Apple hopes to enhance maps with indoor location and drone data collection


Can drones and indoor navigation technology help Apple Maps catch or beat Google Maps? According to a report today from Bloomberg, quoting anonymous sources, the iPhone maker will use drones to accelerate data collection and improve accuracy.

Apple reportedly received FAA permission earlier this year to fly drones to “conduct data collection, photography and videography.” Most recently, the company has introduced minivans mounted with rooftop cameras and sensors to collect data a la Google Street View. And roughly a year ago, job postings related to “Apple Maps Vehicles” were discovered, and these vans were sighted in the wild.

Bloomberg asserts that Apple has hired employees from Amazon’s Prime Air unit for the new drone operation, which will be based in Seattle. According to the report, drones will capture construction, street signs and road changes to help speed updates to Apple Maps users. These are among a number of planned improvements to Apple Maps.

Apple has also been working on indoor location and mapping since roughly 2013. However, these features have not yet been introduced publicly. The Bloomberg report cites acquisitions of WiFiSlam and as indications of active development of indoor mapping and location.

Earlier this year, Apple opened up Maps (and Siri) to third-party developers. In 2015, Apple’s Craig Federighi offered the following usage stats:

  • Five billion map user requests per week
  • Apple Maps used 3.5x more than the “next most-used mapping app”

A mid-2016 third party survey found that Google Maps is favored by 70 percent of iPhone users (though preference and usage may be different). Since the 2015 data above, there haven’t been any publicly updated usage stats.

Apple Maps has come a long way since its inauspicious introduction several years ago. The perception remains that Google Maps is better and more accurate. By adding third-party services and content, improving data accuracy and making UI changes, the company may be able to help close the gap.

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