Apple Using OpenStreetMap With Its Own Tiles Instead Of Google Maps In Select Cases

As you may have seen by now there were some new iOS screenshots showing maps that don’t look like they are from Google. Below are a couple of the shots in question (via 512Pixels and The Next Web). See update below regarding OpenStreetMap.

There was also the discovery of code that suggested these maps were being generated by Apple internally. We reached out to Google for a comment but didn’t receive any sort of statement. John Gruber has apparently been given an answer by his sources about what’s going on:

Gruber says, “What I’m hearing now is that Places still uses Google Maps, but the maps in Journals and slideshows are not using Google Maps, and are Apple’s own stuff.”

We’ve been waiting for well over a year to see where and how Apple deploys its own mapping assets. Since 2009 Apple has made several significant mapping-related acquisitions:

Other “circumstantial evidence” such as off-hand comments by Steve Jobs before he died and job postings suggested that Apple would offer its own mapping and navigation products in the not-too-distant future:

The iPhone has revolutionized the mobile industry and has changed people’s lives and we want to continue to do so. We want to take Maps to the next level, rethink how users use Maps and change the way people find things. We want to do this in a seamless, highly interactive and enjoyable way. We’ve only just started.

Google’s mapping expertise and capabilities are still well ahead of Apple’s. Apple could always buy another company, such as TeleNav or deCarta, and gain considerable additional mapping tools, expertise and assets. This is just my speculation, however.

Apple doesn’t want to disrupt its users’ expectations and experience by introducing a half-baked mapping product. Accordingly, what appears to be happening here is a “toe in the water” approach, as Apple begins to replace Google Maps in select cases — perhaps to ease its users into seeing a product with a new look and feel. But it does appear to be the start of a migration to another mapping platform.

If we hear anything more, we’ll update this post.

Postscript: The mapping platform that Apple is using is OpenStreetMap (outside the US only apparently), with Apple’s own map tiles, according to OpenStreetMap’s post:

Yesterday Apple launched iPhoto, its photo management app, for the iPad and iPhone… and we’re rather pleased to find they’re the latest to switch to OpenStreetMap.

The desktop version of iPhoto, and indeed all of Apple’s iOS apps until now, use Google Maps. The new iPhoto for iOS, however, uses Apple’s own map tiles – made from OpenStreetMap data (outside the US).

Recently Foursquare stopped using Google Maps in favor of OpenSteetMap data. We asked: was it the beginning of a trend? It would appear so.

Related Entries

Related Topics: Apple | Channel: Mobile Marketing | Google | Google: Mobile | Google: Partnerships | Top News


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • Simon Temple

    I’ve noticed only recently that Google, “Places” is showing up in maps as rendered on third party sites. This should be reason enough to want to migrate, (Presuming you don’t want the double whammy of paying for access and upstreaming traffic to G).

  • Pixelrage

    Google got greedy and started charging, this is only to be expected.

  • Tweedle

    Early response seems negative on the tiles on two fronts: 1) inaccurate data and 2) the look. 

    1) Seems to be answered, in part, by the OpenStreetMap/Jonathan Bennett post; Apple may be testing old data before going truly “live” with a map product.

    2) I think people are mistaking the purpose of the iPhoto maps versus maps intended for navigational purposes. The colored, sometimes even textured, land, with shades of lighter/paler roads and the “bookish” font seem appropriate: like a brochure of a park or a map in a book. I can easily imagine Apple generating different tiles for navigational purposes. But it does need work.

    Apple has a large challenge ahead of it. 

  • Moisey Uretsky

    Bad move on google’s part to start charging for GoogleMapsAPI.

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