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Image courtesy of 9to5Mac
Before iOS 5 was released, word on street was that Apple has been preparing to boot Google out of Maps. A flurry of cartography-related purchases, along with the decision to snub the search giant in iPhoto for iOS--not to mention a very public feud over Android--have all pointed to an inevitable in-house overhaul of the aging locator app.
Now, thanks to the the ever-reliable sources at 9to5Mac, we're told it's set to be unveiled as part of iOS 6 at the upcoming WWDC. And if All Things D's John Paczkowski is truly in the know, it'll be "blow-your-head-off" big.
We looked at everything we know about the next Maps and decided they're both right. Here's what we found:
For the Places geotagging feature in its iOS version of iPhoto, Apple tapped the OpenStreetMap Foundation, a collaborative, worldwide wiki community that "creates and provides free geographic data and mapping to anyone who wants it." Apple likes uniformity in its apps, so a quick move to OSM in Maps makes a lot of sense--plus Think of all the open-source street cred--but it wouldn't be worth the time spent swapping out all those map tiles without a major facelift.
Back in July 2009, Apple quietly purchased PlaceBase, a Google Maps competitor that was experimenting with customizable maps to increase rendering speeds and map quality; by putting elements on a separate layers, PlaceBase let users choose display data based on their needs (kind of like Maps' traffic lines, but for streets, parks, rivers, etc.).
A recent Apple patent filing by PlaceBase co-founders Jaron Waldman and Moran Ben-David introduces "schematic maps," which builds upon the startup's original idea. According to the documentation, "schematic maps can be 'distorted' to better illustrate important maps areas in greater detail ... while deemphasizing less important map areas by illustrating them in less detail ... to provide a simple and clear representation sufficient to aid a user in guidance or orientation." This is basically the same concept they introduced at PlaceBase, but with fancy animation (presumably blurring or shadowing) in place of the missing data.
In mid-2010, Apple purchased the second piece of its mapping puzzle, Canadian-based Poly9, the brains behind the powerful (though Flash-powered) interactive 3D Poly9 Globe project.
Poly9 actually had its own database (according to its LinkedIn profile, its primary focus was on "extending the capabilities of web-mapping platforms to help you solve problems where location is critical") and its powerful APIs are the treasure here (you've seen them in action if you ever followed St. Nick using NORAD's Santa tracker). Apple will likely use Poly9's location expertise in tandem with PlaceBase's renderings to create beautiful landscapes that (literally) leave no stone unturned.
Poly9's specialty was 3D, but Apple's got yet another trick up its sleeve: C3 Technologies. The Swedish Saab spinoff is where the real "blow your head off" stuff comes into view: We're talking about Google Earth-style, 360-degree imaging with pinpoint accuracy, right down to the missing shingles on your neighbor's house.
According to a 2011 report by Fast Company, C3 "renders 3-D color models of entire cities--its buildings, statues, even it's trees--to a resolution of 15 centimeters. With a background in aero-engineering (Saab doesn't just make cars no one wants), C3 one-ups Google Earth by taking to the skies to create maps with stunning depth and detail--and that was before the company was bought by Apple last year. We can only imagine what they've cooked up in Cupertino.