Google's digital mapping
service will get several new features in hopes of becoming more
convenient, comprehensive and compelling as it braces for a potential
loss in traffic from Apple's hot-selling mobile devices.
preview of the mapping service's coming attractions seemed timed to
blunt the blow from the loss of a prized perch as the built-in
navigation service on Apple's iPhone and iPad. Apple Inc. intends to end
its five-year partnership with Google's mobile maps next week when it
will unveil its own service, according to recent reports in The Wall
Street Journal and the technology blog 9to5.
Brian McClendon, a
Google Inc. vice president who oversees the mapping service, wouldn't
directly address reporters' questions about the possible Apple setback.
"We will continue to make Google Maps available as widely as possible,"
Apple Inc. spokeswoman Trudy Muller declined comment Wednesday.
Apple ousts Google Maps from the prominent spot on the iPhone and iPad,
it would be the latest fissure between two former allies. Their
relationship has been degenerating into a bitter rivalry since Google's
2008 release of Android to compete the iPhone. Since then, both
companies have increasingly been encroaching on each other's turf.
the mobile mapping requests from users of Apple's devices has provided
Google with valuable insights into people's whereabouts and preferences.
That, in turn, has helped Google sell more ads to local businesses.
of the new features touted Wednesday by Google will be available for at
least several more weeks. The upcoming options include maps that can be
downloaded on mobile devices for offline access and more
three-dimensional imagery -- the latter coming from its own fleet of
Google devoted much of Wednesday's presentation to a
dissertation on all the technological wizardry that it has poured into
its maps during the past seven years. The service now attracts more than
1 billion users around the world.
Without directly saying so,
Google seemed to be trying to convey how difficult it will be for Apple
or any other newcomer to build maps that include as many useful tools.
providing 26 million miles of driving directions, Google's maps now
include imagery of most of the world's neighborhoods. McClendon bragged
that 75 percent of the global population can now call up a
high-resolution image of their home on Google's maps, up from 37 percent
six years ago.
Google also has traversed 5 million miles to take
ground-level photos of communities for a feature called Street View. The
company has raised privacy concerns by posting photographs that include
people in unflattering situations and, at one point, including
equipment that vacuumed up personal emails sent over wireless networks
that weren't protected with a password.
Google plans to embellish
its maps with even more photos from remote areas, such as hiking trails
in the Grand Canyon, with new equipment showcased Wednesday. The photos
will be taken from specially designed equipment attached to a hiker's
backpack. This gear will supplement photo-snapping bicycles that Google
already has been dispatching to areas that can't be easily accessed by
The company also disclosed that its planes will photograph
swaths of major cities to conjure more realistic three-dimensional views
of metropolitan landscapes in the Google Earth version of its maps. The
photos taken by the planes are automatically converted into 3-D
replicas using technology that Google developed for the project.
Francisco will be one of the first cities to feature the more vivid 3-D
imagery. Google didn't identify other cities on its 3-D list, but said
the improvements will span communities with a combined population of
about 300 million.
"We are trying to create magic here," said
Peter Birch, a Google Earth product manager. "We are trying to create
the illusion that you are flying over the city, almost as if you are in
your own personal helicopter."
The option to download mobile maps
for specific cities so they can be reviewed offline later initially will
only be available on smartphones and tablet computers running on
Google's Android software.
Google's maps have typically offered
more tools on Android devices, including turn-by-turn directions spoken
aloud. According to published reports, the bias contributed to Apple's
decision to try to come up with a better alternative for its mobile