Simon Weckert created a virtual traffic jam in Berlin by pulling 99 used smartphones in a wagon: a large number of phones moving slowly looks like a traffic jam to Google Maps. “Through this activity, it is possible to turn a green street red which has an impact in the physical world by navigating cars on another route to avoid being stuck in traffic.”
Google’s statement to 9to5Google suggests that they’re taking Simon’s hack in stride: “Traffic data in Google Maps is refreshed continuously thanks to information from a variety of sources, including aggregated anonymized data from people who have location services turned on and contributions from the Google Maps community. We’ve launched the ability to distinguish between cars and motorcycles in several countries including India, Indonesia and Egypt, though we haven’t quite cracked traveling by wagon. We appreciate seeing creative uses of Google Maps like this as it helps us make maps work better over time.”
So people fed up with traffic being rerouted onto their residential streets could, conceivably, hack that traffic elsewhere—but not for much longer.
Matthew Panzarino, who broke the news in 2018 that Apple was building its own map data, said in a tweet that “Maps is probably the biggest software turnaround in Apple’s modern era—an interesting case study for a company that rarely needs turnaround efforts.”
Wirecutter’s Medea Giordano argues that even in the age of smartphones with built-in map apps, there’s still a place in your car for a dedicated GPS device: “there are cases when a phone just doesn’t cut it—say, in rural areas where coverage is questionable, or if you simply don’t want to drain your phone’s battery and data plan. Or when you’ve just found it frustrating to use a phone for long trips, like I have.”
Incognito mode for Google Maps, announced last May, is currently in testing. With the mode enabled, user activity isn’t saved to the user’s Google account. It was made available last week to beta testers using the preview version of the Google Maps Android app.
Tech companies have largely ignored a U.S. National Transportation Safety Board recommendation to add railway crossing data to their map apps, Politico reports. In 2016, after an accident in which a tired truck driver who used his mobile phone to navigate crashed into an Amtrak train at a level crossing, the NTSB issued a recommendation asking mapping companies to incorporate at-grade railway crossing data from the Federal Railroad Administration’s database of some 200,000 level crossings, so that their apps can warn drivers that a railway crossing is coming up.
Nearly three years later, hardly any of them have implemented the recommendation, and to date only three have responded to the NTSB recommendation: Garmin said it has railway crossing data in its latest devices, TomTom said it has had such data for a decade; Google, for its part, worried that adding such data might overcrowd the map and distract its users. Other providers, including Apple, Here, MapQuest and Microsoft, did not respond to the NTSB. Meanwhile, UPS says its proprietary navigation system includes level crossings, and while OpenStreetMap doesn’t use the FRA database, it has a level crossing tag that’s been used worldwide more than 730,000 times.
Apple Maps in iOS 13 is the biggest step forward the app has ever taken. With new and greatly improved maps, Look Around, collections, repurposed favorites, and more, a tremendous level of progress has been made to elevate Maps to new heights. It’s now a more legitimate Google Maps alternative than ever before.
That said, due to the massive amount of work required to accurately map the entire world, the Apple Maps of iOS 13 is fragmented for different geographical areas. While the new Apple-designed maps and Look Around have been promised for the entire US before 2019’s over, it’s unclear what availability will be this fall when iOS 13 first launches. And if you’re outside the US, it could be a long, slow road before you’ll enjoy these developments. Strip away Look Around and the new maps and what you’re left with in iOS 13 is an app that’s still markedly improved, but likely not enough to tempt you away from Google.
iOS 13 is currently in beta and will be released in the fall.
Map data is not perfect and users are too trusting. They believe maps to be accurate, and the map data that GPS receivers, online maps and smartphones rely on is riddled with a thousand insignificant errors that show up in unexpected cases. Whenever we read a story about some driver getting themselves into trouble because they followed the directions their GPS receiver or phone gave them, that’s what caused it.
Take, for example, last month’s incident where Google Maps’ response to a traffic accident was to route traffic heading toward Denver International Airport along a private dirt road that was muddy and nearly impassible due to recent rains: about a hundred cars got stuck. That Google Maps thought the muddy part of East 64th Avenue was a viable route would not likely have been spotted were it not for the accident; said accident routed dozens of drivers along an unfamiliar route that they had no real option other than to trust Google on. [Jalopnik]
Meanwhile, see Dan Luu’s Twitter thread on Google Maps (and other map providers’) errors, their persistence, and the trouble it can sometimes take to get them dealt with.
The Wall Street Journal goes in-depth on a problem Google Maps has had for years: fake and deceptive business listings posted by scam artists that crowd out legitimate local businesses—as many as 11 million such listings at any given moment, according to experts.
Online advertising specialists identified by Google as deft fraud fighters estimated that Google Maps carries roughly 11 million falsely listed businesses on any given day, according to a Journal survey of these experts.
They say a majority of the listings for contractors, electricians, towing and car repair services, movers and lawyers, among other business categories, aren’t located at their pushpins on Google Maps. Shams among these service categories, called “duress verticals” inside Google, can snag people at their most vulnerable.
Those experts and Google disagree as to the extent of the problem. (Which is exacerbated by how easy it is to set up a business listing.) And the scam artists aren’t simply displacing local businesses: they’re resorting to outright extortion: pay up, or we’ll swamp you with bogus listings. [Engadget, The Verge]
The WWDC hoopla around this tells me that Apple thinks of Apple Maps as an application, whereas in reality, maps are all about data—something Google understands better than anyone. Google maps are getting richer with data by the day. The more people use those maps to find locations, the deeper their data set gets. In my last visit to Old Delhi, I was able to find antique stores in back alleys with no difficulty at all. Apple Maps was nowhere close.
Malik suggests that Apple’s concern with their customers’ privacy may be holding back the quality of its maps relative to Google.
Google has faint regard for customer privacy, so they don’t hesitate to suck up all our data in order to build an amazing experience—so much so that many of us are willing to pay the price with regard to our personal information. Apple has a stance on privacy, which is why I am their customer, but at the end of the day, it’s an irrefutable fact that the Internet is a connected experience—and maps are part of that Internet.
Meanwhile, Reüel van der Steege has a side-by-side comparison of Apple’s upcoming Look Around feature with Google Street View.
Properly new in iOS 13 is Look Around, a feature similar to Street View in that it presents a three-dimensional street-level imagery, but with what appears to be a slightly different user interface (9to5Mac).
Other features announced include favourites, sharing and other items you’d expect from an online map service: Apple is essentially doing its best to catch up and be as feature-complete as the competition. That includes upgrades to MapKit, their developer toolkit (previously).