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So, I don’t know what this all means yet, but something is weird about Apple Maps. But it’s not Apple Maps that matters. Let me explain.
Apple Maps analyst/enthusiast/super-user Justin O’Beirne has a new super-detailed essay regarding maps and how Apple and Google are working on the same problems and how they compare.
- It focuses on Apple’s very slow rollout of Look Around, the macOS/iOS-only take on Google Maps Street View.
- O’Beirne tracks Look Around better than Apple itself, given Apple rarely updates its own site, and generally explains what’s going on better than anyone.
- What’s happening is that despite Apple announcing back in June 2019 that its mapping vehicles had “driven over four million miles,” Apple’s attempt at Street View is not good. It’s incredibly limited.
- Not because of the miles being covered — Apple is mapping roads faster than Google.
- But Apple isn’t releasing what it’s seeing on its maps, at least in the US.
- And what matters is the future: how does this play out into image recognition and AR efforts, because what we’re seeing is either Apple fumbling its work, or something else is going on.
Look at where Google Street View was at in the US in 2009, vs Apple in early December 2020 — a time when both companies had spent 1.5 years mapping:
First, Google Street View 1.5 years after the first image was published back in 2009:
And, here’s Apple’s coverage after the same time period:
O’Beirne seems to be unpacking one, or perhaps multiple insights, into the following reasons why Apple has been so much slower, despite newer technologies, more miles, and a closed software/hardware ecosystem it controls:
- Apple just had problems taking images and turning them into useful views and points of interest as we get from Street View/Look Around. Problems happen.
- Apple has been mapping more for its future car ambitions than maps for people. From the TechCrunch story about rebuilding Apple Maps in 2018, it reported that Apple’s data collection vans were “capped with sensors and cameras”, including “beefed-up GPS rig on the roof, four LiDAR arrays mounted at the corners and eight cameras shooting overlapping high-resolution images, there’s also the standard physical measuring tool attached to a rear wheel that allows for precise tracking of distance and image capture”.
- Or, Apple has been mapping more for its AR ambitions, which it likely hopes will be exponentially more important in the future to its plans, and where society may be going. (Brilliant AR hardware and execution could be the next iPhone-sized business for Apple. Apple Maps mostly prevents Apple from sending more users to Google Maps.)
In any case, it’s a great read if you’re into maps, give it some time. Hit me back if you have thoughts; I’ll read all theories with great interest.
Bonus: Lyft is all about OpenStreetMaps, recently surveying the maps compared to ground truths, and finding the contributions to keep it fresh are pretty darn good (Lyft).
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Today, you have options!
- You might’ve seen the lawyer trapped as a sad kitten (NY Times) (And, well, sorry, there’s the sadly all-too-inevitable milkshake duck (Twitter).)
- But, back on the Maps topic again, how about this very good bus in Iceland? (r/googlemapsshenanigans)
- And here’s the weird car The Weeknd used for his Super Bowl halftime show, if you can remember all the way back to Sunday (Jalopnik).
Tristan Rayner, Senior Editor