Apple rebuilding Maps from the ground up with Street View-like imagery and own data

Apple Maps icon and aerial landscape shot

If you’ve been wondering why Apple Maps isn’t getting any outward-facing enhancements in iOS 12, here’s your answer: the company has been busy working on a massive Maps update.

Apple revealed the news in an interview Friday with Matthew Panzarino of TechCrunch.

The new product will feature, amongst other improvements:

  • Better road networks
  • Changes in pedestrian walkways
  • More land cover, like grass and trees
  • Real-time road conditions
  • More accurate building shapes and sizes
  • Sports areas like baseball diamonds and basketball courts

This massive undertaking is going to take a while to finish and roll out completely to customers globally. According to Apple, they’ll be bringing the new Maps experience first to customers in the United States over the next year ahead of a wider rollout.

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This next-generation Maps service will make its debut in San Francisco and the Bay Area with the next iOS 12 beta. It will cover Northern California by fall, Apple has said.

Other enhancements include way more relevant search results than before, richer building details, parking areas, as well as navigation and pedestrian guidance improvements.

A secret project

According to Eddy Cue, users are in for a massive Maps update in the next iOS 12 beta:

We don’t think there’s anybody doing this level of work that we’re doing 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.

The Cupertino technology giant says the new Maps app will be rebuilt “from the ground up.” The service will take advantage of, for the first time since its inception, street-level imagery akin to Google Street View, gathered by a fleet of specialized vehicles.

In rebuilding the maps part of Maps, Apple will use first-party data gathered on iPhones via Differential Privacy, a privacy-first methodology. Specifically, they’re collecting so-called “probe data”: random and anonymized segments of iPhone users’ navigation sessions.

Cue noted:

We specifically don’t collect data, even from point A to point B. 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. We don’t think it buys us anything to collect more. We’re not losing any features or capabilities by doing this.

iPhone and iPad customers can easily opt-out of this data gathering by venturing to Settings → Privacy → Location Services → System Services → Improve Maps.

Apple Maps vehicles

Data gathered from iPhone users’ navigation sessions will be augmented by the data Apple’s has been collecting with its own fleet of specialized vehicles packed with sensors, cameras and LiDAR radars. Cue reveals that each vehicle is outfitted with a Mac Pro, an iPad and a bunch of solid state drives that record massive troves of data.

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Eddy Cue, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services, told TechCrunch that Apple is taking this opportunity to build all of its own mapping data from the ground up.

“We wanted to take this to the next level,” Cue 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.”

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Apple Maps currently relies on a patchwork of data from third-party partners such as TomTom, OpenStreetMap and other geo data brokers. Cue underscored that Apple needed to own all of the data that goes into making Maps and control it from both quality and privacy perspectives.

High quality data

“We decided to do this just over four years ago,” he said, “Where do we want to take Maps? What are the things that we want to do in Maps? We realized that, given what we wanted to do and where we wanted to take it, we needed to do this ourselves.”

Cue added:

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. 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.

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.

Perhaps most importantly, the new Maps environment will permit Apple to make necessary data changes and adjustments very, very quickly, with the ability to change the map in real-time, as well as make corrections and address road work much faster than the current version.

What do you make of this, boys and girls?

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