Apple Is Rebuilding Maps from the Ground Up

Matthew Panzarino reporting for TechCrunch:

Apple has a team of cartographers on staff that work on more cultural, regional and artistic levels to ensure that its Maps are readable, recognizable and useful.

These teams have goals that are at once concrete and a bit out there — in the best traditions of Apple pursuits that intersect the technical with the artistic.

The maps need to be usable, but they also need to fulfill cognitive goals on cultural levels that go beyond what any given user might know they need. For instance, in the US, it is very common to have maps that have a relatively low level of detail even at a medium zoom. In Japan, however, the maps are absolutely packed with details at the same zoom, because that increased information density is what is expected by users.

This is the department of details. They’ve reconstructed replicas of hundreds of actual road signs to make sure that the shield on your navigation screen matches the one you’re seeing on the highway road sign. When it comes to public transport, Apple licensed all of the type faces that you see on your favorite subway systems, like Helvetica for NYC. And the line numbers are in the exact same order that you’re going to see them on the platform signs.

These are the kind of details that I expect Apple to care about. Don’t be fooled though, the new Apple Maps is more that just some visual design tweaks and eye candy, there’s some serious rebuilding going on under the hood. This whole piece is a fascinating look into the project that’s going to see Apple attempt to build a whole stack Mapping solution that’ll rival Google’s.