APPLE MAPS: TIME FOR A NEW DIRECTION
ALL CHANGE FOR APPLE MAPS
Whether you’re heading to a meeting or looking for a place to eat with friends in town, mapping apps are an essential part of everyday life. While Google Maps continues to dominate, Apple Maps is growing in popularity, with new changes set to make the software even more advanced.
In an interview with TechCrunch, Apple’s SVP Eddy Cue revealed that the Cupertino firm was working on a brand new Apple Maps app “from the ground up”, designed to address some of the most common pain points that iPhone users faced when navigating. With an early rollout expected in San Francisco in the coming weeks and a US-wide release within the next year, we take a look at the history of Apple Maps and reveal what you can expect from the overhauled app.
CONTROVERSIAL iOS 6 LAUNCH
Since the release of the first-generation iPhone in 2007, Google had served as the default Maps provider on iOS. It was only in late2009 when tensions between Google and the Cupertino firm began to grow after an Android version of Google Maps featured turned-byturn navigation - a feature that didn’t come packaged as standard with iOS. On top of that, Apple argued that technology giant Google had been collecting too much data about users on iOS, and so in 2012 at the Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple unveiled its own Maps apps for iOS. The announcement was coupled with news that Apple Maps would include turn-by-turn navigation, 3D Maps, Flyovers, and the company’s virtual
assistant Siri, which would make navigating easier than ever before.
While initial news of an Apple-powered maps app went down well, when iOS 6 was released to the public in September of 2012, the company received numerous complaints. Apple was forced to apologize for removing Google Maps as the default iOS mapping app, as, at the time, Google was yet to release its own third-party replacement app through the App Store. In an apology posted on Apple’s website, Tim Cook said that the company had “fell short” on its commitment to making “world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers”. In an unprecedented move, the firm shared details on how to use Google Maps on the web by creating a custom icon on iOS home screens until the stock Apple Maps app was improved for better user experience.
When Maps was released, critics and consumers alike shared their frustrations with the software. The Verge said Maps was a “change borne not of demand, but of corporate politics”, adding that “Apple isn’t doing itself any favors” after discovering it was impossible to find Apple’s iconic Fifth Avenue store in New York using its maps. BBC News added that the new software was packed with “inaccuracies and misplaced towns and cities”, while Mashable thought that images looked “pretty bad” and that transit directions “didn’t work as we expected”.
It was clear that the firm would have its work cut out in creating a genuine Google Maps alternative, an offshoot that alone is estimated to be worth an incredible $5 billion to Google.
In the years following Maps’ release, the company has made strides to improve its mapping capabilities. Apple added more satellite imagery to the app and allowed navigation to be used in more cities, acquired apps such as HopStop for $1 billion, and the technology behind BroadMap to improve its mapping data and accuracy.
And one year on from the original Apple Maps release, Apple announced at WWDC 2013 that
a new version of Apple Maps would be released with iOS 7. The version came packaged with a redesigned user-interface and a new app icon, and brought changes such as a full-screen mode, a night mode, navigation for pedestrians, real-time traffic information in some cities, and much more. The company also added more satellite imagery and technology to determine whether a map user was walking or driving to adjust the navigational instructions. The release also ported Apple Maps over to macOS (known as OS X Mavericks at the time). Two years later, Apple again made significant changes to its Maps app, offering details on public transport in a number of cities around the world. Nearby points of interest were also added, as well as traffic delay management to suggest faster routes during rush hour. The company also acquired Coherent Navigation, a GPS startup that offers precise location tracking, and added Maps to its Apple Watch, allowing for navigation on the wrist for the first time.
APPLE MAPS STREET VIEW IS COMING
As Apple continues to invest in its Maps division, taking on Google’s impressive fleet of vehicles doesn’t come cheap. Back in 2015, the company unveiled a new Vehicles tab on its Maps site, leading to speculation that a Street View mode was happening.
The company invested in fifth-generation Dodge Caravans, equipped with LiDAR cameras to generate high-quality street view mapping across the United States. After the first sighting in New York City in August 2014, the vehicles had been spotted in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Francisco and others before the street view was officially confirmed by Apple.
Three years later, in April of this year, the company confirmed its vehicles had collected street view data from over 40 states within the United States, and in ten countries around the world. Apple also confirmed that, when Street View would be made available, it would blur faces and license plates to protect the confidentiality of passersby.
However, the company has yet to officially confirm a release date for its street view feature a tool that rival Google has been offering for more than ten years. With more than three years of planning and street view data, Apple’s alternative could, theoretically, be just around the corner.
ALL-NEW APPLE MAPS
While rumors of a Street View alternative are yet to materialize, concrete news of Apple Maps changes was confirmed last week when Apple announced it was planning to rebuild its Maps
app “from the ground up”. Speaking in an interview with TechCrunch, Apple’s SVP Eddy Cue confirmed that he wanted to take Apple Maps to the next level, and that the company had 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”.
“We don’t think there’s anybody doing this level of work that we’re doing,” Cue added during the interview. “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.”
TechCrunch’s in-depth overview of the new changes coming to Apple Maps, revealed by journalist Matthew Panzarino, brought confirmation that San Francisco would be the first city to experience an upgraded Maps, with rollouts coming with the iOS 12 beta in July. Panzarino also confirmed Apple would expand Maps to California by fall, and across the US over the next year.
One of the biggest changes expected with the new Apple Maps is a switch to its own base map, allowing Apple to move away from its reliance on third-party mapping providers such as TomTom. Having an in-house map will allow Apple to make improvements to traffic, walkways, roadworks, and conditions in realtime, along with more relevant search results. At present, Apple’s mapping is powered by several in-house and third-party solutions, making it
hard to implement new features around the world consistently.
When Panzarino was quizzed further on the changes to Apple Maps, he revealed that Maps would include more accurate data of foliage, such as grass, trees, pools, parking lots and much more - ares where pedestrians commonly walk, where cars can’t reach. These changes will no doubt silence critique from users who complained Apple Maps was lagging behind Google’s interactive Maps, which has included pedestrian maps for several years.
THE FUTURE OF MAPS IS BRIGHT
While we only know so much about the changes coming to Apple Maps, the announcements so far have been met with a positive response. Technology critics and Apple fans alike can agree that Apple Maps was falling behind its competitors Google Maps and Waze. Should Apple roll out these changes smoothly around the world in the coming years, and incorporate some of Google and Waze’s popular features such as offline downloading, social reporting, speed limit notifications, Apple Music integration and gas station pricing, it should be able to take a lead without breaking a sweat.
comScore suggests that Google Maps now holds 50% of the maps market, with Apple Maps behind on 28%. But with Apple Maps installed on more than 700 million iPads and iPhones around the world, the company could very quickly dominate smartphone mapping. Only time will tell whether Apple has the tools, and the willingness, to take Apple Maps in the right direction.
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