The TomTom Maps Platform

TomTom corporate logoEarlier this month, at its investor meeting, TomTom announced that it was launching something called the TomTom Maps Platform. The announcement was, because of where it was made, long on investor-focused jargon: growth, innovation, etc., so it’s not immediately clear what it will mean.

Basically, TomTom is building a map ecosystem that can be built on by developers and businesses: an apparent shot across the bow at the Google Maps ecosystem. And indeed that’s how The Next Web sees it: an attempt to “wrestle control” of digital mapping away from Silicon Valley.

TomTom plans to do so by combining map data from its own data, third-party sources, sensor data, and OpenStreetMap. I’ve been around long enough to know that combining disparate map data sources is neither trivial nor easy. It’s also very labour intensive. TomTom says they’ll be using AI and machine learning to automate that process. It’ll be a real accomplishment if they can make it work. It may actually be a very big deal. I suspect it may also be the only way to make this platform remotely any good and financially viable at the same time.

Immersive View and the Death of Consumer Maps

Pointing to Google Maps and Apple Maps, with their extensive street-level and flyover imagery, James Killick believes that maps for the consumer are moving away from symbolic representation and toward creating digital models of the real world that, he says, are not maps. “It’s all part of a trend, a downward trend in my opinion, that will result demise of consumer maps. Contrary to Beck’s approach to distill reality into its essential essence we’re moving in the opposite direction. [¶] We are instead on a path to the dreaded metaverse, a virtual world where we should all be thankful and glad to wander around as legless avatars with the aspirational goal of reaching social media nirvana. I don’t know about you, but, ugh.” [Lat × Long]

Report: Google to Shut Down Standalone Street View App

Street View app iconAccording to 9to5Google, Google looks like it’s getting ready to shut down its standalone Street View app (previously). “This standalone app served two distinct groups of people—those who wanted to deeply browse Street View and those who wanted to contribute their own 360° imagery. Considering the more popular Google Maps app has Street View support and Google offers a ‘Street View Studio’ web app for contributors, it should be no surprise to learn that the company is now preparing to shut down the Street View app.” If their report is correct, the shutdown would take place next March. [The Verge]

New Apple Watch Features Include Dual-Frequency GPS, Virtual Breadcrumbs

Apple Watch UltraApple is touting the Apple Watch Ultra’s dual-frequency GPS support, viz., it uses the GPS L5 band in addition to L1 to improve accuracy. The new L5 signal is higher power and is supposed to provide more robust service, but with only 17 satellites broadcasting on it it’s not yet fully operational. Still, a Reddit user was able to document the improved accuracy by conducting an unexpected stress test: mowing the lawn. With the Ultra the mowing rows can be made out, whereas the tracks made with a series 4 watch were all over the place. [9to5Mac]

While the Ultra is the only Apple Watch that can use the L5 band, watchOS 9 adds a redesigned Compass app and a Backtrack feature that lets users retrace their steps using on-the-fly waypoints and GPS traces. MacRumors has a tutorial. This is something I’m looking forward to trying out: my series 8 watch arrived last week.

India Pushing Phone Makers to Adopt NavIC

Reuters reports that the Indian government is pushing mobile phone makers to include support for NavIC, the Indian-government owned satellite navigation system. (At the moment NavIC provides regional coverage from a seven-satellite constellation, but the plan is for 24-satellite global coverage.) Phone makers are resisting the request, citing the additional chips and cost required to support the system. And there’s the matter of redundancy: the current iPhone, for example, already supports BeiDou, Galileo, GLONASS and QZSS in addition to GPS. [9to5Mac]

Online Map Roundup for August 2022

Google Maps sends people looking for abortion providers to so-called crisis pregnancy centres, which discourage the procedure, Bloomberg reports.

Also in Bloomberg, Mark Gurman discusses Apple’s plans to expand its advertising business, which apparently includes adding ads to Apple Maps.

Apple’s cycling maps now include Hawaii, and its detailed 3D cities now include Atlanta, Miami and Seattle. They’re also testing their upgraded maps in Israel, Palestine and Saudi Arabia.

Google Maps updates outlined in a blog post last month include cycling route information, location sharing, and photorealistic aerial views of major landmarks.

Instagram announced a searchable map feature last month, expanding its map feature beyond geolocating posts. This, after a Google VP noted that young users are using apps and TikTok for discovery purposes rather than Google’s Search or Maps. You wouldn’t think that Instagram and TikTok qualify as map apps, but the street finds its uses.

Online Map Roundup: Apple Maps in iOS 16, Google Maps Displays Tolls, Yandex Erases Borders

Apple Maps in iOS 16 will gain multi-stop routing, which I thought was a long-established feature on other platforms, as well as transit fare/card/pass integration. Apple’s new maps will also expand to more countries, and its detailed city maps will expand to more cities in the U.S., Australia and Canada. 9to5Mac has a summary.

As announced in April, Google Maps now displays estimated toll prices when routing.

Russian search engine Yandex is sidestepping the Russian invasion of Ukraine, frozen conflicts and other contested national borders by simply removing national borders from its map. It’s being spun as a pivot to local navigation. (Sure.)

Google Street View at 15

Google is marking the 15th anniversary of Street View. In a blog post, they preview their next camera, which weighs less than 15 pounds and doesn’t require complex equipment or a specialized car mount. They’re also making their historical Street View imagery (historical in the sense of not current: it only goes back 15 years at most) available via the Google Maps Android and iOS apps. More: 9to5Google, TechCrunch.

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.