Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Custom 3D Landmarks in Apple Maps

Justin O’Beirne:

As part of its 2021 cartographic redesign, Apple replaced 213 of its existing 3D models of landmarks and other venues with new, artist-created models.

[…]

These new custom landmark models are currently available in seven areas: the San Francisco Bay Area, Greater Los Angeles, New York City, London, Washington, San Diego, and Philadelphia.

The San Francisco Bay Area has the most models (60 models total), while the San Diego area has the least (11 models total).

Compare this list against two of O’Beirne’s other catalogues: feature availability in top metro areas and priority countries. I am especially interested in countries with large metro areas and many iOS users, yet with few Apple Maps features. Seoul is located within a country of, according to O’Beirne’s calculations, at least ten million iOS users, but only has a city guide and some landmark icons, and not even the 3D landmarks of London or Washington. It is a similar story in Moscow — Russia has at least 29 million iOS users — and São Paulo — Brazil has an estimated 16 million.

In New York or London, Apple Maps probably feels pretty feature-rich. But elsewhere it is patchier, even in cities like Calgary which are comparatively well-covered. There are surely different teams working on 3D landmarks and more fundamental features but, from a distance, it can feel like Apple is lavishing attention solely on U.S. population centres — and London — and filling in fine details in those cities at the expense of some basic functionality elsewhere. I would love cycling directions, or even some more consistent labelling — a selection of Calgary streets in the same area are referred to as “15 ST SW”, “16TH ST SW”, “EIGHTH ST SW”, and “8 ST SW”. It is eye-opening to know this is considered good coverage for Apple Maps; major commercial areas are not marked on the streets of Paris, not even the Champs-Élysées.

I often wonder if it makes sense that there are basically two major efforts in digitizing the world’s cartography for commercial purposes, and both are fronted by companies based in the same part of the United States. The expense of such a wide-reaching project is surely a hurdle, but it would be great if others could offer a more local solution. Perhaps one reason there is not as much competition in this space is, in part, because iOS users cannot change their default maps app. I am not sure it makes sense to modernize the in-car GPS systems that required a different disc for each region, but I also have to wonder if Apple or Google can deliver worldwide cartography that is accurate and not encumbered by their myriad other business interests.