I’ve been using Apple Maps in this New Orleans since the service debuted in 2012. While I’ve never had the problems with Apple Maps that led some others to insist upon only using Google Maps, I’ve certainly noticed some quirks along the way. For example, there is a road I take to work every day which I know is the most direct way to go, but for years Apple Maps has suggested that I take an alternate route. I happened to be using Apple Maps guidance to go that same route a few days ago when I noticed, for the first time ever, that CarPlay wasn’t trying to reroute me. I thought to myself that Apple Maps has finally learned the way, but didn’t think much more of it than that. But then I saw reports this past weekend, on sites like MacRumors, that the upgraded data for Apple Maps (which Apple executives discussed a year ago with Matthew Panzarino of TechCrnch) is now available in Texas, Louisiana, and Southern Mississippi.
Joe Rossignol of MacRumors reports that the improved maps came first to Northern California (including the San Francisco area where Apple is headquartered) in July 2018. They then came to Hawaii and Southern California in November 2018. Arizona, New Mexico, and Las Vegas were added in April 2019. Using the most basic of Photoshop skills one could possibly use — no, you should not hire me to create the demonstrative graphic exhibits for your next trial — I created this map of the continental United States showing roughly where the new maps have been rolled out.
You can tell that only the lower half of Mississippi is included in this update both by looking at the above map (click to enlarge) or just by looking at the state on your own iPhone or iPad because the lower half of the state is light green but the upper half is not. That reflects one of the changes in the new data for Apple Maps: there is much more detail on each map, including a more precise indication of which areas are undeveloped (in green) and which areas are developed (in light yellow). As Panzarino explained in his article: “Water, swimming pools (new to Maps entirely), sporting areas and vegetation are now more prominent and fleshed out thanks to new computer vision and satellite imagery applications.” Building shapes and sizes are also more accurate in the new maps.
Based upon my very simplistic arrows indicating the passage of time, and my (perhaps incorrect) assumption that Apple will continue to go in the same direction, my guess is that if you live in areas like Mobile, Alabama and Atlanta, Georgia, you may be in the area that will next see improved Apple Maps. Apple executive Eddy Cute told Panzarino in that TechCrunch article from 2018: “Over the next year, we’ll be rolling it out, section by section in the U.S.”
If I had known that this update was coming, I would have taken some screenshots of the Maps app last Thursday so that I could do some before-and-after pictures. I didn’t do that, but I can still give you one example. When I reviewed the Apple Watch Series 4 last year, I included a picture of an outdoor walk around a playground that I took while my daughter was attending a soccer practice. The first picture below comes from the Apple Watch app, but it uses the same underlying map data that was in the Apple Maps app last year. The second picture below was taken last night, with the new maps data. As you can see, there is more detail in the new map, and you can even clearly see the baseball diamond at the top of the map in the newer picture. You can also see more precise details in the shapes of the building surrounding the playground.
I don’t have a “before” picture for this next one, but here is a picture of Audubon Park in New Orleans using the newer maps. You can now clearly identify each hole in the golf course, including the sand traps:
The visual changes are interesting, but as Panzarino explained in his article last year, the new update to Apple Maps is not just about the map image. The big change is that Apple started compiling its own map data last year. It gets some information using vehicles driven around areas. It gets other information from all of our iPhones, although as explained in that TechCrunch article, all of the information uploaded to Apple is handled in a way to maintain user privacy. By adding its own data to data obtained from others, the map engine itself is more precise. This explains why my iPhone is now agreeing with me on the most direct route to my office.
Better data is only part of what is new in Apple Maps. As I noted in my preview of iOS 13, which is coming to all iPhones and iPads this Fall, maps in iOS 13 will have additional details, plus Apple added its version of Google Street View so that you can see what it would be like to stand in a location and look around 360º with smooth transitions from one spot to another.
The new map data combined with the new features in iOS 13 will make Apple Maps even more useful. I’m glad to now have it in my neck of the woods, and it will be great when it is available in even more areas.