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.
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]
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]
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.
The Verge’s Dan Seifert tries out Google Maps and Waze on CarPlay, and concludes that “neither Google Maps or Waze are particularly compelling compared to their Android Auto counterparts or even Apple’s own Maps app.” The unkindest cut: “If I’m traveling somewhere unfamiliar, Apple Maps is just more reliable to use than Google Maps or Waze in CarPlay, which is frankly surprising to say.”
Meanwhile, Google Maps has added commuting features that include mixed-mode commute support (e.g., commutes that include a combination of driving, transit, walking or cycling), real-time bus and train locations (in some locations), and in-app music support; more at AppleInsider, Engadget and The Verge. Another new feature: group planning; see coverage at PC World and The Verge.
iOS 12, which adds support for third-party map apps in Apple CarPlay, was released on Monday. Google wasted no time: a day after that, they released version 5 of Google Maps for iOS, which adds CarPlay support. AppleInsider has a hands-on look at Google Maps on CarPlay. (CarPlay support is coming to Waze, but it’s apparently not ready yet.)
Previously: Third-Party Map Apps Coming to CarPlay in iOS 12.
“Google wants to know where you go so badly that it records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to,” the Associated Press reports. Their exclusive investigation discovered that “many Google services on Android devices and iPhones store your location data even if you’ve used a privacy setting that says it will prevent Google from doing so.” Basically, turning the “Location History” feature off doesn’t stop Google apps from recording your location at various junctures: your location data may still be found in places like “My Activity” or “Web and App Activity,” for example. Google insists its descriptions are clear; critics are calling Google’s hairsplitting disingenuous, disturbing and wrong.
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]
Google is assigning names to neighbourhoods that, the New York Times reports, have little basis in reality—but once on Google Maps, those names swiftly come into a popular usage they never had before. The East Cut, in San Francisco, was the product of a branding agency; Fiskhorn, in Detroit, is actually a misspelling of Fishkorn, taken from a typo in the source map. (Searching for “Fishkorn” works just as well, though.) How such names end up on Google Maps, and therefore get a certain canonicity, is what’s interesting: it seems to be the result of a tech giant processing diverse data with remote fact checkers and not much in the way of local knowledge. [Boing Boing]
Web mapping uses Web Mercator. As Kenneth Field points out, this is fine at large scales, but at small scales you end up replicating the problem of using the Mercator projection on a wall map of the world.1 Zoom out in Apple Maps: using the map layer you get a Mercator; using imagery you get a virtual globe (basically, an orthographic projection you can spin). Ditto in Google Earth. But Google Maps, after some tests and starts, now does this in its map layer—and not just in Chrome, either. This means, among other things, that Antarctica is usably visible, as are the Arctic regions—and, of course, Greenland is its proper size at small scales.
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.
Google unveiled its future plans for Google Maps at its I/O conference yesterday. They include an augmented reality mode that combines Google’s Street View and map data with the view through your phone’s camera and “assistive and personal” features that add some artificial intelligence to recommendations and reviews. The social and recommendation features are coming this summer; no word on when or if we’ll see the AR mode. AppleInsider, Google Blog, Engadget, The Verge.
In other Google Maps news from late March: Google announced that 39 new languages were being added to Google Maps; and restaurant wait times came to the iOS version of Google Maps.
We’re almost at the end of the week of Mario on Google Maps. Announced for March 10 (“MAR10” Day), the temporary feature changed the navigator arrow into Mario driving his cart. Announced for both Android and iOS, but for some reason it never turned up in Google Maps on either my iPhone or my iPad, so I didn’t rush to post. [Business Insider]
Something that is turning up on my iPhone: plus codes, which appear to be Google’s homegrown solution to location codes, map codes and the like: a short string of characters that indicate a specific location on the globe. They were announced back in August 2015, but last month Geospatial World made note of their rollout.
Public transit navigation now includes wheelchair accessible routes, as of yesterday: “this feature is rolling out in major metropolitan transit centers around the world, starting with London, New York, Tokyo, Mexico City, Boston, and Sydney. We’re looking forward to working with additional transit agencies in the coming months to bring more wheelchair accessible routes to Google Maps.”
Slashgear looks at the new Google Maps APIs for gaming, which, I guess, enable developers to build real-world games on top of Google Maps. Note that Pokémon Go is not built on Google Maps: I suspect this outcome means that Google has noticed that.
Inevitable, and surprisingly not before now: Disney’s parks in Street View.
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.