Apple is ready for Apple Maps to stop being a joke. The company plans to introduce completely overhauled mapping data in the US over the next year, all using information that Apple gathered itself, according to TechCrunch, which got a behind-the-scenes look at the new pursuit.
The new data will begin to roll out in the coming weeks in a very limited fashion. It’ll start first for people enrolled in the iOS 12 beta, and the updated mapping data will only be available for San Francisco and the Bay Area. The report says it’ll grow to cover all of Northern California by fall and eventually come to all versions of iOS.
The rest of the US will receive the new maps “section by section” “over the next year,” Apple services leader Eddy Cue told TechCrunch. Cue said Apple has “done a huge investment in getting the map up to par.”
With the change, Apple will eschew all third-party mapping data, which is what has made up the vast majority of Apple Maps’ maps since it launched in 2012.
Instead, Apple will rely on data from two sources: sensor-packed vans that it’s been driving around the US for several years, and iPhones. TechCrunch reports that Apple will be gathering anonymized chunks of travel data when people open the Maps app — much like what Google does, though seemingly with a keener eye to privacy — in order to get updated information on road openings and traffic.
Apple also appears to be reworking what its maps look like thanks to all the new data. You’ll now see more green for parks and woods, more detailed waterways, and differentiated streets to highlight main throughways and make the map easier to read. Apple isn’t planning a complete redesign, according to TechCrunch, but Maps is clearly going to look a lot different once it has more detailed data.
We’ll start to find out soon exactly how much better the new maps actually are. The effort was reportedly four years in the making — but the question isn’t just one of better data, but a better approach to maps, too. Apple has been licensing data from well-known mapping companies, like TomTom, yet has faced reliability issues that those companies do not.
And ultimately, Apple is still going up against Google, which has been at this for more than a decade. Rebuilding Maps into a competitive product can’t be easy. But it’s important that Apple is finally giving it a go.