Maps programs have become so ubiquitous in recent years that people don’t always realize they’re using them. Maps programs run silently in the background, and are used for everything from booking a cab, to ordering food, to even meeting friends. But while lots of companies have their maps solutions, not all maps products are created equal.
In a remarkably detailed essay, an eagle-eyed user has pointed out a crucial difference between Google Maps and Apple Maps. Google Maps has, over the years, begun adding buildings within its maps. These are visible as outlines between streets.
It’s not just buildings — Google Maps even seems to show temporary structures, such as trailers.
The feature is even more detailed for large structures — notice how Google Maps even figures out tiny details on the roof of this house.
Google has apparently now managed to map out buildings in most of the US. And unlike Street View, where it sent out a car to travel through every street in order to photograph it, Google’s buildings addition to Maps seems to be a lot more scaleable. The feature has been developed by combining two different Google products — Google Satellite images and Google Maps. “These building footprints, complete with height detail, are algorithmically created by taking aerial imagery and using computer vision techniques to render the building shapes,” the company had said in a blogpost.
It’s taken several years for Google to perfect its feature, but it’s now having a distinct impact on how Google Maps compares with Apple Maps. Apple Maps look empty and bare compared to Google Maps.
And true to its fashion, Google isn’t simply content with adding a new feature — it’s already determined how to use it to help its users. Google now overlays the buildings with the maps information it already had about restaurants, shops and bars, and shows certain parts of a city in orange. These regions are areas where commercial activity is highly concentrated, letting users know where to go in order to shop or just hang out.
It might not seem like a lot, but little changes like these can over time build value for a product. Google doesn’t even make any money from Google Maps from ordinary users, but it’s still spending years of effort and tremendous amounts of computing power to help make the product better. But its efforts could well pay off — given how maps products are used in a multitude of apps, having the best maps products out there could give Google a significant competitive advantage over its competitors.