The map wars have begun – Google reveals 3D mobile rival to Apple

7 Jun 2012

In what can be seen as a fightback against the impending launch by Apple of 3D mapping and the parting of ways between Apple and Google, the search giant has revealed it will begin adding 3D models to entire metropolitan areas to Google Earth on smartphones.

This is possible thanks to a combination of our new imagery rendering techniques and computer vision that let us automatically create 3D cityscapes, complete with buildings, terrain and even landscaping, from 45-degree aerial imagery,” Brian McClendon, VP of engineering, Google Maps, wrote in the company blog.

“By the end of the year we aim to have 3D coverage for metropolitan areas with a combined population of 300m people,” McClendon said.

Google’s response comes ahead of an anticipated launch of a native mapping application by Apple in its forthcoming fifth-generation iPhone.

Apple and Google go separate directions

Ever since Google moved into the smartphone space, the once-close (Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt even sat on the board of Apple) companies have drifted.

The consensus is Google Maps won’t be included on the next-gen iPhone.


Instead Apple plans to replace this with its own mapping service that will include 3D capabilities.

Since 2009, Apple has been developing its mapping infrastructure. In the same year, it bought a company called Placebase. In 2010, it bought Poly9 and in October it acquired Swedish mapping firm C3, whose software and camera technology renders 2D photos into high quality and detailed 3D images.

iOS 6 will see Apple drop Google Maps and replace it with an in-house map app that is apparently cleaner, faster and more reliable. iOS 6 will also see Apple bring Siri voice functionality to the iPad.

Instead of Google Street View, Apple will provide 3D visuals of a given area by clicking on ‘3D mode’.

iOS 6 is expected to be launched at Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference next week.

Google’s other plans for Maps

McClendon revealed that Google has been building a comprehensive base map of the entire globe based on public and commercial data imagery (satellite, aerial, street level) and the collective knowledge and input of millions of users.

It’s latest move is an initiative called Street View Trekker to gather information that can typically be gathered on foot.

This consists of a Street View camera that sits snugly upon a backpack and allows Google to gather imagery where no vehicles can go, such as the Grand Canyon, various ski runs, etc.

McLendon also revealed that in response to user requests for maps offline for their mobile phones that offline maps for Android are coming in the next few weeks.

The offline maps will cover 100 countries worldwide and allow users to access map data even if they cannot access a data signal.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years