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 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.

Google Didn’t Stop Obscuring Imagery of Russian Military Sites Because the Imagery Hadn’t Been Obscured in the First Place

Yesterday, reports that Google Maps had stopped obscuring satellite imagery of sensitive Russian military facilities spread like wildfire across Twitter. Only there was no official announcement from Google saying they’d done so, and while Ukrainian Twitter was seriously running with it, I wanted to see some confirmation from the mapping side. In the event, an update to Ars Technica’s story says that Google hadn’t stopped blurring the imagery—the imagery hadn’t been blurred in the first place. “A Google spokesperson told Ars that the company hasn’t changed anything with regard to blurring out sensitive sites in Russia, so perhaps none of us were looking closely until now.”

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.

Google Rerouted Traffic Up Poorly Maintained Mountain Roads During a Blizzard

Screenshot of Google Maps showing driving directions in California
Screenshot (Crystal A. Kolden/@pyrogeog on Twitter)

Last week, when a snowstorm closed Interstate 80 east of Sacramento, Google Maps started redirecting traffic up poorly maintained mountain roads, which is about as good an idea during a blizzard as it sounds.

As SFGate reports,

Other dispatches from Twitter allege that the service—particularly its mobile app—directed people to closed-off highways, mountain passes and lakeside roads to get around. This is in direct contrast to Caltrans’ messaging to avoid workarounds. Caltrans District 3 spokesperson Steve Nelson told SFGATE on Monday that they were seeing drivers trying to skirt highway closures with side streets. “They’ll take side roads and try and sneak past the closures, and that never ends well,” he said.

Google engineer Sören Meyer-Eppler responded on Twitter to spell out some of the technical and logistical problems involved in rerouting traffic during bad weather: the difficulty in finding timely data (and in such cases data need to be really timely) and the risk of false positives. More at Jalopnik.

Google Maps: Android My Maps Discontinued, Transit Crowdedness Feature Expanded

The Google My Maps Android app is being closed down in October. You may remember that My Maps is a feature allowing users to create custom maps on the Google Maps platform relatively easily. To be honest I wasn’t aware that it had its own Android app; once that’s closed it will be available via the web. Andro4all worries (Spanish) that this is a sign that My Maps could be discontinued, which on the one hand seems a bit premature, but on the other, well, Google does have a track record. [Alejandro Polanca]

Meanwhile, Google Maps has expanded its feature that predicts crowdedness on transit lines—useful when it’s still very much not a great idea to be in a packed subway car—to 10,000 agencies in 100 countries. [Macworld]

Google Maps Called Out for Showing ‘Potentially Fatal’ Mountain Routes

The Guardian: “Scottish mountaineering charities have criticised Google for suggesting routes up Ben Nevis and other mountains they say are ‘potentially fatal’ and direct people over a cliff.” Google Maps’s issue with Ben Nevis is that it routes to a parking lot nearest the summit, then more or less straight-lines it from there; as a dotted line it’s meant to indicate a route very imprecisely, but it also corresponds to a higher-difficulty ascent route that could land even experienced hikers in trouble. Not meant to be taken by people who don’t know what they’re doing—the people who might have no clue that it’s a bad idea to use Google Maps for mountain hiking, for example.

To be clear, I think this one’s on Google. A lot of people trust online maps implicitly because they have poor navigation skills and have a hard time overruling what the directions tell them: this is why people keep driving into rivers and onto tracks. It’s a design failure not to account for this in every circumstance.

Google Maps Updates at Google I/O; Apple Maps Additions

Google Maps-related announcements at Google’s I/O 2021 keynote today include routing improvements to reduce hard braking, enhancements to Live View, expanding Google’s new detailed maps to 50 cities, identifying crowded areas, and tailoring map data to time of day and whether you’re travelling. This post takes a deeper dive on two of those upgrades. Coverage from the usual suspects: Engadget, The Verge.

Meanwhile, recent additions to Apple Maps include cycling directions in Seattle and Look Around imagery in Atlanta, Sendai and Kanazawa.

Apple and Google Updates: AI Improvements, Airport Health Measures

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.

Meanwhile, Apple Maps is now displaying airport COVID-19-related health measures based on data from Airports Council International: press release. [AppleInsider, MacRumors]

Google and Apple Updates

Google explains how they identify and take action against fraudulent content—fake reviews, fake listings, content vandalism—on Google Maps.

Meanwhile, the ability to pay for parking and transit fares is being integrated into the Google Maps app (Engadget, The Verge).

On the Apple Maps front, cycling directions have come to Portland, Oregon and San Diego, and turn-by-turn navigation has been expanded in the United Arab Emirates.

Google Street View App Enables User-Uploaded Photos

Google announced earlier this month that their updated Street View app for Android—as an Apple user I had no idea that Street View was a separate app on Android—now supports user-contributed photos to Street View. “After you record your images and publish them via the Street View app, we automatically rotate, position and create a series of connected photos. We then place those connected images in the right place on Google Maps, so your new Street View can be found in the exact location where it was taken for others to see and explore.” The idea is to supplement Google’s imagery where it’s thin on the ground. This beta feature requires an ARCore-compatible Android device and is only available in a few areas for now: Toronto, New York, and Austin TX (presumably for testing purposes), as well as Costa Rica, Indonesia and Nigeria.

Apple and Google Maps Updates

Apple Maps

Google Maps

Google Removing Uluru Street View Images

Google has agreed to Parks Australia’s request that user photos taken from the summit of Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock) be removed from Street View; climbing Uluru, which is owned by and sacred to the Pitjantjatjara people, has been prohibited since 2019. ABC Australia, CNN. As of this writing a couple of images are still visible. Aerial coverage is unaffected. [Boing Boing]