Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

DuckDuckGo Integrates Apple’s MapKit for Location Searches

DuckDuckGo’s press release:

We’re excited to announce that map and address-related searches on DuckDuckGo for mobile and desktop are now powered by Apple’s MapKit JS framework, giving you a valuable combination of mapping and privacy. As one of the first global companies using Apple MapKit JS, we can now offer users improved address searches, additional visual features, enhanced satellite imagery, and continually updated maps already in use on billions of Apple devices worldwide.

With this updated integration, Apple Maps are now available both embedded within our private search results for relevant queries, as well as available from the “Maps” tab on any search result page.

For years, the default choice for developers embedding a map on a website was to use one of Google’s. There have been a couple of alternatives — OpenStreetMap isn’t bad — but none seem like they could shake Google’s dominance quite like Apple’s MapKit JavaScript framework. It’s early days; Apple does not yet have a Maps website where users can easily create custom map embeds, for example. But, for developers, the MapKit framework is a viable choice. It looks great, the data quality really is getting better — albeit very slowly — and it respects users’ privacy.

It’s very cool to see DuckDuckGo as the first major implementation of this framework. I search the web almost exclusively with DuckDuckGo, but one area where it struggled for me was for business searches around me. Because I often forget that I even have a Maps app on my Mac, I would habitually load Google Maps. I should have to do that far less often now.

One thing I noticed is that, while DuckDuckGo’s integration makes use of MapKit everywhere, Apple Maps directions are only available when searching on iOS. I’m not sure if there’s a technical limitation involved; it appears that MapKit’s route API would work fine to return driving directions on the web. Perhaps it’s simply a case of DuckDuckGo not wishing to ask users for their precise location as a privacy measure. I get that, but offloading the task to Bing Maps, by default, for non-iOS users is kind of a clunky workaround.

Bear with me, but, speaking of Google Maps, what the hell happened to that website? At some point, basically everything became a click target, from businesses to neighbourhood names. But Google Maps has also retained the double-click-to-zoom gesture, so every time I try to zoom in, I invariably click on something, which causes that information panel I hid seconds prior to reappear with the hours for a business I don’t care about. In particularly dense cities, using Google Maps requires finding a ten-by-ten pixel square that miraculously does not contain a clickable object.

The only thing I use Google Maps for on a frequent basis is Street View, and they’ve even managed to make that worse. There are so many Photo Sphere images and indoor tours that overlap with Google’s own Street View. It’s a usability nightmare. I can’t imagine a typical Street View user wants to stumble into a grainy immobile snow globe submitted by someone with half their finger on the camera lens.

Update: I got two things wrong on this. The first is that the Directions button connects to Apple Maps on both iOS and MacOS; when I tried it this morning on my Mac, it only displayed the dropdown with options for Bing and other providers. Also, apparently, DuckDuckGo will prompt for a precise location for some queries — though I haven’t been able to trigger the location request dialog — so a reluctance to ask for location can’t be the reason they haven’t implemented the route API.