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.
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.”
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.
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-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.
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.
Google explains how they identify and take action against fraudulent content—fake reviews, fake listings, content vandalism—on Google Maps.
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 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.
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.
- AppleInsider looks at how cycling directions work in iOS 14.
- Macworld provides a primer on how to correct errors and add features in Apple Maps.
- Apple’s new maps have now officially launched in Ireland and the United Kingdom (previously).
- Google’s official blog details updates to Live View, Google Maps’s AR feature that superimposes walking directions on the view through your phone’s camera (previously).
- A primer on how Google Maps acquires and processes satellite and aerial imagery, also from Google’s official blog.
- Google Maps has a Nazi problem, says Mike Shaughnessy: the service’s inadequate review moderation and its poor handling of memorials (whichit expects to act as businesses) provide an inadvertent platform “for Nazi veneration and Holocaust jokes.”
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]
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.
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]