Updates to Apple Maps announced at WWDC last month include electric vehicle routing, cycling directions, traffic and speed camera notifications, and the ability to derive your location when GPS signals are weak by scanning the buildings in your area (presumably limited to cities with Look Around). In addition, Apple’s new, built-from-the-ground-up map data, which as of last January now covers the entire U.S., will be coming to Canada, Ireland and the U.K. later this year. The updates are a part of iOS 14, which launches in the fall. More at Engadget and The Verge.
Last year Apple rolled out its new map data in stages, with new coverage being added on a state-by-state or region-by-region basis. Yesterday Apple announced that its new map data now covers the entire United States (except, Justin O’Beirne points out, the territories). This is slightly later than the end-of-2019 target they’d been aiming for. Europe is scheduled to start receiving the new map data this year.
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.”
Previously: Apple Maps Data Being Completely Rebuilt for iOS 12; A Look at the Rebuilt Apple Maps; Apple Maps at WWDC 2019: New Map Data, Look Around and More; Apple’s New Map Data Rolls Out Region by Region.
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.
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.
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).
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.”
Apple now has a fleet of cars collecting data for Apple Maps. Since they’ve been making a point about consumer privacy lately, this page lists where their cars are going to be in the coming weeks. (AppleInsider notes that some of that data collection is pedestrian-based.) It turns out Google has a page for Street View data collection that includes similar information, though it’s far less granular: windows of several months, whereas Apple tells you where it’ll be within a two-week timeframe.
Justin O’Beirne takes a deep dive into the new version of Apple Maps, which went live in iOS 12 in a few areas of California and Nevada. You will recall that Apple was reported to be rebuilding Apple Maps “from the ground up“: this is apparently the result. Verdict: lots of detail that can only have come from algorithmic processing of aerial imagery, but with some surprising blind spots. [Loop Insight]
Previously: Apple Maps Data Being Completely Rebuilt for iOS 12.
Earlier this year Google Maps changed the terms of its API and in the process jacked up its prices, leaving web developers to consider other alternatives. These include (among others) OpenStreetMap, which posted a switching guide in June; Apple, which announced its API for websites that same month; and Here Maps, which (a) is still around1 and (b) has announced a freemium plan with reasonably generous transaction limits. As Engadget points out, Google’s trying to profit off its market dominance; its competitors, seeing an opening, are making their move. [Engadget]
TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino reported last week on major changes coming to Apple Maps in iOS 12. The underlying data, which has come in for criticism since the service launched, is being redone. Rather than relying on “a patchwork of data partners,” Apple is growing its own map data.
It’s doing this by using first-party data gathered by iPhones with a privacy-first methodology and its own fleet of cars packed with sensors and cameras. The new product will launch in San Francisco and the Bay Area with the next iOS 12 beta and will cover Northern California by fall.
Every version of iOS will get the updated maps eventually, and they will be more responsive to changes in roadways and construction, more visually rich depending on the specific context they’re viewed in and feature more detailed ground cover, foliage, pools, pedestrian pathways and more.
This is nothing less than a full re-set of Maps and it’s been four years in the making, which is when Apple began to develop its new data-gathering systems. Eventually, Apple will no longer rely on third-party data to provide the basis for its maps, which has been one of its major pitfalls from the beginning.
Well worth a read if you’re interested in mobile maps: Panzarino’s article digs down into how Apple will collect and process its mapping data. how it plans to dramatically speed up changes and updates to the map, and how (it says) it’s taking privacy seriously at every step of the process.
Video and presentation slides from Apple’s “Introduction to MapKit JS” session at WWDC yesterday afternoon. MapKit JS is, as I mentioned Tuesday, a method for developers to embed Apple’s maps on their websites. Apple is pitching it as a way for developers who use Apple Maps in their iOS apps to use the same maps on their websites: continuity of look and feel and all that.
MapKit has been around for a few years as an API to allow iOS developers to embed Apple’s maps into their apps. What seems to be new this year is MapKit JS, which enables developers to do with Apple Maps that they’ve been able to do for years with Google Maps, OpenStreetMap, MapBox and even the Ordnance Survey: embed the maps on their websites. Keir Clarke runs through the services and limitations of the API: notably, it requires an Apple Developer account ($99/year) to use. It’s still in beta, so everything is subject to change; in the meantime, Vasile Coțovanu has whipped up a demo. [Maps Mania]
As of iOS 12, coming later this year, CarPlay will support third-party map applications like Google Maps and Waze, Apple announced during its WWDC keynote earlier today: AppleInsider, Engadget, The Verge. Up until now the only maps available via CarPlay were Apple’s own; drivers who would rather use something else—and I know lots of them are out there—will soon have that option.
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.