Examining iOS 6 Maps

I had a quick look at the way Apple’s new Maps app works in iOS 6 with my friend and colleague Malcolm Hall.  We’ve learned a few things by doing some simple tests.

We know Apple has use Yelp’s data to populate its maps with businesses.  Malc noticed that a restaurant near him in San Diego was mislabelled, the ‘Pacific Beach Fish Shop’ was labelled as an actual shop when it is, in fact, a restaurant.  He logged into Yelp and updated it with the correct label, marking it as a seafood restaurant rather than a shop.  Checking back a while later, we can see that on Yelp the business category is updated…

 

However, in Apple’s maps the business is still listed as a shop, with a yellow shop marker showing a basket, rather than the brown dining marker with the fork and knife (you can see an example of that marker at the top-right of the map)…

The fact that Apple’s map didn’t update whilst Yelp’s did tells us that Apple is using a static version of Yelp’s data.  That is, at some point Yelp essentially provided Apple with a dump of a snapshot of their database, and now unless Apple do something to update it themselves then the data will be getting outdated.

Next I checked the accuracy of Apple’s data positioning.  I noticed that nearly all items near me are mispositioned in Apple’s maps.  For example, in the image below you can quite clearly see that ‘Hardie for Peugeot’ should be quite a bit nearer the top of the map at the building surrounded by all the parked (Peugeot) cars.  Additionally, the brown dining marker is for Enrico’s chip shop, which is actually right on the corner of Main Street and Foundry Loan.  It should be exactly where I dropped the purple pin.  The yellow arrows show where the markers should be moved to.

Remember, Apple have got this data from Yelp, so we can easily to see if the mispositioned items are caused by Apple or Yelp by simply checking the data on Yelp.  Checking Enrico’s in Yelp gives this:

Yelp clearly have the location of Enrico’s spot on, positioning it right on the corner of Foundry Loan and Main Street where it should be. Thus, the problem is not with the data that Yelp hold and have supplied to Apple, the problem is with Apple’s copy of the data.  Most likely, Apple have either made an error when copying the data into their own system, or the database they are using has the wrong field type set.

So, this quick examination has shown two things.  Firstly, that Apple has a static copy of Yelp’s data; that is the Yelp data inside Maps app is not being updated live.  Secondly, that Apple have messed up some of the data they received from Yelp either during transmission/conversion, or through a mistake in storage.

Perhaps Apple will get periodic updates of data from Yelp.  For example, maybe they have a contract with Yelp that gives them updates every three months, and so at some point the Pacific Beach Fish Shop in Apple’s data will be updated with fresh information from Yelp and suddenly change to the brown dining marker in Maps.app.  Another possibility is that Apple now think they can do this work themselves, or at least get iPhone users to do it on their behalf.  However, given the strong Yelp branding in the Maps app I doubt this is the case, at least not in the short term, and they are more likely to be hoping they can rely on periodic updates from Yelp.

 

 

 

  • Palo

    Hi, great job! Can you maybe determine roghly how old the “apple copy” of the database is?

  • marek

    We’ll need to track a few Yelp markers that we know have changed recently so that we can build up a picture of how often the database is updated and therefore how old it is.