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Revealed: Apple’s plan to leapfrog Google Maps

Updated May 29th, 2015 2:47PM EDT

Even the most hardened of Apple fans has to admit that Apple Maps simply can’t hold a candle to Google Maps. Though Apple’s own Maps app has improved drastically since its 2012 introduction, the software still lacks a number of basic features — such as transit directions — one would expect to see in modern mapping software.

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But always looking to improve and iterate, albeit slowly but surely, 9to5Mac has finally solved a question that has been looming over the Apple community for months now — just what in the world are those Apple owned/leased minivans doing driving around the country with advanced camera rigs attached to the roof?

As it turns out, Apple has some big plans in store for its Maps app as it looks to finally reach feature parity with Google, if not leapfrog it altogether.

Sources tell Mark Gurman that Apple is intent on “developing its first entirely in-house mapping database to reduce its reliance on TomTom, using a fleet of mysterious vans to take still photos of business storefronts to replace Yelp photos, and building a 3D Street View feature.”

While numerous spottings of these Apple minivans fueled speculation that they were somehow related to Apple’s rumored car initiative, Gurman, whose track record with respect to Apple is practically spotless, relays that “they are solely being used to gather data and images for the Apple Maps application.”

With Apple reportedly bulking up its own in-house mapping database, Apple will be afforded even more control over the user experience.

But what’s truly exciting is what Apple may have in store for us with respect to Street View mapping. Street View in Google Maps is a great feature, to be sure, but Apple reportedly believes it can do better. Gurman relays that Apple sees room for improvement insfoar as Street View on Google Maps isn’t as intuitive as it could be.

Unfortunately, though, because Apple’s aforementioned mapping initiatives are somewhat new, it’s not likely we’ll see them appear in iOS 9, set to be introduced in just about a week’s time at WWDC.

To expand its 3D Flyover mode in Maps, Apple is working on ways to tie together its new camera data to make a street level version of 3D Maps for a future version of its Maps app. As Apple has only recently started collecting its 3D Street View data, such a feature is not likely to be imminent. However, Apple has another plan for the imagery it’s gathering that will appear sooner rather than later.

All in all, this is promising news, especially following reports that Apple’s Maps team has been in disarray for quite some time.

Looking ahead to WWDC, we can expect iOS 9 to finally include built-in transit directions for bus, subways, and trains. Indeed, transit directions have been a long time coming given that Apple has made a number of acquisitions in the mobile transit space over the last 18+ months.

It’s also worth noting that Apple earlier this year acquired Coherent Navigation, an extremely intriguing mapping company whose bread and butter centers on providing incredibly precise GPS software and systems. If and when Apple integrates Coherent Navigation’s technology into iOS, Apple’s GPS systems may be accurate “to within centimeters.”

All that said, Apple Maps has a ways to go before it can supplant Google Maps. But as far as we can tell, Tim Cook and co. are working tirelessly to bring that reality to fruition sooner rather than later.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.