Finally! Apple To Rebuild, Improve, Enhance Maps


Apple Users may find it weird to have to install Google Maps in their iOS software – given the rather lower reception of Apple’s personal Maps program in their devices. Apple will try to solve this problem by rebuilding Apple Maps from the ground up, with the tech conglomerate promising better and improved features for its users.

In quite a surprise move, Apple for the first time has begun rolling out a much more detailed set of maps for its Maps app – all from its own set of data. This can be a sigh of relief for Apple fans, as Apple Maps had quite a poor launch reception.

It can be remembered that aside from mixed reception on its first impression, there was even an apology from its CEO (Tom Cook himself), alongside several years of trying to get its data partnerships properly sorted out. Despite years of “improvements” with its transit directions, as well as place, parking, and business data – it appears Apple Maps isn’t exactly up to par with Google Maps, the service it seeks to rival.

Thankfully, Apple seems to be aware of the problem as it’s just begun to rebuild the, well, maps of Apple Maps – and they’re doing quite the impressive job.

They’ve decided to do this by using data they’ve gathered from its own set of cars with cameras and sensors, as well as iPhones with a “privacy-first” method. The new maps will be launched by fall with the next beta of iOS 12 in the North Carolina area.

Soon, all iOS versions will get the updated Maps. All versions will also be more responsive to changes in construction and roadways, and there appears to be goals to be “visually detailed” depending on the “context” the maps are viewed in. Pedestrian pathways, pools, foliage, and ground cover are just some of the areas they’ve chosen to cover.

All of these appear to be Apple Maps going on a full relaunch, and it was an effort that was four years in the making. It can be remembered that Apple has just got its hand on its own data-gathering methodologies last 2012, and eventually Apple will no longer need reliance on third-party data to be able to update its maps. This has been one of Apple’s major setbacks from the very beginning.

Eddy Cue, Apple SVP, said the goal isn’t to “rehash” and repeat all the issues they’ve had since launch. The initial maps launch was all about “going to one place” and getting directions – and now the newer version of maps will have a plethora of changes. These include more changes to the map, adding “millions” of places, and a better and larger investment on gathering data.

Cue did add that this version of Maps, despite the relaunch, will not be perfect. Apple will inevitably have room for improvement, especially with recent advancements to technology. Cue said this is the primary motivation as to why they’ve started to build their map data from scratch.


Building From The Ground Up: Not A New Choice

Interestingly, it appears Apple did have plans to make Maps use first-party data from the beginning. In fact, there were doubts if they actually wanted to be making a map application at all. Apple eventually agreed to do so, knowing that the future with mobile devices means a future with dedication to location as well.

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As such, Apple first relied on data from partners such as OpenStreetMap, TomTom, and other data brokers. Unfortunately, the overall result had become underwhelming. When Maps was launched, Apple knew it needed assistance – so it did signed on a lot of data providers to try and fill in the gaps of business data, point-of-interest, base map, and location. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough.

Cue said this led to a shift in direction that started a few years’ worth of readjustments. Given that Apple Maps has a lot of functions at its core, its success won’t be able to rely on improving one function alone. Maps needed to be available for walking, driving, and in transit – as well as being a utility application for other services. This means making sure Maps is quality on both a navigational and privacy perspective.

There’s also a need to make sure updates and changes to a lot of sections in Maps will be seamless and without any form of concerns – especially when having to deal with external partners. In turn, the Maps team will need a better system to correct pathways, roads, and other updating features. The need for better data gathering has become available when millions of people worldwide now have iPhones, which means partner data has become less needed.


Apple Vans To Compete With Google Street View

In fact, it’s the shift towards having iPhones that led to the decision to pursue Maps once more. When it comes to accuracy and proper updates, dealing with first-hand data can be much faster unlike having to manually get the information themselves.

In terms of updates, Cue also acknowledge the need to be more vigilant than ever to make sure Maps is functioning as planned – given that constant updates will be able to expand the application to greater heights. Things such as roads, map infrastructures, and other location data will need to be adjusted every so often for accuracy, which can take a longer amount of time as usual.

As such, Apple now pushed forward with an effort to create its own base maps from scratch – and then layer them based on high-resolution image data via ground cars, satellite imagery, and living location data. Given that Google pretty much is the giant when it comes to on-the-ground maps, they had to make their own system.

Now “Apple Maps” vans have been spotted all around the roads in 2015, with cameras and sensors like Google Street View’s cars. Now, Apple Maps will be the first foray for these Apple “vans,” and appear to be more robust than the usual GPS and camera combinations of other vehicles. Some people even commented they appear to be cars that can be used to train autonomous vehicles as well.


Measuring New Routes: Apple’s New Challenge

While Apple didn’t comment much on the appearance of their cars as such, the vans do appear advanced – because they are. Aside from the GPS rig as seen on the roof, there are actually for LiDAR arrays that are on the corners of the van, with eight cameras capable of overlapping shooting images.

This is not including the measuring tool on the real wheel that allows the precise tracking of image capture and distance. An operator is in charge of the route and ensures an area is fully covered, with a driver making sure the van gets there. Each drive will make the car capture thousands upon thousands of images, defining a “cloud” of full points that will eventually create a three-dimensional map of images.

The image data will be encrypted on the fly and will be stored in SSDs, which will be pulled out once they’re full. Cases filled with these SSDs are sent to Apple’s data center, with software eliminating private information from images such as license plates. After sanitation, they are encrypted once more, and technicians will never even see the data.

In fact, this push towards privacy is something Apple now emphasized. Their system makes Apple capable of providing high-quality mapping, location, and navigation without having to directly touch the data of private individuals. Their systems don’t just collect data from users, they collect data in an anonymous fashion – wherein they only collect only subsections of data, and not the whole set. This means there are just rotating identifiers and not personal information that are assigned whenever Apple’s systems have to collect data. Since random segments of data are collected, Apple has no way of knowing if the “single trip” they collected is done by one, two, or as many individuals as possible.

This means, potentially, Apple Maps can have a much robust and better system of adjusting real-time to traffic, road conditions, new construction, road systems, and pedestrian walkway changes.


Probe Data: Apple Maps’ New Ace In The Hole

All of this is thanks to what Apple calls probe data, which are just tiny snippets of vector data that are used to represent speed and direction that are constantly sent back to Apple in anonymous forms. This gives Apple, and therefore its systems like Maps, a more holistic and real-time approach without having to intrude upon privacy.

This means anything like cycling, walking, or driving can be identified by iPhones, and can even send relevant routing and traffic data into these probe data for assessment. This only happens while using Maps, though. This means actively using GPS to use Maps also allows Maps to use GPS to accurately measure and retrieve data from what you’re doing. In turn, it uses these data for updates such as new pedestrian pathways.



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