Google unveiled its future plans for Google Maps at its I/O conference yesterday. They include an augmented reality mode that combines Google’s Street View and map data with the view through your phone’s camera and “assistive and personal” features that add some artificial intelligence to recommendations and reviews. The social and recommendation features are coming this summer; no word on when or if we’ll see the AR mode. AppleInsider, Google Blog, Engadget, The Verge.
We’re almost at the end of the week of Mario on Google Maps. Announced for March 10 (“MAR10” Day), the temporary feature changed the navigator arrow into Mario driving his cart. Announced for both Android and iOS, but for some reason it never turned up in Google Maps on either my iPhone or my iPad, so I didn’t rush to post. [Business Insider]
Public transit navigation now includes wheelchair accessible routes, as of yesterday: “this feature is rolling out in major metropolitan transit centers around the world, starting with London, New York, Tokyo, Mexico City, Boston, and Sydney. We’re looking forward to working with additional transit agencies in the coming months to bring more wheelchair accessible routes to Google Maps.”
Slashgear looks at the new Google Maps APIs for gaming, which, I guess, enable developers to build real-world games on top of Google Maps. Note that Pokémon Go is not built on Google Maps: I suspect this outcome means that Google has noticed that.
Artur Grabowski spent most of 2017 testing three mapping apps—Apple Maps, Google Maps and Waze—to see which app was the most accurate in terms of travel time to destination. His questions: which app estimated the shortest travel times, which app actually got him to his destination in the least amount of time, and how much did each app over- or underestimate travel times? In the end, based on 120 trips in the Bay Area, roughly 40 using each service, Artur found that Apple’s estimates were the most reliable (indeed, Apple underpromised and overdelivered), but while Waze promised the shortest travel times, those promises were usually overly optimistic; it was Google Maps that provided the shortest travel times.
Why does Apple underpromise and overdeliver, while Waze does the opposite? Artur suspects it’s because Waze needs to monetize its app with ads, and Apple doesn’t:
For Apple, Maps is a basic solution for its average user who wants a maps solution out of the box. Apple Maps does not directly drive ad or subscription revenue for Apple so there is less reason for Apple to incentivize iOS users to use Apple Maps over other solutions. However, Apple does care about user experience, and sandbagging trip time estimates so that users arrive at their destination on time results in a great user experience. Hence, I believe that Apple is intentionally conservative with estimated arrival times.
At the other extreme, Waze (Alphabet) makes money through ads when you use their app. What better way to get people to use your navigation app than by over-promising short trip times when no one takes the time to record data and realize that you under-deliver? If an unsuspecting user opens Apple Maps and sees a 34-minute route and compares that to 30 minutes in Waze, the deed is done. Now Waze has a life-long customer who doesn’t realize they’ve been hoodwinked and Waze can throw at them stupidly annoying ads.
Justin O’Beirne’s lengthy analyses of Google Maps and Apple Maps are always worth reading,1 and his latest is no exception. Looking at the rapid proliferation of buildings, areas of interest and other examples of Google’s Ground Truthing program, Justin discovers that Google’s buildings data are a product of its satellite imagery, its places of interest are a product of its Street View data, and its areas of interest (the orange-shaded areas that indicate business districts) are the result of combining those stores of data.
…so this makes AOIs a byproduct of byproducts[.]
This is bonkers, isn’t it?
Google is creating data out of data.
This is slightly more than Google’s competitors are able to match. As always, Justin’s analysis is worth reading in full, and comes complete with before/after animations that make his point visually clear.
What happens when a Google Street View car meets its Bing equivalent? The Verge explains: “As it turns out, when two Google Street View and Bing cars pass each other, only one (in this case Google) will admit to it publicly. Like an embarrassed or jilted lover, Microsoft masks the memory of the Google encounter with a giant white rectangle in Bing maps. […] Google however, proudly shows off the Bing car in all its glory.”
An experimental feature in the iPhone version of Google Maps that measured the calories burned (and equivalent in mini-cupcakes) when walking a route instead has been pulled due to complaints, TechCrunch reports: the feature couldn’t be disabled, the calorie counts were vague and unhelpful, and it could be actively harmful to users with eating disorders. More at Buzzfeed, Slate and The Verge.
The Moon and Mars were relatively early additions to Google Earth; that application may have been migrated to the web, but the planets and moons keep coming. Yesterday Google announced the addition of a dozen other worlds in our solar system; the space layer of Google Maps now includes planets Mercury, Venus and Mars; dwarf planets Ceres and Pluto;1 Jupiter’s moons Io, Europa and Ganymede; and Saturn’s moons Dione, Enceladus, Iapetus, Mimas, Rhea and Titan. Large moons Callisto and Triton aren’t included, and Iapetus is projected onto a sphere rather than appearing as the bizarre space walnut it is.
CBC News reports that more than 3,000 indigenous communities in Canada—traditional First Nations reserves as well as treaty settlement lands and urban reserves—have finally been added to Google Maps. For some reason I thought they already were—U.S. Indian reservations have been on Google Maps for some time, after all (their visibility, or lack thereof, was commented on in 2011: here, here and here).
A new version of Google Earth launched today. Unlike previous versions, the desktop version runs in a web browser rather than a standalone app. Also unlike previous versions, it’s no longer cross-platform: for now at least, the desktop version only runs in Chrome, and the mobile app is Android-only.
Frank Taylor has been covering the new release at the venerable Google Earth Blog and has a first review.
For my part, I’ve poked around in it in Chrome a bit and I found it fairly responsive and easy to use. If it runs this well in the browser I can see how a standalone app would be redundant; this is a better delivery method. I would much prefer it, though, if it also ran on platforms that didn’t belong to Google.
Update, 21 April: Coverage from AFP and Geoawesomeness focuses on the features, which I gave short shrift to above.
Bogus business listings on Google Maps have been a thing for a while; a new research paper, authored by researchers at Google and the University of San Diego, tries to quantify the scale and scope of the problem. The New Scientist reports:
To analyse the scope of this abuse, the group looked at over 100,000 listings that the Google Maps team had identified as abusive between June 2014 and September 2015. The fraudulent listings most often belonged to services like locksmiths, plumbers and electricians.
Overall, less than one per cent of Google Maps listings were fraudulent, but pockets of fake listings emerged. In West Harrison, New York, for example, more than 80 per cent of locksmiths listed were scams. The U.S. was home to over half of the fraudulent listings, followed by India with 17.5 per cent.
Google Map Maker, Google’s tool to allow users to edit its maps, has been shut down, Ars Technica reports. “A support page went up over the weekend declaring that Map Maker is closed but that ‘many of its features are being integrated into Google Maps.’” You may recall that Map Maker was temporarily suspended in 2015 after a series of embarrassing edits came to light; its editing tools have been increasingly limited to a smaller circle of editors.
Google tends to release wacky things around April 1st, as well as some more serious things (like Gmail). Ms. Pac-Maps is one of the former, and the latest strange thing to be added to Google Maps around this time. In the same vein as the Google Maps Pac-Man feature from 2015, it enables you to play Ms. Pac-Man on the road grid in Google Maps, and runs on the most recent Android and iOS apps as well as on the desktop until April 4th. [The Verge]