Apple-Maps

Just three years after a high profile roll-out, Apple Maps has taken a huge step forward in being the leading map service in the digital world. At this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple announced that it receives 5 billion requests per week for its mapping service, and that Apple Maps is used 3.5 times more than “the next leading maps app.”

One of the reasons for this success is obviously the fact that Apple Maps is the default map tool in Apple devices. This coming after Google Maps (the next leading maps app) was kicked off the iPhone after it broke a promise to give Apple access to its voice-driven turn-by-turn map navigation. This spurred Apple to acquire the technologies needed to support a robust mobile mapping service.

But that’s not the only reason Apple Maps has emerged as a leader. Quietly and steadily, Apple has continued to improve its mobile mapping service. Over the last few years the Cupertino based brand has revved up their product by discreetly launching new features for small businesses, accurate public transport directions, and even a new indoor mapping app.

Apple Maps Connect

Brought into action in late 2014, Apple Maps Connect was created for small business owners or their authorized representatives to be able to quickly and easily add content directly into Apple Maps. The DIY service is free and the listings appear on Apple Maps on the PC and in mobile. Apple allows business owners or authorized representatives to add a street address, phone number, business categories, hours of operation, social media links, and to verify store locations on Apple Maps. It essentially gives small businesses complete control of their content on the Apple Maps app.

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Apple’s DIY portal for Apple Maps Connect allows small businesses to control their own content on the app.

Also, if a business attracts at least 1 million visitors annually and offers WiFi service throughout the establishment, they can also use the Apple Maps Connect tool to sign up for iBeacon, Apple’s Bluetooth-powered location system that allows retailers to offer special discounts and incentives to in-store shoppers with iPhones and iOS devices. Given the ever-increasing rate at which consumers are using local mobile searches to find what they want, this seems like a no-brainer for larger businesses.

Apple Maps Connect for Small Business is the direct result of Apple’s purchase of Canadian startup Locationary in late 2013. Apple has made other geo-oriented acquisitions, including WiFiSlam, HopStop.com, Embark, and BroadMap to increase the strength of its mobile mapping service.

In September, Apple announced that a small business can add their Apple Pay info to their Apple Maps Connect profiles. This gives brands a call-to-action option directly accessible to consumers and located right next to other relevant information about the business. It also allows Apple Maps Connect to go head-to-head with Google+ Business Listings.

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Now Apple Maps Connect business listings allow small businesses to display an Apple Pay call-to-action button on their profile.

Public Transport Directions

In iOS 9, the biggest improvement to Apple Maps is the introduction of public transport directions. This means that in iOS 9, you’ll be able to get directions on using the tube in London, the Subway in New York City, or a cable car in San Francisco. It also displays vital information including upcoming bus and rail departure times directly in the app. More and more cities will be added, with larger metropolitan areas being at the top of the list.

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Side by side comparison of public transport directions from Google Maps and Apple Maps apps. The Apple Maps version on the right shows a more visually appealing layout with greater accuracy.

While most transit apps all deliver the same information, the transit directions in Apple Maps are extremely polished. The layout is intuitive, informative, helpful, and reflects an attention to detail that is nice to see. Not surprisingly, reviews and testimonials of the new public transport directions have been overwhelmingly positive, and many claim it’s easily better than Google Maps, or any third party app out there.

Gearing Up for the Future

Further evidence that Apple is continuously working on new mapping features is the launch of their new Indoor Survey App. Last year, Apple invited large businesses to submit indoor mapping information on their Apple Maps Connect profiles. Just like the requirements for the iBeacon, participating venues had to be accessible to the general public, offer WiFi connectivity throughout and attract more than one million visitors annually. Indoor positioning has already been added for locations including the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco and the Mineta San Jose International Airport.

Just this week Apple discreetly launched the Indoor Survey App on iOS, which will allow businesses to map out their venues via an iPhone. While this is a separate app in itself, it’s clear that this indoor mapping app will be used together with Apple Maps.

“Enable indoor positioning within a venue using the Indoor Survey App,” the app description states on iTunes. “By dropping ‘points’ on a map within the Survey App, you indicate your position within the venue as you walk through. As you do so, the Indoor Survey App measures the radio frequency (RF) signal data and combines it with an iPhone’s sensor data.”

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The new Apple Indoor Survey app will most likely be an enhancement to the existing Apple Maps app.

The app uses a combination of both radio signals and WiFi to track locations. The technology is similar to the type developed by the Palo Alto-based WiFiSlam, which Apple acquired in 2013 for $20 million. WiFiSlam used WiFi signals to identify user locations inside buildings where GPS doesn’t work. Can’t find your seat at the Staples Center? Lost inside the San Francisco International Airport? The new Indoor Survey App will allow you to access indoor maps at your location and get you to your seat by game time, or to your flight before liftoff.

And that’s not all. Apple has had a string of intriguing mapping-based acquisitions in recent months. In September it was reported that Apple acquired Mapsense, a mapping analytics and visualization startup. Even more alluring is that Apple acquired Coherent Navigation last May, a mapping company which developed specialized software capable of providing “location information accurate to within centimeters.”

Based on the number of industry rumors and the recent acquisitions mentioned above, it’s apparent that Apple is working hard behind the scenes to develop the best-in-class mapping application. We’re looking forward to seeing the new improvements and technologies Apple Maps will bring to the table!