File Under: Location, Mobile

iPhoto for iOS Abandons Google Maps in Favor of OpenStreetMap

Google Maps vs Apple's custom maps. Note the increased road/path detail from OpenStreetMap visible in the Apple version of this map of Vienna, Austria.

Apple has given Google Maps the heave-ho for iPhoto on iOS, Apple’s new photo management app for the iPad and iPhone. Open up a map in iPhoto for iOS and you may notice something a bit different — the familiar beige and yellow Google Maps are nowhere to be found. Instead you’ll see Apple’s homegrown maps.

The new low-contrast look for iPhoto’s map is distinctly Apple’s, but what’s more interesting is that much of the data behind the maps comes from the open source mapping project OpenStreetMap.

For those unfamiliar with it, OpenStreetMap is an open source project that maintains an editable map of the entire globe. Anyone can make edits and add data to the map, which is why it’s often called the “Wikipedia of maps.” Although OpenStreetMap has been around for some time, it’s recently become considerably more visible as part of Microsoft’s Bing Maps. Additionally some high-profile websites are starting to move away from Google Maps — like Foursquare, which recently ditched Google Maps in favor of OpenStreetMap.

Now, with iPhoto for iOS, Apple is joining the OpenStreetMap party as well.

Apple is using OpenStreetMap data to display maps around the world. OpenStreetMap developers have discovered that Apple is using OpenStreetMap data in Chile, Austria, Italy and many other countries. OpenStreetMap is not, however, being used for the United States. In the U.S. map data appears to be gleaned from a number of sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau and possibly the U.S. Geological Survey.

Interestingly, the OpenStreetMap data Apple is using appears to be quite old, coming from sometime around April 2010. That means that unfortunately several years worth of updates and corrections from OpenStreetMap contributors are missing from Apple’s maps. The result is a map that’s fine for something like adding location details to your vacation photos, but would likely not be accurate enough to provide navigation or directions.

In other words, don’t look for the maps in iPhoto to be the source of a revamped Maps app for iOS — in their current form these maps are just not accurate enough for navigation use.

It’s also worth noting that Apple is using OpenStreetMap data without the necessary attribution. OpenStreetMap’s Creative Commons license governing maps from 2010 requires that Apple add a notice citing the source of the data. As the OpenStreetMap blog notes, the maps are “missing the necessary credit to OpenStreetMap’s contributors; we look forward to working with Apple to get that on there.”

It’s been clear for some time that Apple is looking for a way to wean itself off Google Maps. Apple has even purchased several mapping companies, including Placebase, an online-mapping company and C3 Technologies, which creates 3D maps. Despite these moves Google Maps remain prominent on iOS. Even within the new iPhoto app Google Maps apparently still provides at least some of the data being used.