Apple may be preparing a big update to its Maps application for iOS and OS X. San Francisco’s KPIX reported earlier today that a Dodge Caravan sporting an impressive array of cameras has been spotted roaming the area. The California DMV confirmed that the vehicle (seen in the photos above and below, via Claycord) was leased to Apple.
The CBS affiliate reached out to technology analyst Rob Enderle for his thoughts on what this might be. Enderle said that this van simply has too many cameras (a whopping twelve of them) to be a mapping car—though he failed to note that Google uses even more cameras on its own Street View cars.
Enderle endorsed a different idea, saying that he believes this is a test model for a self-driving vehicle. That belief stems from the appearance of a YouTube video (seen below) uploaded in September that shows a very similar van cruising through Brooklyn, claiming without any proof that it’s a self-driving prototype.
Unfortunately for that theory, only six companies have been issued the permits necessary to test such vehicles, and Apple isn’t one of them. This brings us back to a much more likely conclusion: Apple is preparing to take on Google’s Street View with a similar offering in its own Maps software.
If Apple is truly preparing a Street View feature for Maps, it’s possible that we might see it in the iOS 9 upgrade that should debut later this year, if the company maintains its annual upgrade cycle. If that’s the case, the feature will likely only support a few major cities at launch (such as New York and San Francisco, where the vans were spotted).
It’s also possible that the feature may not be included until a later version of iOS, depending on how long Apple wants to spend collecting data before launch. The Maps application was notoriously buggy at launch, and Apple hasn’t been at the top of its software game lately, so a taking a little extra time to polish this new feature may be in order.
You can view the original KPIX report below.