Apple flying drones to improve Apple Maps data and beat Google

“Apple Inc. plans to use drones and new indoor navigation features to improve its Maps service and catch longtime leader Google, according to people familiar with the matter,” Mark Gurman and Alan Levin report for Bloomberg. “The Cupertino, California-based company is assembling a team of robotics and data-collection experts that will use drones to capture and update map information faster than its existing fleet of camera-and-sensor ladened minivans, one of the people said. ”

“Apple wants to fly drones around to do things like examine street signs, track changes to roads and monitor if areas are under construction, the person said,” Gurman and Levin report. “The data collected would be sent to Apple teams that rapidly update the Maps app to provide fresh information to users, the person added. Apple is also developing new features for Maps, including views inside buildings and improvements to car navigation, another person familiar with the efforts said.”

“Collecting accurate data is the most important part of digital map building and Apple’s latest moves could help it match the prodigious capabilities of Google in this field,” Gurman and Levin report. “Apple filed for an exemption on Sept. 21, 2015, from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly drones for commercial purposes, according to documents obtained by Bloomberg News… Apple’s application told the FAA that it would use a range of drones sold by companies such as SZ DJI Technology Co. and Aibotix GmbH to collect the data.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: In just four years, Apple Maps has gone from joke to a rather useful tool. We no longer use Google Maps in the U.S.


        1. Is this even a serious question?

          Like Google Maps currently does. Local app sandbox. Actually doesn’t even have to be, since it’s Apple’s own app, so there could even be API hooks for other apps to access offline data.

          In easily-digestable chunks of data a few tens of MB in size depending on zoom level. And it could expire after X days and reclaim the space.

          1. Oh I see…
            You don’t mean real offline, but reality distorted offline.
            I use Here as well as Google. On Here, I have all of North America and Europe (including Russia) on SD at all times. On Google I have common area offline.

            This way, even without connectivity, I have navigation.

            Serious enough?

            1. Your original question makes even less sense now, since you already use Google Maps offline data and knew exactly what I was getting at. Of course I wasn’t asking for a full, static map of a country or continent in Apple Maps.

              And what do you even mean by “reality distorted offline”?

            2. Because Here Maps ™ is loaded with the regions I indicated. I can put the whole world in there. Permanently.

              Getting a whole country or continent is very advantageous. You will have navigation even when you don’t have an internet connection.

              By reality distorted offline I was sarcastically describing any other form of transient offline.

  1. My only real problem with Apple Maps is the zoom level at which various labels pop into view. Often times you have to be so zoomed in for things to be visible that you’re effectively viewing what would be visible immediately in front of you at street level.

    1. Damn fat fingers. Meant to say Google is still showing the property my mother has lived in for the last 5 years as an empty field still. Apple maps shows her car aprked outside her home

      1. It’s true that Google Maps isn’t updated on a regular basis. I’ve made changes to my house (NYC suburbs) over the last five years and none of those changes are being shown on satellite or street view. I don’t really expect Google to constantly update street view but I wouldn’t think satellite map updating would be that difficult. However, I don’t know what type of resources or time it takes to cover the entire planet.

        In Apple’s case, they’re probably far behind Google in the mapping process, so photos may be a lot newer. Apple will never catch up to Google in Maps and eventually Apple will reach a point where they get bored or lazy and stop updating Maps just like they do with their computers. There’s nothing driving anything being done at Apple except for iPhones.

        Anything Google can do, Apple could certainly afford to do better but mapping must take an awful lot of time and cost and Apple isn’t going to make any profits from it, so it’s going to be very, very, very low priority for Apple.

        1. The problem with your point is Apple Maps is an important part of iPhone. It’s the reason it has improved so fast. So as long as Apple focuses on the iPhone (probably forever now) they will need Maps. It’s something smartphone people use all the time and they don’t want to give Google all of the information about their users.

  2. The word ‘drone’ is used for anything from a toy quadcopter through to a near full size aircraft that doesn’t actually carry a pilot.

    I don’t feel any wiser about what Apple’s actual plans might be. I would like to think that they’re talking about quite substantial autonomous aircraft that will carry a payload measured in tens of kilogrammes, which would mean that it could carry very high quality imaging systems. However once you start using something of that size, there are all sorts of regulations which will need to be complied with and those regulations will vary from country to country.

    1. Agreed. But the same would hold true for quadcopter sized drones plus a whole lot more regulation regarding personal privacy than their larger cousins not to mention risk of being shot down by ‘concerned’ citizens.

  3. I live in Portland, OR and apple maps is fine to use up here but whenever visiting smaller towns I still have to rely on Google. Sometimes apple maps is off by several blocks but Google is usually spot on. Hopefully these drones will help in rectifying that so I don’t have to rely on Google anymore.

  4. Maps is a moving target as the planet changes over time. Definitely a challenge and a huge full time job for both Apple and Google once you open that Pandora’s Box and maintain it. People WILL expect it to be constantly updated.

  5. … Let’s be clear that Google BOUGHT Google Earth and Google Maps, from Keyhole, Inc. and Where 2 Technologies, respectively, in 2004. Keyhole, Inc. started coding their Earth Viewer application in 2001. Where 2 Technologies started coding their Expedition application in 2003. Apple didn’t release their developed-in-house Apple Maps application until 2012. IOW: Google has had a very long head start thanks specifically to their acquisition of third party companies.

      1. Each shares aspects of a single code base. But each app has its own features. Lately, I’ve been enjoying the surrealism that results when using extreme extrapolation of Landsat images in Google Earth. My house looks like its melting. 😆

  6. I use Apple Maps exclusively in Canada but we had to use Google Maps in Europe. Many times we couldn’t find the apartment with their weird addresses but Google could.

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