Speculating on Apple’s Traffic Database

Apple said this in the iPhone location database Q&A:

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.

The above could mean a lot of different things, a lot of different stupid things such as:

  • Apple is going to try and replace Google Maps.
  • Apple is going to build turn-by-turn navigation.
  • Apple is going to build a car.
  • Apple is going to save the world.

Personally I don’t think it means any of the above things, I think Apple wants to fix this:

Collecting a massive amount of historical traffic data doesn’t make a ton of sense for providing real-time traffic information. That information could be crowd sourced real-time, but that would require users opting-in and a lot of computational power on servers somewhere else — plus why do that when most states have sensors built into the roadways to provide the same data?

No, I think Apple is more likely to use this historical data to improve the accuracy of the drive time to different locations. A database that massive with that much traffic information should be able to provide a good statistical analysis of how long it takes to get from point A to point B on Tuesday at 10am. Essentially it would seem that the database being built could say that on Monday’s from 6am-8am I5 through Seattle is 20 minutes slower than it is on Friday’s at the same time. Thus allowing Apple to say that with no traffic your route takes 39 minutes, but if you left right now it will take you (on average) 59 minutes — that is a powerful feature.

Google Maps will already show you how long something can take “with traffic”, but it won’t tell you how it is determining what “with traffic” means and most of the times I find it wildly inaccurate. Now imagine a database built off of actual data and based on the current day and time that you are traveling. I imagine that would be far superior to what we currently have.

Especially so if that database could take into account sporting events and allocate time for that traffic, but now I am dreaming.

Apple’s statement also said “the next couple of years” — which I read to mean, iOS 6 (possibly iOS 5). I tend to lean towards iOS 5, otherwise I think Apple would not have asked itself that question in the Q&A they wrote — this was a warning shot over the bows of its competitors, and I think Apple is going to be counting faster than its competitors think.

[Updated: 4.29.11 at 9:02 AM]

It is, of course, not lost on me that this could mean data traffic and not road traffic. However the wording makes it sound like the latter and not the former.

Originally posted for members on: April 29, 2011
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