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Apple Developing ‘Street View Alternative’

Navigation, GPS, maps © Lightspring Shutterstock 2012
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A patent hints at a street-level navigation interface controlled by movement of the device

A filing with the US Patent and Trademark Office suggests that Apple is working on a technology for mobile devices that could challenge Google Maps and its Street View feature.

The “3D Position Tracking for Panoramic Imagery Navigation” patent proposes adding layers of digital information on top of images of the real world, navigated with the motions of the device by using on-board sensors and giving users the ability to simply “look around” with their phone.

However, Apple still lacks street-level mapping data similar to that collected by Google over six years of its Street View development using specially designed cars.

The navigation wars

The document, discovered by Apple Insider and submitted in 2011, describes a Graphical User Interface (GUI) that would use onboard sensors and cameras to establish the position and track motion of the smartphone or tablet in order to move around the “panoramic imagery”.

Apple patent 3 (Small)To look to the right while exploring a virtual, previously-mapped location, users simply have to move their phone to the right, exactly the same way they would move their head in the real world. In contrast, Google Maps only allows remote browsing of Street View locations using a mouse, keyboard or virtual buttons.

In addition, information bubbles can be displayed directly inside Apple’s navigation system, pointing out locations of interest. In the future, this technology could be used to allow people to “walk into” virtual buildings and even do their shopping in virtual shops.

“In some implementations, forward and backward translation enables the user to enter a structure (e.g., a commercial venue) or enter an intersection and navigate a turn onto another street at the intersection,” read the filing.

Street View was launched in the US in 2007 and has since been implemented worldwide, covering almost all roads in the UK by 2010. In 2011, the company expanded the project to include indoor locations, and last year it even added panoramic underwater views. It’s believed Apple currently has no mapping data to support a similar project.

However, Google has been accused of collecting additional network data during first three years of Street View. US authorities have already fined the company $7 million, and several investigations in Europe are still ongoing, including the one in the UK.

Apple Maps was released in September 2012, but the widely advertised application introduced with iOS 6 turned into an expensive disaster, prompting a public apology from CEO Tim Cook.

“We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better,” Cook said at the time. Apple is delivering on its promise – the accuracy of the application has improved, and in March, the company had acquired indoor navigation specialists WifiSLAM to take its functionality further.

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