Apple Rebuilding Maps App, Hopes to Outperform Google

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Apple Maps has been a lackluster tool for navigation since its launch. Of course, you probably don’t know this because you’re statistically more likely to back out of the driveway using Google Maps or Waze. That’s because the latter programs seem to work as intended. The same cannot be said of the former.

While Apple can get you down a major highway without incident, it frequently falls apart when you start asking it to make sense of a complex, overlapping network of roads or sparsely traveled rural area. Meanwhile, Google has already mapped the same areas twice and taken photos of every blade of grass within 100 square miles.

Upon launch, Apple Maps was plagued with issues. Areas were left blank, locations were misnamed, landmarks were misplaced. Had it come out a decade earlier, it’d have been a technological marvel. But with competent competition readily available, the iOS-based navigation system was (and remains) unacceptable. So Apple is giving it a complete overhaul.

According to TechCrunch, the company intends to use first-party data gathered via customers’ iPhones and its own fleet of camera and sensor-equipped cars (like Google). Starting next week with the iOS 12 beta, people in the San Francisco Bay Area will build their own detailed maps and, hopefully, see improved navigation on Apple Maps within the boundaries of California.

“Since we introduced [Apple Maps] 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,” explained Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of software and services. “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.”

Apple hasn’t confirmed a timeline for how long it would take for the application to become totally revamped on a nationwide level. But we’d imagine it would take at least a full year after iOS 12 is rolled out to the rest of the country before anyone notices a significant improvement — and that’s the best-case scenario. More realistically, the process would take several years to complete. But the company has a head start. Apple vans have been spotted collecting data for a few years now and they appear to be incredibly advanced.

“We decided to do this just over four years ago,” Cue said. “We 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.”

The company claims that, since mobile devices are not the primary navigation tool for most customers it made sense to use them for data acquisition to rebuild Maps. Apple had previously relied upon partnerships with firms like TomTom and OpenStreetMap to assemble navigation data, rather than the more user-driven approaches of Waze and Google.

“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,” Cue continued. “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?”

A large part of this working and being able to swiftly update the system requires Apple to collect data from its customers. With privacy concerns being a major issue right now, the company is stressing that it is taking data in the most responsible way it knows how. Apple claims all data it procures for mapping purposes is anonymous, totally randomized, and doesn’t include the initial location or final destination.

If that’s the case, then we’re very glad to hear it. Privacy and data acquisition is already becoming a major issue with connected cars and we don’t need another thing to gripe about. We’re happy to hear Apple is at least attempting to take the high road on this and the end result should be a navigation platform that can rival Google’s best.

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Ted Lulis Head gaskets and Toyota putting my kids through college👍️
  • Leonard Ostrander Plants don't unionize. People do, and yes, of course the workers should organize.
  • Jalop1991 Here's something EVangelists don't want to talk about, and why range is important: battery warranties, by industry standard, specify that nothing's wrong with the battery, and they won't replace it, as long as it is able to carry 70% or more of its specified capacity.So you need a lot of day 1 capacity so that down the road, when you're at 70% capacity with a "fully functioning, no problem" car, you're not stuck in used Nissan Leaf territory."Nothing to see here, move along."There's also the question of whether any factory battery warranty survives past the original new car owner. So it's prudent of any second owner to ask that question specifically, and absent any direct written warranty, assume that the second and subsequent owners own any battery problems that may arise.And given that the batteries are a HUGE expense, much more so than an ICE, such exposure is equally huge."Nothing to see here, move along."
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  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X The push for EV's is part of the increase in our premiums. Any damage near the battery pack and the car is a total loss.