Maps Are About So Much More Than Just Driving Directions

Sam Wolfson, the Guardian:

Over the past month, I’ve spoken with engineers at Apple about how Maps started to get good. They told me that as well as data from city officials, including digital dashboards that update maps automatically, they also monitor changes from riders themselves. They can see if there is an unusually large number of people riding bikes in a particular location and then send someone with a backpack or a car to see if there’s a new bike path in that area. Sometimes they get this information before it’s been officially recorded by the government.

These kinds of techniques mean that while Apple has become more competitive with Waze and Google Maps on driving instructions, it’s on cycling and public transit that Apple Maps has built perhaps the most impressive resource yet available — with incredibly detailed instructions than can open up a city even for a nervous cyclist (Eddy Cue, unsurprisingly, describes it as the best cycling map in the world).

Justin O’Beirne:

As of early August 2023, Google appears to be rolling out Apple Maps-style road markings in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle:


There are interesting differences between Google’s and Apple’s approaches. Google, for instance, denotes parking spots along roads, while Apple doesn’t. But Apple denotes areas marked as bus stops, while Google doesn’t:


They also have different approaches to displaying cycling lanes:

Cue says all of the right things in the Guardian interview and the article makes Apple Maps look good. It is promising to hear Cue’s apparent passion for proper cycling directions, interior mapping at airports, and various points of interest. O’Beirne’s article is a worthy complement to Wolfson’s story as I think Apple’s presentation of cycle lanes, especially, is so much better than Google’s.

I hope to see such investment locally and there are clues that Apple is working on it: Apple says it has begun collecting data with its backpack kit in several areas in Calgary which appears to be a prerequisite for the Detailed City Experience.

As Cue himself recognises, “there are really only two mapmakers left in the world, in ourselves and Google” – and that monopoly of information, says Clancy Wilmott, a professor specialising in digital cartographies at Berkley, has consequences.

As far as I can figure out, this is simply untrue. OpenStreetMap is a well-known and widely used alternative to maps from Apple and Google, Collins Bartholomew is a longtime mapmaker, and Felt is a newer startup. Here, Nokia’s old mapping business, is still around too, as is TomTom. I believe all gather data independently of one another and, crucially, two of them — OpenStreetMap and TomTom — provide data for Apple Maps.

But there is some truth to what Cue is saying, at least for consumers, and I am not sure the world is best served by depending on two Californian tech giants for its place and direction needs. Both offer more capability in the United States than in any other nation and, anecdotally, point-of-interest data is more accurate inside the U.S. than elsewhere.