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.
Meanwhile, Strange Maps looks at the curious lack of Google Street View in Germany and Austria, where privacy concerns are paramount.
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’s new map data was promised to be live across the United States by the end of 2019. It’s been rolling out in batches, region by region: Arizona, New Mexico and southern Nevada in April; this month it went live in Texas, Louisiana and southern Mississippi and, in a huge update, the U.S. Northeast.
The augmented reality mode for Google Maps that was teased last year has finally arrived. After an “early preview” showed up on Google Pixel phones earlier this year, Live View—which superimposes walking directions on the view through your phone’s camera—was made available this week on Google Maps for both iOS and Android, on devices that support ARKit (iOS) or ARcore (Android). Engadget, TechCrunch, The Verge.
Writing for MacStories, Ryan Christoffel takes a deep dive into the new features of Apple Maps in iOS 13. His conclusions?
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]
Om Malik’s take on the updates to Apple Maps: “all it does is remind me of Bing—an also-ran that can never catch up to Google.”
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.
Made a quick side-by-side comparison video driving the same road in Hawaii with 'Look Around' in Apple Maps on #iOS13 vs Google Street View. It really is "smoothly move down the street"! Impressive 🤩 #WWDC19 #iOS13Beta #AppleMaps #GoogleMaps #Apple #maps pic.twitter.com/nIA3kklhJe
— Reüel van der Steege (@rvdsteege) June 13, 2019
Said features include the rebuilt map data previously announced for iOS 12 (previously: Apple Maps Data Being Completely Rebuilt for iOS 12; A Look at the Rebuilt Apple Maps) but, as they announced this week, will be available across the United States by the end of 2019, and in other countries in 2020 (see press release).
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).
Tom MacWright thinks that online maps are neglecting bicycle and multimodal routing at the expense of driving directions, which keep getting better.
Routing is the most powerful tool we have to reduce the environmental impact of driving, make cities quieter, safer, and more livable, and fight congestion. And you are blowing it.
This might be because HERE, the number two provider of map technologies, was bought by a bunch of car companies. Or because Google is headquartered in the suburbs. Or that the financial world is fixated on opening the pandora’s box of self-driving cars.
But the end result is the same: bicycle and multimodal routing continues to be a toy, and driving directions keep getting better.
This might well be about systems designed for in-car navigation first, or designed to replace them; or that are aimed at what is perceived to be the meat of the market. There are undoubtedly solutions out there that address Tom’s points, but there’s something to be said for having that solution front and centre in a mainstream service rather than having to find it in a less well-known app or a dedicated device.
Here’s a silly Google Maps origin story about how “Satellite” was almost named “Bird Mode” pic.twitter.com/wj7CRJUEyx
— Bret Taylor (@btaylor) February 23, 2019
A lot of what we refer to on online maps as “satellite imagery” actually isn’t: the high-resolution stuff is usually taken from airplanes. This can be a point of confusion for some—and, according to this Twitter thread from Google Maps co-creator Bret Taylor, also a point of contention for the Google Maps team before it launched. Some engineers felt that calling the layer “Satellite” was factually incorrect—because of that aerial imagery—and therefore shouldn’t be used; others argued for “Satellite” based on label size and usability studies. It nearly got called “Bird Mode” as a compromise. [Boing Boing]
Google integrates its maps into its search results: synergy! What, then, is scrappy upstart search engine DuckDuckGo, which makes a point of not tracking its users,1 to do in response? Answer: use Apple Maps. “We’re excited to announce that map and address-related searches on DuckDuckGo for mobile and desktop are now powered by Apple’s MapKit JS framework, giving you a valuable combination of mapping and privacy.”
CNet’s Kent German asks people to stop tech-shaming over old phones and paper maps, though I’m not exactly sure who exactly does this (it’s not like he provides any examples). Anyway, one example he does use to bolster his argument is the time a paper map saved him from getting lost in France when his rental car’s GPS didn’t have updated maps; the graft to the larger argument in favour of not being so quick to abandon old tech in favour of the latest and greatest does leave some visible seams. (He also drags the post office into the argument. It’s Luddite potpourri.) [MAPS-L]
The argument for paper maps is getting ever more insistent, even shrill, but it seems to me to be mainly coming from the tech side of things. My impression is that the people who rely too much on mobile maps haven’t lost the ability to read maps; they never had it in the first place.
Previously: Popular Mechanics Proselytizes Paper Maps.
A long exposé from the New York Times explores just how much location data is collected from mobile apps, to the point where the identity of an anonymous user can be reconstructed from where they’ve been. The key point: whatever purpose the app is collecting your location for (for example, to give you your local weather), that location data may be shared with and sold to other parties.