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.

Michael T. Jones, 1960-2021

Keyhole co-founder Michael T. Jones died January 18th at the age of 60. He’d been undergoing cancer treatment. Geospatial World: “Words can’t describe the contribution and impact of Michael Jones’s work on democratizing and personalizing maps. He is to be credited for not only launching Keyhole in 2000—the original version of Google Earth, quite accidentally as he put it in a conversation with Geospatial World—but also for his years of work on improving on it as the Chief Technology Advocate of Google after its acquisition by the IT giant.” Last year the Royal Geographic Society awarded him the 2020 Patron’s Medal.

(To be honest, between Jones, John Hanke and Brian McClendon I’m not sure who did what at Keyhole and Google Earth: the company history isn’t quite as ingrained in computer lore as, say, Apple’s is.)

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 Ban Location Tracking SDK from Apps

Last month it was reported that the X-Mode software development kit, used by many apps, was collecting and selling user location data, with the U.S. military among the buyers. In response, earlier this month both Apple and Google gave developers a deadline to remove X-Mode from their apps: seven days in Google’s case, fourteen in Apple’s. Apple found 100 apps that contained the code; X-Code claims 400 apps on all platforms, tracking 25 million devices in the U.S. and 40 million elsewhere. The Wall Street Journal story is behind a paywall; see The Verge and MacRumors for summaries.

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]

An Apple and Google Maps Roundup

Google Maps on the Apple Watch (screenshot)

Google Maps is now available on the Apple Watch as of version 5.52 of the iPhone app. Meanwhile, more is emerging about the behind-the-scenes mapping efforts of both Google and Apple. Google is using machine learning to predict traffic flows and improve ETA estimates (Engadget, The Verge). More prosaically, 9to5 Mac looks at how Apple collects street data, down to the software, computer hardware and make of car used.

California Wildfires, 2020 Edition

NOAA/ESRL

Wildfire status tracking. The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services posts a daily map showing the status of active wildfires in the state. It’s basically a one-page PDF you can print and hand out: decidedly old school and not remotely interactive. The New York Times has a series of maps tracking the various wildfire complexes. See also the Los Angeles Times interactive wildfires map, the address of which will probably work next year too. [Maps Mania/Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs]

Forecasting. NOAA’s High-Resolution Rapid Refresh (HRRR) atmospheric model includes an experimental smoke forecast. It and other smoke and fire models are available as hourly static images (see above) or via this interactive map. [Maps Mania/UWCIMSS]

Google is adding wildfire boundaries to Search and Maps: it will provide warnings to nearby users and have an impact on driving directions. [Engadget/TechCrunch/The Verge]

Google Adds Colour and Detail to Its Maps

Google

Google has added a splash of colour and detail to its larger-scale map layers, using a “color-mapping algorithmic technique” to assign colours to more natural features like forest cover and deserts. “First, we use computer vision to identify natural features from our satellite imagery, looking specifically at arid, icy, forested, and mountainous regions. We then analyze these features and assign them a range of colors on the HSV color model. For example, a densely covered forest can be classified as dark green, while an area of patchy shrubs could appear as a lighter shade of green.” Meanwhile, cities get more pedestrian data, such as crosswalks and sidewalks. [Engadget, The Verge]

Google Maps and Privacy

Incognito mode for Google Maps, announced last May, is currently in testing. With the mode enabled, user activity isn’t saved to the user’s Google account. It was made available last week to beta testers using the preview version of the Google Maps Android app.

Meanwhile, Strange Maps looks at the curious lack of Google Street View in Germany and Austria, where privacy concerns are paramount.

Google Maps Gets Augmented Reality Walking Directions

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.

Satellite Mode, Aerial Mode, Bird Mode

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]

Where Apple Maps and Google Street View Will Be Driving (or Walking) Next

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.