Apple Maps Revamped


The new version of Apple Maps will be in preview next week with just the Bay Area of California going live. It will be stitched seamlessly into the “current” version of Maps, but the difference in quality level should be immediately visible based on what I’ve seen so far.

Better road networks, more pedestrian information, sports areas like baseball diamonds and basketball courts, more land cover, including grass and trees, represented on the map, as well as buildings, building shapes and sizes that are more accurate. A map that feels more like the real world you’re actually traveling through.

Search is also being revamped to make sure that you get more relevant results (on the correct continents) than ever before. Navigation, especially pedestrian guidance, also gets a big boost. Parking areas and building details to get you the last few feet to your destination are included, as well.

The goals of this overhaul sound fantastic; accurate and richer maps with near-realtime updates to keep data fresh fed by Apple’s own ground truth fleet and anonymised data from iPhone users. Apple improving Maps with crowd-sourced iPhone data isn’t new per se, but the scope of this renewed effort is much, much, greater than anything they did before. The way Maps works today is basically Apple prettifying and packaging map tiles and POIs from a swathe of licensed third party data sources. This new initiative means Apple is making its own map tiles, literally from the ground up. It will maintain the source of truth for the first time.

Expect to see headlines of people spotting Maps errors that weren’t there before as Apple migrates over to the new system. The world is simply too large for there not to be some regressions. Theoretically, though, Apple’s modern Maps infrastructure will enable these errors to be corrected quickly. This highlights a critical element of this story. The pitch here is not just about a one-time maps upgrade, Apple is promising that Maps is now much more flexible to respond to ongoing changes in roads and buildings.

It all sounds great. The bad news is this rollout is going to be painfully slow. Apple says it will deploy the new Maps section-by-section, spanning all of the United States by the end of next year. It’s particularly bleak if you consider the possible timeline for an international launch. The Apple Maps LIDAR vans have been roaming the US since 2015. The only other country Apple has started to send its vans around is the United Kingdom. Based on their hesitancy with the US deployment, Maps 2.0 for the UK probably isn’t going to arrive until late 2019 at the very earliest. And I don’t need to point out that there are lot more than two countries in the world.