Update: Please also read the further information about this post
Traditionally, map applications on Apple platforms have made use of Google Maps. But iPhoto for iOS, launched today, ditches the familiar Google Maps interface in favour of a new map style.
The new map style has no attribution and the tiles are served from Apple’s servers using a URL pattern such as http://gsp2.apple.com/tile?api=1&style=slideshow&layers=default&lang=en_GB&z=8&x=126&y=84&v=9 . Here’s the tile image you’ll get from that URL:
The image tiles themselves use quite an interesting, quasi-retro style. Nobody would be surprised if they were told that Apple had been acquiring their own sets of map data in order to launch their own map product, dispensing of their need to rely on Google Maps in their operating systems. But have they?
I took a closer look at an area I know well. Notice how “Apple Maps” on iPhoto shows the road pattern in the area of Norwich circled in red in the following extract:
Now I know that folk here in Norfolk are a little odd, but surely our town planners wouldn’t have come up with a road network that mad? And, of course, they haven’t. These “roads” are tracks through woodland in an area called Mousehold Heath, where I often walk my dog. So how did Apple’s map data providers mistakenly think these were roads?
Oh, of course – Apple haven’t been gathering their own map data at all – what they’ve done is render Open Street Map data with their own stylesheet, miscategorised the status of some ways, conveniently forgotten to include any copyright attribution, and passed it off as their own! (Or, so it appears…)
Here’s the OSM map of the same area:
And here’s the two maps overlaid on top of each other – don’t they line up well?
I’m sure the OSM community would be delighted to know that Apple have chosen to use their map over Google’s – it’s a great validation of the accuracy and completeness of the Open Street Map data. Heck – the OSM data is there to be used. But not giving any credit to the hundreds of thousands of people who voluntarily put in time and effort to create that map? That’s a big mistake for Apple.
Update: Having spent some more time reviewing the Apple tileset, I ought to just mention that the example above is far from a one-off isolated case. It seems that whoever rendered these tiles lacks any real understanding of how OSM data is structured. For example, the following image highlights three beautifully rendered, detailed areas of road network…
…which, unfortunately, are nothing more than the lanes in private car parks (belonging to Norwich Union and City College, respectively). Yes, OSM data is that detailed.
And those features that are rendered appropriately appear to be based on OSM data that’s two years out-of-date.
And, then of course, there’s the interesting choice of rendering style. I actually quite like it, but that’s because I’ve always quite liked pirate treasure maps, and the look and feel of the zoomed-out map image definitely makes think that there should be an “X marks the spot” there somewhere…
Update 2: As two of the sane-minded commentators have rightfully pointed out (thankyou Patrick Taylor and JP), Apple is a big company, and it’s perfectly possible that this situation has occurred through oversight or communication breakdown rather through deliberate malice. Either way, I look forward to Apple co-operating with the OSM foundation to address the problem and, when they do, I will retract my statement that they have stolen the data without due credit.
One thing I regret is that I have no way of gathering further information about my commenters. Particularly:-
- If they have ever personally contributed to OSM.
- How many Apple products they own.
I’d love to see if there’s any correlation between their point-of-view on the issue and either of those factors…