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Thursday, August 30, 2012, 05:41 am PT (08:41 am ET)

Apple's iOS 6 3D Flyovers aim to be more helpful, less creepy than Google Street View


3D Flyover with satellite images

Add in photo surface textures and of course rendering slows down, but things also get very interesting. While Google's StreetView can be used to zoom into a particular block face, looking into a house's windows, Apple's Flyover approach provides a more "estimated" view, essentially a distorted depiction of an aerial photograph. Below, the same map view above, but with satellite images turned on, and below that, zoomed in to the Apple campus.




Flyover certainly isn't the same as StreetView; the detail is rougher and often morphed or distorted. Apple doesn't have to blur faces or license places in Flyover because you can't make out details at that level anyway. However, Flyover provides a more continuous view of an area, and lets you observe it from an omniscient vantage point, floating upward or spinning the earth below you.

As you zoom around, Flyover loads estimated buildings and fills in details as needed, accounting for the rendering speed of your device and the throughput of your mobile network.




Like StreetView, Flyover provides an idea of what an area looks like before you get there. Unlike StreetView, it's not tied to a series of points along primary streets, and there's rarely a case where your StreetView is blocked by a passing truck or other street level obstructions (as often occurs to Google's street view camera vehicles).

Which is creepier?

Flyover also allows you to see the backside of buildings, down alleys, and explore open spaces that Google can't reach from its StreetView vehicles. Unlike StreetView, with Flyover you (and anyone else!) can explore your own backyard. Or, for example, the exclusive rooftop deck of the Paramount at Yerba Buena Gardens, where Apple hosts its WWDC after party.



However, with Flyover, you're getting a massaged version of what is essentially aerial photography mapped to structure dimensions. StreetView shows what someone driving through your neighborhood would see: clear details of the front of your house, cars, pedestrians and so on, details that have generated significant controversy.

Apple is less likely to incite the same response from privacy advocates because, while Flyover lets you see more, it also shows you less. You can't really spy in windows or see paparazzi-scale details. While both views are useful, StreetView is clearly more privacy-infringing simply due to its photographic realism shot from street-level spy cameras.

Flyover is unnerving in its own way, but it feels more like navigating a realistic map. Satellite and aerial images also raise some eyebrows among privacy advocates, but not to the same extent StreetView has. And Flyover is, essentially, just dynamic aerial imagery, essentially a product name Apple has applied to satellite maps when viewed from the 3D angle.

This also makes Flyover more discoverable as a feature, because it's tightly integrated into the view options of Maps rather than being a special view mode you have to manually enter.









Google Maps for iOS 6?

Until iOS 6 ships, we won't know whether Google will successfully introduce its own alternative Maps client for iOS users (it will likely want to) and whether Apple will approve it in the App Store (it may not, but Apple has already approved Google Earth, in addition to a variety of other apps it once held up on premise of "user confusion," including Google's Latitude and Google Voice).

If it does, Google and Apple will compete head to head on iOS in delivering vector maps, 3D views, turn by turn navigation and local information, although Apple will have a distinct home field advantage.

Not only is Apple's Maps app going to be the default, bundled option, but there's also no way to users (or an installed app) to specify a third party app as a default choice for handling maps. Further, Apple's iOS will direct all third party apps to the company's own servers when they make mapping API requests to draw a map in their own apps.

Besides vectors, 3D models and Flyover, there's another new technology angle Apple will be leveraging in its own iOS 6 Maps app, which will be discussed in a forthcoming segment.