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Posts tagged with "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.


Waze Adds CarPlay Support

Today, Waze, which is owned by Google, updated its iOS app with CarPlay support, which Google Maps received last week. I took Waze out for a few errands over lunch and in my limited testing was impressed.

Waze immediately identified nearby stoplight cameras.

Waze immediately identified nearby stoplight cameras. (View full size)

The first stop was the bank to pick up some cash. As I passed through a busy intersection, Waze warned me that there were stoplight cameras ahead, which I knew about, but it was good to see Waze did too.

I'm glad I missed that sheet of plywood in the road.

I'm glad I missed that sheet of plywood in the road. (View full size)

Next, it was off for some steak tacos to celebrate finally finishing my Mojave review. On the way, Waze said there was an object in the road. Sure enough, there was a piece of plywood straddling two lanes not too far ahead. Waze also alerted me to heavy traffic just ahead of my turnoff.

Waze alerted me to local road work.

Waze alerted me to local road work. (View full size)

With each alert, the CarPlay UI displayed a notification with two choices: ‘Thanks!” and ‘Not there,’ with big buttons to allow me to help train the Waze database. I flipped back to Overcast, and as I approached my next turn, Waze announced it, momentarily pausing the audio, and displayed a notification that I could tap to return to the map of my route.

Tapping the Waze notification takes you back to the map view.

Tapping the Waze notification takes you back to the map view. (View full size)

For people who use Waze regularly, those sorts of alerts and notifications will be familiar. Apple Maps still has the advantage of Siri integration with the hardware buttons on my steering wheel because like Google Maps, Waze can’t access Siri. That’s a shame because it’s easier to press a dedicated steering wheel button than it is to poke at a CarPlay screen in the center of your dashboard to do a voice search, but from a parked position in a bank parking lot the voice command I gave it was recognized immediately and I was on my way to the correct location.

I’ve only used Waze for this one trip, but my first impression was that the app is solid and should be well-received by its users. Especially for commuters that want traffic and other real-time, crowd-sourced data, Waze is a great option.

Waze is available as a free download on the App Store.


Streets 4 Adds Drag and Drop, Live Panorama Mode, and iPhone X Support

Last week my wife and I ventured to New York City for a vacation, and in the time leading up to that we planned out our agenda with the help of Google Street View. Unfortunately, our planning took place just a couple weeks too early to benefit from the newly released Streets 4 by FutureTap.

Streets is an iOS and watchOS app John reviewed upon version 3's release. It provides an immersive, touch-friendly way to navigate Google's Street View data. And in version 4, that experience has been upgraded with drag and drop support on iPad, a new Live Panorama mode, and optimization for the iPhone X's display.

Drag and drop enables you to drop in a location from Apple Maps, a contact that includes an address, or any other linked address to load up nearby panoramas in Streets. My favorite feature enables dropping in any geotagged photo, which Streets will identify the location of so it can show you existing 360º images of the same or a nearby area – an easy way to discover great captures from other photographers.

Live Panorama mode can be toggled on by tapping the rotating circle icon in the top-right corner. Once activated, it offers a new interaction method for exploring street views. Rather than swiping around on the screen, simply move your device in the space around you and the visible street view area will change with your motion.

Whether you're planning some time away, or simply want to explore the world from the comfort of your couch, Streets is the best way to do so on iOS.

Streets 4 is available on the App Store.


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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Streets Adds User-Generated Panoramas and Extends Its URL Scheme

When I first reviewed Streets by FutureTap over a year ago, I was impressed with the beautiful Google Street View panoramas that it allows users to browse. Whether you want to armchair travel around the globe or just see what a coffee shop looks like before you leave home to meet a friend, Streets makes it effortless to navigate between map and panorama views. In addition to browsing Streets’ gallery of famous locales, it keeps a list of recent searches, favorites, and allows you to search addresses and your contacts for places.

With the update today, Streets expands its photographic content with user-generated panoramas. When you zoom into the map view, you will see little blue dots, some of which represent panoramas from users. When you switch to the panorama view, those images are now part of what you’ll see. Pull down on the drawer that extends from the top of the panorama view and, among other things, you’ll see information about the photographer that took the shot. If you also have FutureTap’s app Where To? installed, some panoramas allow you to open that app for more details about the location you are viewing.

Also, Streets has extended its URL scheme to allow the app to put images on the clipboard. When Apple acquired the Workflow app last spring, the app lost the ability to use Google’s Street View imagery as part of workflows. Streets’ URL scheme extension is a clever work-around that allows Workflow users who have Streets installed to get Street View images once again.

Whether I’m planning a trip or meeting a friend for lunch, Streets has become my go-to method of checking out a location in advance. The simple navigation makes it a great choice when you’re mobile and using your iPhone or sitting back and enjoying Streets’ panoramas on an iPad. With its latest update, Streets has upped its imagery game and added an excellent solution users with Street View workflows.

Streets is available on the App Store.


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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Opening Any Apple Maps Place or Address on the Web

Yesterday, Benjamin Mayo reported that Apple published public webpages for "some landmarks and points of interest" listed in Maps:

Apple is now publishing public web pages for landmarks and POI in its Apple Maps database: here’s one such place. The website link shows details about the place such as location, name, telephone number and reviews. The design is identical to the cards in the iOS 10 Maps app.

When on an Apple platform, these URLs appear to act as deep links into the native Maps app. If viewing in Chrome or on a non-Apple device like Android, the fallback webpage is loaded. The purpose for these URLs is unclear, but it may possibly foreshadow a larger move by Apple to offer its own online mapping service to compete with Google Maps on the web.

I did a bit of digging, and I discovered that you can open any Apple Maps place or address in another web browser if you reformat the URL properly.

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Apple Maps vs. Google Maps vs. Transit

Concise, well-illustrated comparison of transit maps from the developers of Transit for iOS:

Transit maps are hard. Really hard. Even for Apple and Google. Piecing a transit map together, city by city, agency by agency, stop by stop, without it turning into a hairy mess is INCREDIBLY difficult. So far, no one (not even Apple or Google) have been able to create a transit map that is both automatically generated and well designed. Why is that?

As Apple outlined at WWDC, their approach to transit takes a long time because it involves manually curated details (things like signs, directions, and cultural conventions that match the real world), which wouldn't be possible with an algorithm alone.

That said, I can vouch for Transit in Rome. The app is excellent. Well designed, with some clever interactions (such as an "arrive by" option to plan a trip on a timeline), and a joy to use. It's also the only decent transit app that combines public transit with local car sharing services on the same map.

I wish Apple Maps transit data was a) available in Rome and b) as flexible as Transit.

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