Google Shows Map Features, Apple Likely To Follow

Google has announced new features in its mapping service such as 3D and offline maps. The unveiling came just days before Apple is expected to announce its own mapping software.

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Google has fired the first shot in what might come to be known as the map wars. Yesterday, the company unveiled new features, such as maps in 3D. Google made its move just five days before Apple is expected to announce its own new and improved mapping software.

Google made its move just five days before Apple is expected to announce its own, new and improved mapping software. NPR's Laura Sydell reports.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Google's 3D map feature is pretty cool. The company showed off a 3D San Francisco, and you can zoom in and look at the architectural details of the city like it was a video game.

To create these lifelike 3D images, Google engineer Peter Birch says the company has a fleet of planes flying over cities and the countryside, taking pictures.

PETER BIRCH: Then the planes are flown in a very tightly controlled pattern, to make sure that there's a sufficient amount of overlap; so that we can get a complete picture and be able to represent large, metropolitan areas.

SYDELL: If you're about to go on a vacation to London, you can get a 3D look at the city. If you download the map first, you can plot your evening out while you're on the Underground and offline.

But the buzz is that Google made the announcements this week because Apple is likely to introduce its own version of maps on Monday during its Worldwide Development Conference. That is likely to mean that Google will no longer be the default map system on iPhones and iPads.

This is bad news for Google, given the importance of location systems to the local ad market. However, Google says it will continue to make its maps accessible to all operating systems.

Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

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