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Posts tagged with "Apple Maps"

DuckDuckGo Switches to Apple Maps for Location Searches

Today, DuckDuckGo, the privacy-focused web search engine, began using Apple Maps for location-based searches. The company, which previously used OpenStreetMap, switched to Apple's MapKit JS framework, which Apple introduced at WWDC in June 2018.

General search results and DuckDuckGo's Maps tab both embed Apple Maps' familiar UI with options to display street, satellite, and hybrid views of locations combined with Yelp data for businesses and other destinations. According to DuckDuckGo, users can search by address, geographical place, business name and type, and nearby. Clicking or tapping on the map preview in search results expands the map while selecting a location highlights it on the map.

With respect to location tracking, DuckDuckGo says:

At DuckDuckGo, we believe getting the privacy you deserve online should be as simple as closing the blinds. Naturally, our strict privacy policy of not collecting or sharing any personal information extends to this integration. We do not send any personally identifiable information such as IP address to Apple or other third parties.

DuckDuckGo explains elsewhere on its site that it uses GEO::IP lookup to determine users' location by default. For better results, users can grant DuckDuckGo permission to use their browser location data, in which case DuckDuckGo says searches are still anonymous because the company does not store location data on its servers.

I tried DuckDuckGo's new Apple Maps integration with several different searches. The search engine had no problem finding the coffee shop I was at this morning, and the familiar Apple Maps UI is a definite plus. However, the results weren't as good when I ran a few 'near me' searches. Searches for coffee, pizza, and barbers 'near me' all returned better results before I granted DuckDuckGo access to my location. Of course, these are just a few non-scientific searches from one location, so your results may be different.


Justin O’Beirne Evaluates Apple’s New Maps and How They Stack Up Against Google Maps

Source: justinobeirne.com

Source: justinobeirne.com

Justin O'Beirne has written about the evolution of Apple Maps and how the app compares to Google Maps several times in the past, which we’ve covered on MacStories. In his most recent analysis, O’Beirne asks whether Apple’s new efforts to update Maps has closed the gap with Google Maps. Backed up by over 100 images comparing the two sets of map data, the answer appears to be a qualified yes. In some respects, Apple has caught up and even passed Google, but in other areas, it remains behind.

Apple also has a long way to go before its Maps update is complete. As O’Beirne notes, the currently-updated map data covers a small fraction of the globe consisting of Northern California and a slice of Nevada. However, those 48 California and 4 Nevada counties contain a lot of new details.

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Apple is Rebooting Its Maps App with Rebuilt Map Data

Source: TechCrunch

Source: TechCrunch

Next week, Apple will begin rolling out new map data as part of the iOS 12 beta. The company, which provided an extensive preview to Matthew Panzarino at TechCrunch, has been rebuilding its map data from the ground up, relying on its own data collection instead of third-party providers.

As a part of the preview, Panzarino interviewed Senior Vice President, Eddy Cue, Vice President Patrice Gautier, and ‘over a dozen’ members of the Apple Maps team. According to Cue, the process of rebuilding Maps began four years ago. Cue told TechCrunch that instead of relying on a patchwork of data sources from third-party vendors, Apple decided to leverage a combination of sources in its control, including the millions of iOS devices in service around the globe:

“We felt like because the shift to devices had happened — building a map today in the way that we were traditionally doing it, the way that it was being done — we could improve things significantly, and improve them in different ways,” he says. “One is more accuracy. Two is being able to update the map faster based on the data and the things that we’re seeing, as opposed to driving again or getting the information where the customer’s proactively telling us. What if we could actually see it before all of those things?”

So, Apple began collecting map data in 2015 from a combination of dedicated Apple Maps vans, high-resolution satellite imagery, and what Apple calls probe data from iOS devices, all supplemented by hundreds of human editors. Panzarino, who took a ride in one of the Apple Maps vans, describes the tech they use:

In addition to a beefed up GPS rig on the roof, four LiDAR arrays mounted at the corners and 8 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. In the rear there is a surprising lack of bulky equipment. Instead, it’s a straightforward Mac Pro bolted to the floor, attached to an array of solid state drives for storage. A single USB cable routes up to the dashboard where the actual mapping capture software runs on an iPad.

He also describes the probe data as:

Essentially little slices of vector data that represent direction and speed transmitted back to Apple completely anonymized with no way to tie it to a specific user or even any given trip. It’s reaching in and sipping a tiny amount of data from millions of users instead, giving it a holistic, real-time picture without compromising user privacy.

Throughout the TechCrunch piece, Apple emphasizes that data is being collected with privacy in mind using techniques like route segmentation and data anonymization. Cue told Panzarino:

“We specifically don’t collect data, even from point A to point B,” notes 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.”

The new map data is being rolled out in the US first. Apple says that data will be seamlessly integrated with existing map data beginning with the next beta release of iOS 12, which is scheduled for next week. The first region to get a refresh will be Northern California, with new areas added throughout the US over the course of about a year.

The result should be more accurate, frequently updated maps that do a better job reflecting points of interests, topography highlights, and other details that aren’t present in Apple Maps today. Judging from the screenshots in Panzarino’s article, the changes should be noticeable and useful, though the design of the app itself is not changing during the rollout of the new data.

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Apple and Ito World Strike Bike Sharing Data Deal

Bike sharing data in Apple Maps got a big boost today in a deal struck with Ito World, a real-time transit data company. Apple Maps already included some bike sharing data, but according to TechCrunch, the partnership means Apple Maps now has bike sharing data in more than 175 cities in 36 countries.

If you type ‘bike sharing’ into Apple Maps, it will scroll to the bike sharing station closest to you. The app also supports searches near other locations, using queries like ‘bike sharing near Chicago Union Station.’ Each entry in Apple Maps provides the address of the bike sharing station and a link to the website of the company that operates it, but there are no details about the number of available bikes or parking spots.

Apple has struck several deals with third parties over the past couple of years to add data like electric vehicle charging stations and parking lot data to Apple Maps. I expect we will continue to see third-party arrangements like the one with Ito World because it’s a faster way for Apple to try to close Google Maps’ local data lead over Apple Maps than collecting the data itself.


A Year-Long Experiment Comparing the Best Map Navigation Services

We all have our own anecdotal reasons for thinking a certain map navigation service is best, but few of us are willing to perform a committed experiment that gathers enough data to prove our beliefs. Artur Grabowski, however, did just that.

In an experiment that began early last year and led to recording 120 different driving trips, Grabowski compared the big three mapping services: Apple Maps, Google Maps, and Waze. Though more complex studies could certainly be done, Grabowski kept things simple by focusing on answering only three questions:

  1. Which navigation app estimates the shortest travel time?
  2. How does each app over/underestimate travel times?
  3. Which navigation app actually gets you to your destination most quickly?

His results found that Waze estimated the shortest travel times, but that actually wasn't a good thing, because the service also had the least accurate estimates. Apple Maps estimated the longest times, but that resulted in it being more accurate than its competitors. Google Maps, meanwhile, most often produced the fastest actual travel times, with Apple Maps and Waze placing second and third, respectively.

Grabowski's tests are accompanied by the asterisk that his routes were all taken in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Apple Maps is likely at its strongest. Even so, the data he compiled over the year is fascinating to analyze, and shows just how competitive these services are with each other in the areas that matter most.

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How Far Ahead of Apple Maps Is Google Maps?

Another fantastic essay by Justin O'Beirne, this time focused on explaining one of Google Maps' strongest advantages over Apple Maps: the ability to use data to create more data.

With “Areas of Interest”, Google has a feature that Apple doesn’t have. But it’s unclear if Apple could add this feature to its map in the near future.

The challenge for Apple is that AOIs aren’t collected—they’re created_. And Apple appears to be missing the ingredients to create AOIs at the same quality, coverage, and scale as Google.

This is a perfect example of Google's institutional approach to data collection paying off in the long term, giving them a substantial lead over the competition. O'Beirne's visual comparisons between Google Maps and Apple Maps are just brutal.

Yes, Apple Maps may be "prettier", but when you're going somewhere, or need to find a specific point of interest, I bet you don't care about "pretty". You just want your map to tell you where to go, or show you accurately where you're meant to be. Google is objectively ahead here, and Apple Maps' slow evolution is concerning. There's an interesting parallel here between Apple Music and Apple Maps: both nicer iOS apps than Spotify and Google Maps, and both far behind in terms of intelligence of the service itself.

As I wrote earlier this year:

Speaking from personal experience, Google Maps has considerably improved in my area in the past year, while Apple Maps has remained essentially the same. Which isn't to say that Apple Maps is bad – Google simply has an edge over local business information and they're evolving at a faster pace than Apple. To me, Apple Maps looks and feels nicer; Google Maps seems smarter and it has modern features I'd like Apple to add.

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A Year of Google Maps & Apple Maps

Justin O'Beirne is back with another in-depth analysis of Google Maps and Apple Maps, with a focus on how Google has taken a different approach over the past year:

Shortly after I published my Cartography Comparison last June, I noticed Google updating some of the areas we had focused on:

Coincidence or not, it was interesting. And it made me wonder what else would change, if we kept watching. Would Google keep adding detail? And would Apple, like Google, also start making changes?

So I wrote a script that takes monthly screenshots of Google and Apple Maps.1 And thirteen months later, we now have a year’s worth of images.

The screenshot comparisons in his post perfectly demonstrate Google's iteration and Apple's relative stagnation.

Speaking from personal experience, Google Maps has considerably improved in my area in the past year, while Apple Maps has remained essentially the same. Which isn't to say that Apple Maps is bad – Google simply has an edge over local business information and they're evolving at a faster pace than Apple. To me, Apple Maps looks and feels nicer; Google Maps seems smarter and it has modern features I'd like Apple to add.

I wonder what Apple has in store for WWDC and if they should consider separating Maps from their monolithic software release cycle in the summer.

(See also: O'Beirne in May and June 2016.)

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Dispelling the Apple Services Myth

Apple is known for its quality hardware and software, but services are another story.

Cloud-based services are the future – there's no denying that. And Apple historically has struggled with its cloud offerings. From MobileMe, to the early growing pains of iCloud, to the Apple Maps fiasco, the company gained a poor reputation in the area of services.

Only in the last two years has Apple publicly touted services as a core part of its business. Company press releases as recent as May 2015 ended with the following self-definition:

Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.

There's a lot that feels outdated here, including the fact that both Mac and iPod are highlighted before the iPhone. But one major way this paragraph fails to describe the Apple of today is that the word 'services' is nowhere to be found.

Amid a variety of other changes, Apple's current self-definition includes the following:

Apple’s four software platforms — iOS, macOS, watchOS and tvOS — provide seamless experiences across all Apple devices and empower people with breakthrough services including the App Store, Apple Music, Apple Pay and iCloud.

Services are a key component of modern Apple. The way the company defines itself, along with the numerous services shoutouts in quarterly earnings calls, prove that.

Despite Apple's increased focus on services, the common narrative that the company "can't do services" still hangs around – in online tech circles at least.

But is that narrative still true, or has it grown outdated?

I want to share how I use Apple services in my everyday life across three important contexts of life:

  • As I work,
  • On the go, and
  • Around the house.

My aim is not to perform an in-depth comparison of Apple's cloud offerings and competing products. Though competitors and their features will come up occasionally, the focus here is on my experiences in everyday living – my experiences, not yours. I understand that just because something does or doesn't work for me, the same isn't necessarily true for you. The point of this piece is not to try proving anything; instead, I simply want to assess and share my current experiences with Apple's services.

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Apple Improves Maps in Europe with EV Charging and Bicycle Rental Data

Nate Lanxon reports for Bloomberg on some welcome updates to Apple Maps in Europe:

Apple Inc. is expanding the capabilities of its Maps app in Europe to help users charge their electric vehicles or find bike rental hubs.

The company has added the locations of the U.K.’s electric vehicle charging stations by incorporating data from Munich-based Cirrantic’s Moovility service, which lists re-juicing points for cars made by Tesla and Nissan, among others.

It has also added public bicycle rental and drop-off points to maps of London, New York and Paris in a catch-up to long-time mobile navigation leader Google, which has listed such stations in multiple countries for some time.

Last December Apple added ChargePoint integration to Maps to help users in the U.S. find electric vehicle chargers, so it's nice to see something similar come to Europe.

The bicycle rental information is also welcome as Apple Maps continues branching out from simply providing directions to now being a central hub for various modes of transportation, such as ride sharing and now bicycling.

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