Google I/O: Immersive View and Other Updates to Google Maps

Three updates to Google Maps were announced at Google I/O today. The big one is an immersive view mode that creates a digital model of a city from aerial imagery and Street View: it’s coming later this year to London, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Tokyo, with more cities coming later. It’s not just about 3D models of buildings—Apple’s got those—but also interiors, as Google CEO Sundar Pichai demonstrated in the keynote.

Also announced: an expansion of eco-friendly routing to Europe and making Live View available to third-party apps. More coverage: Engadget, TechCrunch, The Verge.

Apple Maps Updates: Germany, Singapore and U.S. Cycling Directions

Justin O’Beirne notes that Apple’s new maps—which, remember, were first announced in 2018, so: for certain values of newhave arrived in Germany and Singapore. Also, he observes that Apple is adding cycling directions in roughly the same order the new maps rolled out in the United States: they were added to the Midwest in mid-April, and northeastern states at the beginning of the month.

Google Maps Updates Announced

Updates to Google Maps announced today include estimated prices for toll roads as well as increased navigation detail. “You’ll soon see traffic lights and stop signs along your route, along with enhanced details like building outlines and areas of interest. And, in select cities, you’ll see even more detailed information, like the shape and width of a road, including medians and islands–you can better understand where you are, and help decrease the odds of making last-minute lane changes or missing a turn.” There are also updates specific to the Apple platform: iPhone and iPad users will get new widgets, Siri and Spotlight integration, and Apple Watch support. The updates will be rolling out gradually: some in a few weeks, some later this summer.

Traffic Data Inadvertently Revealed the Start of the Russian Invasion

AppleInsider looks at how online maps (Apple Maps, Google Maps), especially their traffic layer, inadvertently revealed Russian troop movements at the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The sheer volume of mapping data now available at our fingertips means it was possible for civilians half a world away to see when Russian forces began moving. Specifically, that data pinpointed a traffic jam starting on the Russian side of the border, actively moving into Ukraine in the first few minutes of the Russian and Ukraine conflict.

Just as with any cartography, this information required interpreting. Google Maps did not specifically say that it was troop movements, nor was its satellite imagery up to the minute. During the process of researching this story, we’ve confirmed that Apple Maps presented similar inbound troop movement information—but it wasn’t setting out to do that either.

What these services did, though, was register all of the smartphone users whose driving was slowed or halted by unusual traffic conditions. Wherever the majority of the data came from, it was possible to determine what was happening when coupled with known details of Russian troop locations.

TomTom Says Its Algorithms Avoid Potentially Dangerous Routes

It probably has nothing to do with Google redirecting traffic up poorly maintained mountain roads during a blizzard in California last month (previously), but TomTom has posted a piece explaining how its algorithms avoid sending drivers down potentially dangerous routes in Finland even though, on paper, they’re shorter.

TomTom’s routing and location technology recognizes that the shorter route to Koli National Park is on winding unpaved roads, made up of sand and gravel, and it takes that into consideration when computing a route for a driver. It places significant importance on this information. […] Even though the unpaved route is shorter, it’s still not considered “better” than the longer paved route when all things are considered. If map data didn’t include this contextual data about the specific road, the unpaved road would most likely be the default route suggestion.

Google Rerouted Traffic Up Poorly Maintained Mountain Roads During a Blizzard

Screenshot of Google Maps showing driving directions in California
Screenshot (Crystal A. Kolden/@pyrogeog on Twitter)

Last week, when a snowstorm closed Interstate 80 east of Sacramento, Google Maps started redirecting traffic up poorly maintained mountain roads, which is about as good an idea during a blizzard as it sounds.

As SFGate reports,

Other dispatches from Twitter allege that the service—particularly its mobile app—directed people to closed-off highways, mountain passes and lakeside roads to get around. This is in direct contrast to Caltrans’ messaging to avoid workarounds. Caltrans District 3 spokesperson Steve Nelson told SFGATE on Monday that they were seeing drivers trying to skirt highway closures with side streets. “They’ll take side roads and try and sneak past the closures, and that never ends well,” he said.

Google engineer Sören Meyer-Eppler responded on Twitter to spell out some of the technical and logistical problems involved in rerouting traffic during bad weather: the difficulty in finding timely data (and in such cases data need to be really timely) and the risk of false positives. More at Jalopnik.

Apple Maps Asia-Pacific Update

Apple’s new maps have come to Australia [9to5Mac, MacRumors].

Meanwhile, the South China Morning Post reports that “iPhone and Apple Watch users in China can no longer see their geographic coordinates and elevation on the Compass app, according to Chinese media reports and user comments. However, information including bearings and general location are still available.”

And according to a report in The Information (paywall) that was summarized by John Gruber, back in 2014 or 2015 the Chinese State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping required Apple Maps to make the disputed Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands appear large even when zoomed out, and made the Apple Watch’s Chinese release contingent on that request—to which Apple acquiesced.

MapQuest to the Rescue?

Adam Engst of TidBITS had a specific routing problem that only one map app could solve. The answer, as they say, will surprise you: “When faced with needing to visit 43 different addresses, what was the most efficient route? It’s easy enough to enter an address into Apple’s Maps or Google Maps, and even add an extra stop or two. But 43 stops in an optimal route? […] A little research revealed that MapQuest—remember MapQuest from the days when we all printed directions?—offers precisely what I needed.”

A Look at Apple Maps in iOS 15

MacRumors takes a look at the changes to Apple Maps in iOS 15. “Apple has made so many improvements to the Maps app in iOS 15 that it’s almost an entirely different experience. There are better driving directions, improved transit directions, and more immersive AR-based walking directions.” That’s maybe a bit over the top, in the fashion of the Apple-focused tech press, but at any rate there are a bunch of screenshots.

Previously: Apple Maps Updates Announced at WWDC.

Google Maps: Android My Maps Discontinued, Transit Crowdedness Feature Expanded

The Google My Maps Android app is being closed down in October. You may remember that My Maps is a feature allowing users to create custom maps on the Google Maps platform relatively easily. To be honest I wasn’t aware that it had its own Android app; once that’s closed it will be available via the web. Andro4all worries (Spanish) that this is a sign that My Maps could be discontinued, which on the one hand seems a bit premature, but on the other, well, Google does have a track record. [Alejandro Polanca]

Meanwhile, Google Maps has expanded its feature that predicts crowdedness on transit lines—useful when it’s still very much not a great idea to be in a packed subway car—to 10,000 agencies in 100 countries. [Macworld]

Apple Maps Updates Announced at WWDC

Upgrades to Apple Maps were announced on Monday at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference: see coverage from AppleInsider, Engadget and TechCrunch, as well as the video of the keynote itself (the Maps section starts at 29:47).

Apple Maps on an iPhoneThe changes will be coming to iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey this fall. They include highly detailed city maps (for only a few cities at launch); a three-dimensional map for navigation that indicates, among other things, complex intersections; improved transit features such as bus route integration and next stop notifications; precise walking directions based on a scan of nearby buildings; and an interactive globe when zoomed out. (Note that not all of these features will be available on Intel Macs, which lack the Neural Engine in Apple’s own chips, nor on older iPhones or iPads with an A11 or earlier chip.)

The Weather app will also be getting temperature, precipitation and air quality maps (see TechCrunch coverage). And Italy and Australia were announced as the next countries to get Apple’s upgraded map layer.

Update 11 Jun: MacRumors has a roundup.

Update 15 Jun: Justin O’Beirne has been adding screenshots of Apple’s redesigned maps—its new new maps—to this page.