Early this year, Bay Area residents began reporting sightings of minivans sporting a large, x-shaped device mounted on the roof. San Francisco’s CBS affiliate reached out to the California DMV, and found that the vans were leased by Apple. While this led to wild speculation of Apple producing self-driving minivans, further research showed that the vans, which were equipped with LiDAR sensors, were being used to create mapping imagery. iDropNews speculated that the vans were being used to create a “street view” feature for Apple’s Maps app. A page that recently sprouted up on Apple’s site confirmed our suspicions.
Just days after it was announced that Apple would be adding transit directions to their Apple Maps App, Apple confirmed on their site that they were “driving vehicles around the world to collect data which will be used to improve Apple Maps.” While the page doesn’t specifically mention a street-view style function, their note on privacy protection indicates that such a function is in the works – “We are committed to protecting your privacy while collecting this data. For example, we will blur faces and license plates on collected images prior to publication.”
The page then goes on to list which cities can expect to see Apple’s horde of fifth-generation, LiDAR-equipped, Dodge Caravans roaming the streets. Cities in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Texas, Utah, and Washington are on the list, as well as a number of areas in England and Ireland.
The addition of a street view function, as well as the introduction of transit directions will certainly make Apple Maps a viable competitor to Google Maps, the current mapping and navigation king. Although Apple Maps service is already used 3.5 more times than Google Maps on iOS devices, the addition of these features may cause the remaining Google Maps-holdouts to finally jump ship.