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Near the beginning of the pandemic last year, Apple Maps began offering directions to COVID-19 testing locations, and now as the vaccine rolls out across the U.S., Apple has taken that to the next level with a new feature that will provide users with information on COVID-19 vacation locations.
Apple announced the new feature this week, which is being done in partnership with VaccineFinder, an online database developed by Boston Children’s Hospital that shows the latest vaccine availability at providers and pharmacies throughout the U.S.
- For Apple Maps users in the U.S., a new “COVID-19 Vaccines” entry should begin appearing on the “Find Nearby” menu when searching in Apple Maps.
- Tapping on this will show users all the COVID-19 vaccine sites within their local area, in much the same way that Apple Maps already displays information for things like gas stations, grocery stores, and coffee shops.
Much like other businesses and points of interest, the detailed info card in Apple Maps will show the operating hours, address, and phone number of each location, along with a link to the provider’s website to allow users to learn more about which vaccines are available and book an appointment.
According to Apple’s press release, there are already 20,000 locations available in the initial rollout, and Apple plans to continue adding more sites in the weeks to come.
Apple is also allowing healthcare providers, labs, and other related businesses to submit information on COVID-19 testing or vaccination locations at their facilities via a special Apple Business Register page. Apple will naturally verify this information before publishing it, but once it’s been validated and gone live, those locations will also be shown alongside the ones from the VaccineFinder database.
The new features also take advantage of Apple Maps’ integration with Siri, which will now respond to questions such as ”Where can I get a COVID vaccination?” with the list of nearby vaccination sites.
In addition to finding vaccines, Apple outlines other ways in which Siri can be useful in its knowledge regarding COVID-19, including identifying outdoor dining options, finding nearby restaurants offering takeout, and offering “Siri Audio Briefs” with the latest news and information from trusted news providers.
Apple began updating Siri to provide COVID-related information last year at the onset of the pandemic in North America, training it to answer common questions about the coronavirus, with guidance and health information from the U.S. Public Health Service and the CDC. For example, users can ask questions like “How do I know if I have coronavirus?” to be taken to trusted health resources that will provide accurate and reliable information.
Other Apple Maps COVID Updates
At this point, the vaccination location information in Apple Maps is only available in the U.S., and Apple hasn’t commented on any plans to expand it to other countries.
However, Apple Maps does offer information on COVID-19 testing sites in eleven other countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand.
Apple also notes that over 4,400 locations now have verified “COVID-19 modules” on their business placards, allowing retailers to show COVID-19 related information like special shopping hours or other restrictions.
Further, Apple also provides a mobility data trends tool that published daily reports of how many iPhone users are moving around in their communities, as opposed to staying home. As is always the case with Apple and its commitment to privacy, this data is collected with complete anonymity, with randomized identifiers that change regularly, so Apple has no way of tying this location data to any specific individuals, or even tracking the movements of a single anonymous profile.
In this case, Apple is simply interested in providing raw numbers of how many people are moving around to help governments and health authorities analyze local behaviours. It doesn’t care to know who those people or, or even look at the habits of random individuals.