Apple Maps adds animated landmarks like rotating London Eye and time-telling Big Ben.

london-eye-apple-mapsApple has added new, 3D animated imagery to its Maps application starting with some of the most famous British landmarks. Apple Maps now features a rotating London Eye and Big Ben’s clock* now shows the correct time when using the app’s Flyover feature.

These are neat new touches in the Apple Maps app follow the company adding a number of new international Flyover destinations in the app including Ediburgh, Linz, Venice, Cáceres, Rennes, Guadalajara and Ponce, all available to view in three-dimensions plus several new US cities.

* Yes, I am fully aware that Big Ben is the name for the bell and the clock tower is called Elizabeth Tower.

Mysterious Apple minivans are mapping vehicles, experts say.

What are the LIDAR units doing on this Apple van? Photo: AppleInsider video

The mysterious Apple minivans roaming the roads in California, Florida and elsewhere are generally assumed to be self-driving cars, but they are not. They are almost undoubtedly collecting data for maps.

They are “almost certainly a mapping vehicle,” said Paul Godsmark, chief technology officer with the Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre of Excellence, who examined photos of the mystery vehicles at Cult of Mac’s request.

Spotted around the country in recent weeks, the mysterious minivans jump-started the rumor mill with regard to a possible Apple car rolling out in the future. Since then, a steady string of reports have lent credence to the possibility that Cupertino has its eye on transforming the automotive industry just as it did with computing and mobile devices.

Godsmark is an autonomous vehicle specialist who co-founded CAVCE, a nonprofit consultancy that promotes autonomous vehicles in Canada. A civil engineer by trade, he also designed roads.

“I know about how roads are designed, built, maintained and operated,” he told Cult of Mac, adding that LIDAR mapping is becoming increasingly popular for a range of activities, from road maintenance to asset management.

Godsmark said the giveaway on the mysterious Apple vans is the placement and angle of the LIDAR gear (which he thinks to be Velodyne HDL-32E units) on the roofs of the vehicles.

LIDAR is an extremely accurate range-finding technology that bounces laser light off objects and measures the light bouncing back, hence the name, “Laser Illuminated Detection and Ranging.”

On mapping vehicles, the LIDAR units are usually mounted high, to get the necessary height for modeling, and tilted down. As the vehicle drives along the road, the LIDAR units capture a 3-D model of the road and its surroundings. It is “effectively building the model by taking slices as the vehicles moves,” Godsmark said.

He pointed to other mapping vehicles, like this TomTom vehicle with LIDAR on the back, these Mandli mapping cars and this Verus Geomatics truck, which is typical of vehicles used for asset-management purposes.

LIDAR is also used in autonomous vehicles like Google’s prototype car, but for those purposes the units are usually mounted horizontally, as in Google’s first self-driving vehicleBosch’s autonomous vehicle, this self-driving Land Rover and Nissan’s self-driving cars.

The LIDAR units are mounted horizontally to maximize the sensor range, Godsmark said. “I am fairly certain that the vehicle in your photo is not an autonomous one, but that it is being used for mapping,” he concluded.

Professor Ümit Özgüner, an expert in intelligent transportation systems at Ohio State University, also said the vehicles are likely being used for mapping purposes.

“There is nothing to indicate autonomous driving. The only thing you see are the sensors — LIDAR, cameras — and the GPS antenna on the top.”

“There is nothing to indicate autonomous driving,” he said. “The only thing you see are the sensors — LIDAR, cameras — and the GPS antenna on the top. So I would first say 3-D modeling/mapping is going on.”

The notion that the mysterious minivans are autonomous came from the original CBS report. Analyst Rob Enderle floated the suggestion that they were self-driving cars — because they have too many cameras! — and the idea spread from there. Subsequent reports that Apple has thousands of engineers working on project Titan added fuel to the fire.

However, autonomous cars are licensed for testing in only four states and the District of Columbia. Apple hasn’t been issued a test permit in California, where a couple of the vehicles have been spotted, according to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

Why is Apple getting into detailed street-level mapping? Adding data to its Maps app is the likeliest reason. Google Maps’ Street View is a popular product, and Apple has been ramping up its mapping efforts to match those of its rival. Apple already offers photorealistic bird’s-eye views in its Map software, but nothing at street level. The mystery minivans also appear to have cameras at each corner, making this seem plausible.

However, a comprehensive mapping effort would require fleets of the vehicles, deployed all over the world. So far, the mystery vans have been spotted in a handful of states (including New York, where there’s no provision for self-driving cars), but they might be prototypes being tested before a bigger effort is launched.

There could also be other reasons for the mystery vans. Vehicles bristling with LIDAR sensors can also be used for:

  • Street view inventory: How many businesses are operating along a certain road? What kind of road signs are there? How many light poles are there? All this data — and even details like the number of cafes with outside tables and chairs — are easily extracted from LIDAR maps, Godsmark said. The data might even be used to supplement Siri’s knowledge of the world. “This could be Siri on steroids,” he said.
  • Real estate planning: Physical location, accesses, proximity of competing businesses. Maybe Apple is scouting locations for new stores (or Apple Watch stores). The company is known to plan its locations using a ton of data, including neighborhood median income and proximity to freeway exits.
  • Video games: Driving simulations could be set in photorealistic real-world locations.
  • Autonomous driving: In anticipation of self-driving cars, some companies and even the state of Utah are beginning to build base maps that would aid autonomous vehicles in the future. Godsmark said Apple has been employing people with autonomous driving and machine-vision backgrounds since at least 2009, but didn’t provide further details.

Brett Davis, vice president of communications and publications at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, declined to guess what the mysterious Apple vans are all about.

“Unfortunately we don’t have enough information on these to speculate, and we don’t want to steer you wrong,” he said. “Sorry for the pun.”

Skype makes group video calling free.


Good afternoon, everyone. This week we’ve got Skype going all “Google+” with the video chats and Apple Maps expands its flyover feature a bit.

Skype has made group video calling free for all users. This used to be a premium feature for users on Windows, OS X and XBox One. The service is now free on those devices, and the company says it will add additional platforms soon.

Stonehenge has been added to Apple Maps flyover feature. Now you can explore the mysterious structure from home. Just don’t crush it.

iOS 8: Apple polishes Maps data, adds public transit directions service.


Apple is readying an upgraded version of its iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch Maps application for the next major release of iOS in an effort to battle Google for mobile maps supremacy, according to sources briefed on the plans. Apple CEO Tim Cook, Senior Vice Presidents Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi, and Maps head Patrice Gautier are using the new app to move toward fulfilling a promise to users that the iOS Maps application will eventually live up to the “incredibly high standard” of Apple’s customers…

Failure to launch:

Apple dropped support for Google’s mapping database in late 2012 and released its in-house Maps app with iOS 6. While the new application added extravagant three-dimensional imagery and a smoother interface, the software was riddled with bugs, unreliable data, and lacked many of the critical mobile mapping features found in the Google Maps app. Scott Forstall, the long time prodigy of the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, was in charge of the Apple mapping effort and was ousted for declining to apologize for the product’s shortcomings. Soon after Forstall, iOS engineering executive Richard Williamson was pushed out of Apple for his involvement in the app’s development.

Improving data: 

Looking forward, Cue, Federighi, and Gautier have been leading teams of Apple engineers since Forstall’s departure in order to make amends to the Maps app’s data and interface so it is more reliable. Last year with iOS 7, Apple re-architected the app’s interface to fit the bright, translucent style of Jony Ive’s take on mobile operating system design.

But while the interface for Maps was redesigned last year, Apple’s focus for 2014 is under-the-hood changes.

Thanks to extensive engineering work and acquisitions of several companies such BroadMap,Embark, and HopStop, Apple’s database for iOS Maps will be upgraded with enhanced data so it is more reliable, according to sources. The new application will also be injected with new points of interests and new labels to make places such as airports, parks, train stations, bus stops, highways, and freeways easier to find, the sources added. Sources also say that the mapping application’s cartography design has been tweaked to be slightly cleaner and to make streets more visible.


In addition to the mapping data changes, Apple will add one of the most important mobile features to Maps this year: public transit directions. Late last year, sources said that Apple had been planning to release transit support in iOS 8, and now the same sources are indicating that the plan is on track to be executed. Using data acquired via acquisitions and various partnerships, transit will be deeply integrated into the new maps application.

Transit directions allow a person to use an iPhone to travel from one destination to another via public transportation. iOS 8 Maps will be able to tap into train, subway, and bus data and provide enhanced directions to major airports. The functionality will exist in major cities, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York, and will expand to other locations across the United States and potentially other countries across the world around the public launch of iOS 8.

Maps TransitImages of iOS 8’s transit mapping feature based on descriptions (created by Michael Steeber)

Transit directions will be embedded into Maps as both an option in the classic Directions panel and as a new mapping view. In the Directions view, transit will be an option alongside Driving and Walking. In the viewing options menu, a way to clearly view train stations, airports, and bus stops will be an option alongside the Standard, Hybrid, and Satellite views. While Apple will now have its own transit functionality, the Maps application will still be able to point users to App Store apps for additional transit-infused software.

When a user chooses to receive transit directions in the iOS 8 Maps app, a translucent panel slides up from the bottom of the Maps app with a list of different routes, according to the sources briefed on the application. Each route uses icons to notate the method of transportation (for example, a bus or train). The left side of the route choice panels share the departure and arrival times, and the right side notes the travel time. The transit view is said to split the screen between the routes list and the map so that users can also visually see the provided routes.

Users will be able to choose to receive transit directions to depart immediately or input a date and time for their travel and receive directions for use at that later time, according to the sources. Apple will also allow users to set transit directions as the default method of transportation (as opposed to walking or driving) so that frequent users of public transit can more quickly find directions to their destinations. That option is said to be in the iOS Settings menu. Users will also be able to use the standard iOS sharing functionality to email their route or share it via social networks.

Augmented reality:


Apple’s plans to improve mapping data and add transit functionality are just the pipeline for 2014. Apple is also working on unique ways for integrating indoor mapping views and enhanced car integration for future versions of iOS. Sources say that Apple has also begun work on augmented reality functionality that leverages the iPhone’s compass hardware to visually see nearby points of interest. This feature is likely to surface in the coming years. Apple received a patent for such functionality in 2011. Apple is likely also working on an updated version of its Maps app for OS X that adds the improved data. In addition to the new mapping software, iOS 8 is planned to include an application called Healthbook to manage user fitness activity and health information.

Source: 9to5Mac.

How to use the Flyover feature in Apple Maps for Mac.

How to use the Flyover feature in Apple Maps for Mac

Apple Maps has a cool feature called Flyover that lets you get 3D views of a selected area. While it doesn’t serve much purpose in a navigational sense, it’s still a cool feature to play around with and has some practical use if you’re trying to scope out certain areas before visiting them. Here’s how to use it on your Mac:

  1. Launch the Maps app on your Mac running OS X Mavericks or higher.
  2. Type in the search bar either a general area or an exact address.
  3. Once Maps finds it, zoom in a reasonable amount.
  4. Now click on Satellite and Flyover.
  5. You are now free to pan around and zoom in and out.

It’s worth noting that Flyover isn’t available everywhere and mainly sticks to urban areas. So if the icon is greyed out, you aren’t doing anything wrong. Flyover may just not be available in that specific area

Source: iMore.

Tim Cook Apologizes For Apple Maps Failures, Recommends Bing And Other Alternatives.

After a lot of criticism since its recent release, Apple’s CEO has finally issued a statement addressing the controversy of Apple Maps. Tim Cook himself addressed the issue in a letter and apologized for the poor quality of the Maps app in iOS 6.

In the letter, Cook admits that Apple “fell short” on their commitment to “make world-class products” for their customers. He explains that Google Maps was the first version of Maps on iOS but that Apple wanted to provide an even better Maps that included features like turn-by-turn navigation and voice integration, which some have speculated Google was unwilling to add these features to its app causing Apple and Google to part ways.

Cook also offers alternative mapping services while Apple works at improving its Maps. He suggests downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze or by using Google or Nokia through their web apps.

Here’s Tim Cook’s letter in full:

To our customers,

At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers. With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.

We launched Maps initially with the first version of iOS. As time progressed, we wanted to provide our customers with even better Maps including features such as turn-by-turn directions, voice integration, Flyover and vector-based maps. In order to do this, we had to create a new version of Maps from the ground up.

There are already more than 100 million iOS devices using the new Apple Maps, with more and more joining us every day. In just over a week, iOS users with the new Maps have already searched for nearly half a billion locations. The more our customers use our Maps the better it will get and we greatly appreciate all of the feedback we have received from you.

While we’re improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their web app.

Everything we do at Apple is aimed at making our products the best in the world. We know that you expect that from us, and we will keep working non-stop until Maps lives up to the same incredibly high standard.

Tim Cook
Apple’s CEO

Source: Macgasm.