Those Pretty Maps in Apple’s New iPhoto for iOS? That’s OpenStreetMap


After Apple launched its new photo for iOS yesterday, a number of eagle-eyed users quickly noticed that the company stopped using Google Maps in the application and switched to what, at first, seemed like its own product. It turns out, however, that at least outside of the U.S., the company is using data from the collaboratively edited OpenStreetMap project. The problem with this is that a) Apple isn’t giving credit to OpenStreetMap and b) that the data is actually over a year old. While data from OpenStreetMap is available for use in third-party applications, the group requires attribution under a Creative Commons license.

Here is a nice little hack that allows you to compare Apple’s maps with data from OpenStreetMap and Google.

In a somewhat passive-aggressive statement, OpenStreetMap’s Jonathan Bennett notes that the data Apple is using is from April 2010 and that it is “also missing the necessary credit to OpenStreetMap’s contributors.” OpenStreetMap, however, is looking “forward to working with Apple to get that [the credit] on there.”

Over the years, there have been quite a few rumors about Apple launching its own mapping product and its still not clear where Apple is getting its U.S. maps from. In Europe and other parts of the world, though, it looks like the company is taking a bit of a shortcut and is implicitly claiming credit for data that doesn’t belong to it. What is clear, though, is that Apple is definitely working on replacing Google Maps across its product range.

7:26 am

Hands-On With Ubuntu for Android


A few days ago, Ubuntu announced its plans to marry its full desktop operating system with the Android mobile operating system. Ubuntu, of course, is mostly known for its Linux distribution, but the company has recently also branched out into consumer electronics with its Ubuntu for TV initiative. Today, we got a chance to spend some hands-on time with the first prototypes of Ubuntu for Android. While it's still obvious that this is a prototype, it's hard not to be positively surprised by the current state of the project.

Here is how it works in practice – and this is a bit similar to the experience with a Motorola Atrix: when you use your phone on the road, it's a regular Android phone. For the most part, you wouldn't even know that it is running Ubuntu as well. When you plug it into its base station however, it becomes a full-blown desktop system that you control with a mouse and keyboard. It even runs Ubuntu TV as well.

A Need for More Speed

The prototypes Ubuntu is using to demonstrate the operating system aren't among the fastest. It takes a little bit before applications like Chrome start up, for example. Ubuntu is quite aware of this, of course, and expects that the first phones with the operating systems will use faster, multi-core processors with more RAM than its current prototypes.

Once your applications are running, though, the desktop feels sufficiently speedy. Maybe the coolest feature of the desktop, though, as that you still have access to the full Android OS, too. You can still make calls, use Google Maps or any other app that runs on the phone. This isn't some emulator either. All the apps still run natively.

Ubuntu hasn't announced any partners yet that will manufacture the phone, but an Ubuntu representative told me that a number of top-tier manufacturers have already approach the company since it first announced this project a few days ago.

More Than a Gimmick

Going into the demo, I couldn't help but think that this was mostly going to be a gimmick, but after seeing the product in action, it does feel like the Ubunut team is on the right track. Chances are, your phone will never be as fast as that multi-core (but also power-hungry) desktop under your desk, but most users never really tap into this power anyway.

Ubuntu is aiming this feature at high-end users for now, but one could also imagine this as a smart solution for developing countries where phones are often peoples' only way of getting online.

7:55 am

Marissa Mayer at LeWeb: Google+ Was a Pleasant Surprise


Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president for local, as well as maps and location services, was interviewed by Crunchfund’s MG Siegler on stage at the LeWeb conference in Paris this morning. This wide-ranging interview touched upon everything from Google+ check-ins, Latitude, mobile maps, Android and Mayer’s own role at Google.

Mayer’s Role at Google Today

Mayer has long been one of the most visible faces of Google’s executive team (and a regular guest at LeWeb), though last year, her role shifted from being in charge of search products to a focus on location products. Asked about this title switch by Siegler, Mayer noted that titles don’t matter much to her but that she cares more about what the focuses on. While this is obviously a very political answer, quite a few pundits at the time wondered whether Mayer wasn’t actually demoted in this move.

Google+: A Pleasant Surprise

Google+, said Mayer, was a “pleasant surprise.” She stressed that Google learned a lot from its first failed social products like Wave and Buzz. She also noted that Google tried not to over-hype Google+ and launch it slowly (though one could argue that a product with millions of users isn’t really in a “field test”).  To her, the fact that the company placed a stronger emphasis on design with Google+ is also a major factor in the product’s success.

Google+ Check-In Deals Coming Next Week

Asked about Google’s recently leaked Google+ check-in deals, Mayer argued that check-ins are a useful feature for the company’s users. “We think there are interesting ways we can monetize this, but also ways to help our users safe money.” The check-in feature is now slated for launch next week.

According to Mayer, Google is also still working on its other location features outside of Google+, too, including Latitude. New features for Latitude are currently still in the works, so chances are this tool won’t be the next victim of Google’s spring cleaning campaign.

Google’s View of the Location Space as a Whole

As for the location space as a whole, Mayer noted that she thinks there is still a lot of competition in local, even as Facebook and Gowalla have now bowed out of some aspects of it. To her, it’s natural that there will be some long-term winners and losers and that it’s inevitable that some companies will drop of the radar.

To Google, maps are among the most-used features on phones. Since June 2011, Google has been seeing more maps usage on mobile devices than on the web every day (until then, mobile usage only surpassed the desktop on weekends sometimes).

11:17 am

Google Maps Goes Indoors (on Android)


Google Maps for Android now features indoor maps for a select number of malls, airports and train stations around the U.S. and Japan. Until now, indoor mapping was the domain of specialized apps and Micorosoft’s Bing Maps. Starting today, Google Maps for Android users will be able to see detailed indoor maps of places like San Francisco International Airport, the Mall of America in Minnesota and Japan Rail’s train stations.

Google Maps indoors

To see these maps, Android users just have to zoom in to a building and the indoor maps will automatically appear. For buildings with multiple floors, users will also have the option to change to the floor they are on.

After launching its indoor Street View initiative, this is Google’s second major foray into indoor mapping. It’s not clear that Google would try to actively monetize these new features, but it’s easy to imagine an indoor map that highlights deals or discounts in a mall, for example.

Google is actively recruiting business owners who would like their location’s floor plans included in Google Maps.

It’s not clear when Google plans to bring this feature to other platforms as well. Indeed, it’s somewhat surprising that Google isn’t exposing these maps on the Web already.

Here is a partial list of some of the buildings where the new indoor maps have already been enable: [list]

  • Mall of America, IKEA, The Home Depot, select Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, Daimaru, Taskashimaya and Mitsukoshi locations and more. Watch an IKEA demo here.
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), Chicago O’Hare (ORD), San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Narita International (NRT), among others.
  • JR and Tokyu Corporation [/list]

5:51 pm

Google Now Personalizes Its Maps with Your Rated Places and Recommendations


Google today announced that it will start personalizing your Google Maps experience with your ratings and personalized recommendations. For now, Google is keeping these new features very subtle. Indeed, unless you look very closely, you may just overlook the new symbols. Places you have already rated will now appear with a number of dots underneath their respective symbols, corresponding to the star rating you gave them. Recommended places now feature a slight orange glow around their symbols.

Here is what the new symbols look like:



For Google, of course, this is yet another way to get people to actually rate restaurants, shops and other local businesses in the first place. Unlike services like Yelp, few people explicitly come to Google Maps to leave reviews. The company’s place pages have increased the emphasis of reviewing businesses over time, though, and while most reviews on Google Maps and Place Pages are still aggregated from third parties, the number of native reviews seems to be going up now.

With Google Places, the company tried to get its users to leaving more reviews (and hence feed Google’s algorithms with more data), though I doubt most consumers are even aware of this service.

In an effort to bolster its recommendation services, Google also acquired Zagat earlier this year, though we haven’t seen any integration of Zagat’s ratings into Google’s own products yet.

6:15 pm

Google Maps Gets 3D Driving Directions


Getting driving directions is surely one of the most often used features of any online mapping service. Generally, those directions consist of step-by-step guides that are then mapped on the 2D map. Google today moved these directions into the 3rd dimension. Google Maps users can now opt to see a 3D preview of their routes. This tool makes use of the browser-based Google Earth view, a plugin Google makes available for all the major browsers on Windows and Mac.

Google earth driving directions in maps

Getting A "Helicopter View" of Your Trip

To get started, just use Google maps to get directions from one point to another and then look for the "3D" button in the sidebar. Google Maps will automatically switch to the Google Earth view and start flying along your recommended route. Google calls this the "helicopter view" of your route.

You are not restricted to just following the route from start to finish, though. You can also click on any part of the trip in the sidebar and jump right to that leg of your drive. You can also stop and restart the flight at any time.

6:31 pm

Going Local: Google Crowdsources More of its Map Making Process


Google just announced that it plans to crowdsource a large part of the review process that currently brings user-generated map edits to Google Maps and related products. Thanks to Google Map Maker and the ability to suggest edits and notify Google of mistakes in Google Maps, the number of potential edits was apparently threatening to overwhelm Google’s internal reviewers. Instead of expanding its internal team, though, Google has decided to give “distinguished mappers” from around the world the ability to review and approve edits in their respective regions.

These Regional Expert Reviewers, Google says, are users who have made “an impressive number of high quality contributions to Google’s base map” and are active on Google’s Map Your World discussion forums.

By bringing on local experts (who, as far as I can see, are not being paid), Google can rely on these users’ expertise to enhance its maps more accurately and quickly. Chances are, after all, that a local user will be more likely to recognize a necessary edit than somebody sitting in Mountain View with little to no knowledge of the local geography of a remote country.


6:43 pm

Google Maps Gets a Weather Layer


Google Maps now features a weather layer. It’s a slightly limited tool, though, and no substitute for a fully featured weather site.

One of the most popular ways to use Google Maps on third-party sites is as a background for weather data. Quite a few of the larger weather sites use Google Maps to provide their users with weather maps and then use a radar or cloud overlay on top of it. Now, however, you can see weather information right in Google Maps itself. Google today launched a new weather layer on Google Maps that displays temperature and cloud for almost every city in the world.

Overall, this is a nice little addition to Google Maps if you want to get a glance at the weather forecast for a place you are travelling to.  Before you get too excited, though, it’s worth noting that this layer only displays current weather conditions and clouds, as well as a five-day forecast from when you click on one of the weather icons. It does not, however, display any radar data. Because of this, it’s not really a substitute for a full-blown weather site like Weather.comAccuweather or WeatherUnderground.

Data from – Which Uses Bing Maps…

One oddity here is that Google gets most of its data from – which uses Bing Maps to display its weather maps.

Google Maps weather data 1

4:43 pm

Know When Your Bus is Late: Google Maps Gets Live Transit Updates


Most online mapping products today feature transit directions. Sadly, though, it’s the nature of public transit that things often don’t quite run on schedule. Thankfully, quite a few transit districts have now track their buses and trains with a GPS system so that the public can know exactly when the next bus or train will arrive. For the most part, however, you won’t know this information until you arrive at the station (which is always either far too early or just too late). Starting today, however, there’s a better way to get this information quickly: Google Maps will now feature live transit updates in four U.S. cities (Portland, OR, Boston, San Diego and San Francisco) and two European ones (Madrid and Turin).

Google maps will feature both live departure times and service notices to Maps on the desktop, mobile browser and on Google Maps for mobile (Android 1.6+).

To give this a try on the desktop, just look for a transit icon on the map and click on it. If you’re in a supported city, you will see when the next train or bus will arrive and if there are any alerts that affect traffic to or from this station.

3:13 pm

Google Maps for Mobile Browsers: Now Better Than a Native App


Google Maps for mobile browsers on iOs and Android now features almost all the features of the desktop version.

When you compare the features of the Google Maps-based mapping app on the iPhone with the Google Maps desktop experience, it quickly becomes obvious how many feature are missing from the native app. There are no layers, no biking directions, no photos and no integration with Google Places, for example.  Google constantly adds new features to Maps, but the native app on the iPhone hasn’t seen any major update for ages. Indeed, there are some rumors that Apple is developing its own maps and mapping apps and could soon drop Google as its main mapping provider.

Now, however, the mobile version of Google Maps that runs in the browser is getting virtually all of the features the desktop version currently offers. There are clickable icons for businesses and transit stations, biking directions and layers, integration with places most of the other features you’ve gotten accustomed to on the desktop. Overall, the web-based version of Google Maps – especially on iOS – is now better than the native app. On the one hand, that showcases the power of web apps, but it also highlights how out of date the native Apple ‘Maps’ app has become.


Here is a list of all the new features:[list]

  • See your current location
  • Search for what’s nearby with suggest and auto complete
  • Have clickable icons of popular businesses and transit stations
  • Get driving, transit, biking, and walking directions
  • Turn on satellite, transit, traffic, biking, and other layers
  • View Place pages with photos, ratings, hours, and more
  • When signed into your Google account, access your starred locations and My Maps[/list]

Thanks to the wonder of modern web technologies like HTML5, using the web-based version of Google Maps doesn’t feel very different from using the native apps. The new features actually make it more useful than the native app. You can now, for example, tap on a business’ name on the map and immediately see reviews, call the business, get directions or see more details on the respective place page. The only feature I’ve always missed in the web-based version has been the ability to double-tap on a map to zoom in. That’s still not an option today.

9:55 am

Death by Zillow? Google Retires Google Maps Real Estate Listings


In 2009, Google launched real estate listings as one of the search options in Google Maps. Apparently, this was not a major hit, as the company today announced that it is retiring this feature because of “low usage” and “the proliferation of excellent property-search tools on real estate websites.”

Google also plans to shut down the Google Base API, which listing providers used to submit their listing to Google Maps. According to the company, this posed major “infrastructure challenges.” Given the low usage of the service, it probably didn’t make sense for Google to re-engineer this API just for real estate listings as the new API is focused on inventory data for stores.

Killed by Zillow?

It’s worth noting that Google never really gave its real estate listings first billing in Google Maps. Unless you knew that feature was there, you would have only really stumbled upon it by accident. Now that sites like Zillow, Estately and others have cornered the market for these listings already, it probably makes more business sense to focus on helping real estate agents market their businesses to potential customers than on spending its engineers’ time on building a better real estate search experience (though if there is one market I can think of that could use even more disruption from the Internet, it’s real estate).

real estate portland Google Maps.jpg

12:59 pm