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.
Justin O’Beirne’s lengthy analyses of Google Maps and Apple Maps are always worth reading,1 and his latest is no exception. Looking at the rapid proliferation of buildings, areas of interest and other examples of Google’s Ground Truthing program, Justin discovers that Google’s buildings data are a product of its satellite imagery, its places of interest are a product of its Street View data, and its areas of interest (the orange-shaded areas that indicate business districts) are the result of combining those stores of data.
…so this makes AOIs a byproduct of byproducts[.]
This is bonkers, isn’t it?
Google is creating data out of data.
This is slightly more than Google’s competitors are able to match. As always, Justin’s analysis is worth reading in full, and comes complete with before/after animations that make his point visually clear.
What happens when a Google Street View car meets its Bing equivalent? The Verge explains: “As it turns out, when two Google Street View and Bing cars pass each other, only one (in this case Google) will admit to it publicly. Like an embarrassed or jilted lover, Microsoft masks the memory of the Google encounter with a giant white rectangle in Bing maps. […] Google however, proudly shows off the Bing car in all its glory.”
Google is rolling out changes to the look of Google Maps: a new colour scheme in which icons for similar points of interest get similar colours (orange for food and drink, green for outdoors), and a map that changes to highlight different things if you’re driving or taking transit. To be rolled out over the coming weeks. More at The Verge.
An experimental feature in the iPhone version of Google Maps that measured the calories burned (and equivalent in mini-cupcakes) when walking a route instead has been pulled due to complaints, TechCrunch reports: the feature couldn’t be disabled, the calorie counts were vague and unhelpful, and it could be actively harmful to users with eating disorders. More at Buzzfeed, Slate and The Verge.
The Moon and Mars were relatively early additions to Google Earth; that application may have been migrated to the web, but the planets and moons keep coming. Yesterday Google announced the addition of a dozen other worlds in our solar system; the space layer of Google Maps now includes planets Mercury, Venus and Mars; dwarf planets Ceres and Pluto;1 Jupiter’s moons Io, Europa and Ganymede; and Saturn’s moons Dione, Enceladus, Iapetus, Mimas, Rhea and Titan. Large moons Callisto and Triton aren’t included, and Iapetus is projected onto a sphere rather than appearing as the bizarre space walnut it is.
The Planetary Society’s Emily Lakdawalla noticed a thing, though:
Anybody know who I should talk to at @Google to let them know that several of the icy moon maps have names & image offset by 180 degrees?
— Emily Lakdawalla (@elakdawalla) October 16, 2017
Emily reports that this bug affects several moons of Jupiter and Saturn; Google is apparently already on it and may have fixed it by the time you read this.
CBC News reports that more than 3,000 indigenous communities in Canada—traditional First Nations reserves as well as treaty settlement lands and urban reserves—have finally been added to Google Maps. For some reason I thought they already were—U.S. Indian reservations have been on Google Maps for some time, after all (their visibility, or lack thereof, was commented on in 2011: here, here and here).
Justin O’Beirne is back with a look at how both Google and Apple Maps have changed incrementally over the past year.
Shortly after I published my Cartography Comparison last June, I noticed Google updating some of the areas we had focused on[.]
Coincidence or not, it was interesting. And it made me wonder what else would change, if we kept watching. Would Google keep adding detail? And would Apple, like Google, also start making changes?
So I wrote a script that takes monthly screenshots of Google and Apple Maps. And thirteen months later, we now have a year’s worth of images […]
It’s cool to see how much Google Maps has changed over the past year. But it’s also surprising to see how little Apple Maps has changed[.]
A new version of Google Earth launched today. Unlike previous versions, the desktop version runs in a web browser rather than a standalone app. Also unlike previous versions, it’s no longer cross-platform: for now at least, the desktop version only runs in Chrome, and the mobile app is Android-only.
Frank Taylor has been covering the new release at the venerable Google Earth Blog and has a first review.
For my part, I’ve poked around in it in Chrome a bit and I found it fairly responsive and easy to use. If it runs this well in the browser I can see how a standalone app would be redundant; this is a better delivery method. I would much prefer it, though, if it also ran on platforms that didn’t belong to Google.