I attended Googleâ€˜s mapping press conference last week and, today, attendedÂ Appleâ€˜s World Wide Developerâ€™s Conference, where I witnessed a demo of Appleâ€™s new map app for the iPhone and iPad.
Although I havenâ€™t looked at them side-by-side, the demos were pretty similar. Both companies are using fleets of airplanes to fly around major cities to capture images of every building in their path. Apple didnâ€™t get into details but, in anÂ interviewÂ at the Google announcement last week,Â Google Vice President of Engineering Brian McClendon told me that Google captures images from all four points of the compass plus straight down.
In both cases the apps are able to render this imagery in real-time as you use the product, enabling you to view the buildings and streets from various angles and altitudes.
What you see looks very cool, but I can only think of a few practicalÂ applications. For the most part, what you want when using a mapping program is accurate turn-by-turn directions, traffic data and real-time updates on how many more miles you have to drive and when youâ€™re likely to arrive. Â You also want it to be easy to use (both Google and Apple integrate their maps with voice commands â€” in Appleâ€™s case itâ€™s using Siri) and you want the software to know about lots of points of interest. Â Even with the current version of iOS, you can ask Siri to find you the nearest sushi bar and get driving directions. With the new iOS 6 map app, youâ€™ll get muchÂ betterÂ turn-by-turm directions.
LoveÂ aerialÂ views
Donâ€™t get me wrong, Iâ€™m a former private pilot and stillÂ occasionallyÂ go up in friendsâ€™ airplane to enjoy aerial views of the world. But as fun as that is, itâ€™s not all that practical as a navigational tool.
I can think of a viewÂ applications. For example, a number of years ago when my daughter wasÂ thinkingÂ of moving into a rental house in college, I used Google Earth to scope out the neighborhood. Â Even with the technology of the time, I was able to tell that she was moving into a pleasant looking residential neighborhood, not far from a grocery store. Â I suppose the ability to fly over that areaÂ would have been an even more useful way to check it out, but itâ€™s not all that compelling to be able to do that from a mobile phone.
Distracted driving spying
The other thing to consider is that people are using mobile mapping apps while theyâ€™re driving. Itâ€™s hard enough to pay attention to your driving while looking at a map. People certainly shouldnâ€™t be looking too closely at 3D animations.
The UKâ€™sÂ Daily Mail is panickingÂ about â€œspy planesâ€ that â€œhave your sun lounger in their sightsâ€ and while Iâ€™m sure there will be some reported cases ofÂ inappropriateÂ aerialÂ photographsÂ that invade peopleâ€™s privacy, Â I suspect the actual number of cases will beÂ relativelyÂ small considering that the planes arenâ€™t flying around constantly.