Fri, Jun 08, 2012 - Page 10 News List

Google touts maps as Apple rivalry heats up

ADVANCED FEATURES:New options include maps that can be downloaded for offline access and more 3D imagery provided by its own fleet of planes


Google engineering director Luc Vincent demonstrates how Google captures images in hard-to-reach places with Street View Trekker at the tech company’s offices in San Francisco, California, yesterday.

Photo: Reuters

Google Inc’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 Inc’s hot-selling mobile devices.

Wednesday’s 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 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 vice president who oversees the mapping service, did not directly address reporters’ questions about the possible Apple setback.

“We will continue to make Google Maps available as widely as possible,” he said.

Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller declined to comment.

If 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 with the iPhone. Since then, both companies have increasingly been encroaching on each other’s turf.

Processing 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.

None of the new features touted on 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 3D imagery — the latter coming from its own fleet of planes.

Google devoted much of the 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 would be for Apple or any other newcomer to build maps that include as many useful tools.

Besides providing 42 million kilometers 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 has also traversed 8 million kilometers 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 e-mails sent over wireless networks that were not 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 on 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 has been dispatching to areas that cannot be easily accessed by cars.

The company also disclosed that its planes will photograph swaths of major cities to conjure more realistic 3D views of metropolitan landscapes in the Google Earth version of its maps. The photos taken by the planes are automatically converted into 3D replicas using technology that Google developed for the project.

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