Apple launches new mobility data trends tool

15 Apr 2020367 Views

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Apple is aggregating data from the Apple Maps app, with the goal of helping governments and health authorities as they attempt to limit the spread of Covid-19.

On Tuesday (14 April), Apple released a new mobility data trends tool that aims to provide insights to governments and health authorities as they attempt to limit the spread of Covid-19.

The tech company said that the data and insights may be useful as a foundation for public policies, by suggesting the change in the number of people driving, walking or taking public transit in their communities.

Like Google’s data released earlier this month, the Apple data is searchable by country, region and city. Apple’s mobility reports are published daily and reflect requests for directions in Apple Maps.

Changing mobility trends

The company said that the data aggregated in these reports is not associated with any user’s Apple ID and does not keep a history of where users have been. It added that data is sent from users’ devices to the Maps service with random, rotating identifiers so that Apple doesn’t have a profile of any user’s movements or searches.

From 13 January to 13 April, the mobility data suggests an 80pc drop in the number of people driving and walking in Dublin and a 92pc drop in the use of public transit.

Across Ireland, during the same period, it suggests that there was a 74pc drop in people walking, 75pc drop in people driving and an 89pc reduction in the number of people using public transit, with sharp declines occurring in mid-March.

A graph showing a sharp drop in travel in Dublin beginning in March.

Apple’s mobility trends for Dublin. Image: Apple

“The information is generated by counting the number of requests made to Apple Maps for directions,” the company said. “The data sets are then compared to reflect a change in volume of people driving, walking or taking public transit around the world.”

However, it’s worth noting that not every user who inputs an address into Apple Maps is going to visit the final destination.

Other Apple efforts

Apple also said that it has donated more than 20m face masks for medical professionals around the world. The company said that it has brought together teams across the company and its suppliers to design and produce face shields, with plans to ship 1m shields per week to areas in need of personal protective equipment (PPE).

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On 5 April, Apple boss Tim Cook showcased some of the face shields that the company’s engineers and designers have developed for healthcare workers.

The company has also updated Apple apps and services with information about Covid-19, and is prioritising grocery, food delivery and medical services on Apple Maps searches.

Partnering with Google

Apple has also joined forces with Google to enable the use of Bluetooth technology for a contact-tracing system to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the virus. In May, the two companies plan to release APIs that enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices for an opt-in tracing tool.

The two firms said they will work to enable a broader Bluetooth-based contact-tracing platform, while ensuring that user privacy and security is central to the design of this new project.

“This is a more robust solution than an API and would allow more individuals to participate, if they choose to opt in, as well as enable interaction with a broader ecosystem of apps and government health authorities,” Apple said.

“All of us at Apple and Google believe there has never been a more important moment to work together to solve one of the world’s most pressing problems.

“Through close cooperation and collaboration with developers, governments and public health providers, we hope to harness the power of technology to help countries around the world slow the spread of Covid-19 and accelerate the return of everyday life.”

Kelly Earley is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com