a tree, f-i-g-h-t-i-n-g. We know that the Apple/Google relationship has gone from best friends to hate/hate, and that Apple has done its best to distance itself from its former lover. Apple has already bought mapping company C3, and is using OpenStreetMaps in iPhoto for iOS. But the Apple-designed map tiles are a little hokey. What the Maps app needs is these beautiful CC licensed tiles from Stamen Maps.
Stamen’s maps are free to use “wherever you display OpenStreetMap data,” under a Creative Commons Attribution license. There are three designs, all of which could be used by Apple in the next version of the Maps app if it switches to OpenStreetMap maps. Toner is a neat-looking black and white set which is available for any map the world over.
Terrain is U.S-only right now, and shows the bumps, humps and dips of the underlying landscape. Terrain maps are great for hikers and bikers when planning routes.
The last, and by far the prettiest set of tiles, is Watercolor (top), which you can test out right now with a live version on the Stamen site. Useless for anything but eye candy, there are no road or placenames — just beautiful maps which look as if they were hand painted.
I use Maps on my iPad all the time, but I don’t like it. It’s slow to load and lacks many features found in the maps app on Android. Apple will probably never use these tiles, but it needs to do something to its crappy Maps app.