Last week Google announced “over 100 AI-powered improvements to Google Maps” would be coming this year; these include bringing Live View indoors, a new air quality map layer, eco-friendly routing, and support for curbside pickup in business listings.
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.
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.”
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.
Popular Mechanics: “Even in 2019, there are good reasons to own a paper map, whether it’s the kind you can grab at the gas station or a sturdy road atlas […] that lives in your car.” This is a listicle, so six reasons are given, some of which are absolute rubbish: paper maps aren’t “nearly flawless” in terms of accuracy (they do go out of date), and they’re not inherently more comparative (checking vs. online maps) than checking one online map against another (e.g. Google vs. Apple vs. OpenStreetMap). Valid points about reliability and being able to plot out your own routes, though. [CCA]
Traffic. Traffic congestion is a key feature of mobile mapping, and predicting it involves looking at historical data. CityLab reports on a recent study suggests that time-of-day electricity usage patterns can be used to predict traffic congestion patterns. A household that starts using power earlier in the morning gets up earlier and presumably will go to work earlier.) It’s another variable that can be put to use in traffic modelling.
Trail difficulty. OpenStreetMap doesn’t differentiate between “walk-in-the-park” trails and mountaineering routes, and that may have had something to do with hikers needing to be rescued from the side of a British Columbia mountain recently. The hikers apparently used OSM on a mobile phone app, and in OSM trail difficulty is an optional tag. The wisdom of using OSM in safety-critical environments notwithstanding, this is something that OSM editors need to get on. [Ian Dees]
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.
“If my parents lamented a generation lost to knowing how to read a paper map, I’m wondering if mine will note the loss of one who doesn’t need the people of the places it passes through,” writes Lorraine Sommerfeld in a piece for Postmedia’s Driving that celebrates the advantages of asking locals for directions rather than relying on your car’s navigation system.
We’ve all seen business listings on online maps that don’t quite jibe with reality: the map marker’s on the wrong place, and driving directions don’t get you to your destination. The Wall Street Journal reports on how businesses deal with online map errors. Getting a wrong listing fixed is a rather high priority (a lost customer is a lost customer, if you follow me), but it turns out to be a more time-consuming—and expensive—process than I thought: there are firms that charge thousands of dollars to solve this for you. [via]
Time’s John Patrick Pullen compares how easy or difficult it is to send driving directions to your phone using maps from Apple, Google and Microsoft before coming up with a surprise winner: “I pulled up MapQuest for a punchline on this story, but the joke’s on all of us. MapQuest is, by far, the easiest way to get maps from your desktop to your phone.” I really ought to try this out myself and see if I agree with him.