Apple Maps has long been languishing in the shadows of world-class maps apps like Google Maps and Waze, to name a couple.
It was about time the Cupertino, California-based tech giant did something about it to stay at par with the competition, if not get ahead of it.
Apple, therefore, decided to rebuild Apple Maps from scratch, using first-party data, if the company’s Friday (June 29) announcement is anything to go by.
MacRumors reported that Apple will be “rebuilding its Maps app ‘from the ground up’ with street-level data collected from its fleet of Apple Maps vehicles, high-resolution satellite imagery, and anonymized, random segments of navigation sessions from iPhone users, which Apple refers to as “probe data.”
To many, the “probe data” bit may come across as a creepy proposition because of privacy and data protection concerns.
However, Apple says it’s doing it the ethical way by collecting data anonymously and in parts – all in the interest of user privacy.
“We specifically don’t collect data, even from point A to point B,” explained Cue. “We collect data — when we do it — in an anonymous fashion, in subsections of the whole, so we couldn’t even say that there is a person that went from point A to point B. We’re collecting the segments of it. As you can imagine, that’s always been a key part of doing this. Honestly, we don’t think it buys us anything [to collect more]. We’re not losing any features or capabilities by doing this.”
By the way, iPhone users can always disable “probe data” collection from their device settings by following these simple steps:
Settings >> Privacy >> Location Services >> Maps >> Never
Apple will begin rolling out its new Maps app in the coming weeks, making the updated mapping available to iOS 12 beta users in the San Francisco and the Bay Area, in the first phase of the overhaul.
In the next phase, the company proposes to expand the new-look Apple Maps to cover all of Northern California by fall, this year.
In the final phase, we should be looking at a full-fledged national rollout across all iOS versions, over the next year.
According to Tech Crunch’s Matthew Panzarino, who had a detailed discussion on the subject with Apple’s VP of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue, the revamped Apple Maps will guarantee a much more enhanced visual experience, featuring “more detailed ground cover, foliage, pools, pedestrian pathways and more” and will be more “responsive to changes in roadways and construction.”
Basically, Apple will rely heavily on its own resources, including its fleet of mapping vehicles, satellite imagery, and probe data, for collecting the requisite data for its app.
This does not mean that the company will totally do away with third-party providers like Amsterdam-based TomTom NV, Apple told Reuters on Friday.
However, what Apple did not tell the London-based news agency was how it would use the third party in its new scheme of things, compared to its previous association with the Dutch company.
Whatever the case, TomTom shares witnessed a drop in the wake of the news.
Panzarino observes that the new Apple Maps will have all the necessary first-party data to “accurately display foliage like grass and trees, pools, parking lots, exact building shapes, sports areas like baseball diamonds, tennis and basketball courts, and pedestrian pathways that are commonly walked but previously unmapped.”
“Since we introduced this six years ago — we won’t rehash all the issues we’ve had when we introduced it — we’ve done a huge investment in getting the map up to par,” Cue told Panzarino.
“When we launched, a lot of it was all about directions and getting to a certain place. Finding the place and getting directions to that place,’ he said.
“We’ve done a huge investment of making millions of changes, adding millions of locations, updating the map and changing the map more frequently. All of those things over the past six years” added the Apple SVP.
Cue also said that further improvements would see Apple Maps reach the next level.
“We wanted to take this to the next level,” he said. “We have been working on trying to create what we hope is going to be the best map app in the world, taking it to the next step. That is building all of our own map data from the ground up.”
Cue is of the opinion that no other company is doing the kind of work that Apple has undertaken, going on to say that his company has maintained a good degree of secrecy about the app project and that the new Maps would be rolled out in the U.S. “section by section”, over the next year.
“We don’t think there’s anybody doing this level of work that we’re doing,” he said. “We haven’t announced this. We haven’t told anybody about this. It’s one of those things that we’ve been able to keep pretty much a secret.
Nobody really knows about it. We’re excited to get it out there. Over the next year, we’ll be rolling it out, section by section in the US,” he added.
Cue’s claim to secrecy is, somewhat, exaggerated when you consider that the conspicuous LiDAR-equipped Apple Maps vehicles have been at it, all over the country since 2015.
They have even surveyed parts of, at least, ten other countries, including Croatia, France, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom in pursuance of its global designs for Apple Maps, but we don’t have a timeline, yet.