The blogosphere is abuzz this morning with Apple’s official response to the Locationgate scandal. While the company’s powerful PR machinery is in full swing trying to dodge the bullet, we have pinpointed a rather interesting line in Apple’s document entitled “Q&A on Location Data”. Before we dive into that – and for those who didn’t get the memo – Apple has confirmed a database residing on the device that contains anonymized data generated by tens of millions of iPhones sending the geo-tagged locations of nearby WiFi hotspots and cell towers.
They use it to “help your iPhone rapidly and accurately calculate its location when requested”. Storing a year’s worth of data was a “bug” that will be fixed with a forthcoming iOS update. “We don’t think the iPhone needs to store more than seven days of this data,” the company wrote. But Apple may be planning to use this crowd-sourced information to release a new traffic service in the future, quite possibly a turn-by-turn traffic service. Apple itself alluded to this in the document:
Apple is now collecting anonymous traffic data to build a crowd-sourced traffic database with the goal of providing iPhone users an improved traffic service in the next couple of years.
What might this service be like? Read on…
I remember that Google has been experimenting with a similar crowd-sourced traffic service in Japan. They were tracking phone movements to see where there is traffic congestion. If a phone on a highway was staying relatively still, then Google knew there were traffic delays. Multiply this data by millions of handset owners and you get a pretty detailed insight into near-real-time traffic patterns in any given area. We also know Apple was seeking engineers to take the Maps app “to the next level” and they later added more engineers specialized in navigational software. Plus, we also know, as MacRumors noted, that Apple acquired mapping startups Poly9 and Placebase.
These acquisitions were for a purpose and if Apple intends to create its own mapping service, as we believe it will, then a crowd-sourced turn-by-turn based service sounds like a no-brainer.