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Review: CaseStudi’s Libre Bluetooth keyboard is an ultra-portable workhorse, with some trade-offs

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An increasing number of consumers and businesspeople are turning to portable Bluetooth keyboards to increase the productivity potential of their iPad. AppleInsider took a look at one of the latest contenders, CaseStudi’s Libre.

Our verdict: The combination of size, battery life, and backlighting on the Libre is tough to beat, though many users won’t like the feel of its keys.

iPad users generally fall into one of two camps: those who think Apple’s on-screen software keyboard is fine for any situation, and those who immediately reach for an external hardware keyboard when they’re ready to type anything longer than a tweet. For the latter group, that often means sacrificing some portability in the name of a better typing experience.

With the release of the Surface in 2012, Microsoft showed the world that it was possible to have a tablet keyboard that was both slim and nice to type on. Following Microsoft’s lead, accessory makers have worked to deliver similarly svelte options for iPad users.

Logitech’s Keys to Go — which we recommended after spending time with it earlier this year — takes portability to the extreme, and this is the standard that the Libre aspires to. To see how it stacks up, we spent three weeks with a preproduction Libre and used it to write a majority of this review.

What it is

The Libre is available either as a standalone keyboard or as part of a set alongside a wrap-around iPad case. Though the actual keyboard hardware is the same in both versions, the industrial design is not.

When packaged with a case, the Libre sports an articulated protrusion on the back that allows it to magnetically link up with a matching slot in the case, effectively turning it into a folio. A section of the case can then be folded outward to serve a stand for typing.

We like this design a lot, because it allows some flexibility in how the Libre is used. On days when you don’t need a keyboard, it can be swapped out for a thinner, rigid cover — which will be available in a variety of styles — or left off entirely.

The folio configuration does come with some caveats. The case is quite bulky, though we suspect anyone concerned about carrying around an external keyboard for their iPad won’t mind quite so much.

The case is also incompatible with Apple’s Smart Covers. The reasoning for this is clear, but given that the Libre keyboard is removable, we’d like to have the option of swapping in a Smart Cover but keeping the case with its built-in stand.

Dimensionally, the keyboard itself is a bit smaller than a sheet of A5 paper and thinner than the iPhone 6. The cover is made from polyurethane — ours was a wood grain print — and the backlit keys are extruded from one continuous plastic panel.

A power button in the upper right sits flush with the case and is flanked by three small LEDs; one shows Bluetooth status, another the battery level, and the third is a charging indicator. A micro-USB port in the side allows for charging from any wall charger, and we were able to get away with juicing up just once a week.

How it works

Pairing the Libre is straightforward, and it’s important to note that it can support up to three Bluetooth devices concurrently — this is especially handy when working with e.g. an iPad and an iPhone at the same time. A quick shortcut switches between paired devices, which is ueful when typing on a tablet but holding a conversation in a service like WhatsApp, which is only available on phones.

The keys themselves are nicely tactile, but the switches don’t feel like the keys on a traditional keyboard. If pressed, we’d say they feel more like buttons on a calculator.

That may seem bad, but we don’t think it is. While typing on the Libre certainly requires some adjustment, we only really found ourselves perturbed at the difference when working on an iPad and a MacBook Pro side-by-side. Those who travel with only an iPad should quickly adjust.

Backlighting is easily our favorite keyboard-related feature, and the Libre’s backlit keys are a welcome addition that the Keys to Go lacks. There are four levels of illumination available, though we rarely felt it necessary to increase it past the lowest setting.

At the end of the day, our biggest problem with the Libre’s keyboard was simple: it has too many keys. CaseStudi has done an admirable job of shoehorning a complete keyboard into the width of the iPad, and they have good reason — the Libre is platform-agnostic — but it’s just not the best decision for iOS users.

We’d like to see an iOS-specific Libre variant that eschews extraneous keys, like the secondary command and option keys that flank the space bar, in favor of larger keycaps. Even if that means accessing some characters via the function key, we think it would be a major increase in usability.

Conclusion

The Libre is a tough product to judge. If you want an external keyboard for your iPad and aren’t overly concerned with heft, there are definitely better options — Apple’s own Bluetooth keyboard comes to mind.

If, on the other hand, you’re the kind of person for whom every gram matters, give the Libre some serious consideration. As a standalone keyboard — paired with a Smart Cover to stand the iPad upright — we think it’s a better option than clamshell keyboard cases like Belkin’s Qode, and gives Logitech’s Keys to Go a run for its money.

Score: 3.5 out of 5

Pros:

  • Incredibly thin and light
  • Backlit keys
  • Excellent battery life

Cons:

  • Keyswitch feel will be difficult for some to adjust to
  • Keycaps are a bit too small
  • Folio configuration makes the iPad package significantly thicker

Where to buy:

Libre is available for pre-order from CaseStudi’s website, with shipping expected in July. The folio set runs $79.99, while the standalone keyboard comes in at $59.99.

Article source: http://appleinsider.com.feedsportal.com/c/33975/f/616168/s/4698cbf0/sc/15/l/0Lappleinsider0N0Carticles0C150C0A50C240Creview0Ecaststudis0Elibre0Ebluetooth0Ekeyboard0Eis0Ean0Eultra0Eportable0Eworkhorse0Ewith0Esome0Etrade0Eoffs/story01.htm


How the rest of Apple’s ecosystem could benefit from Apple Watch: Smarter, contextually aware notifications

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Apple frequently introduces new technologies and features in a singular new product, then gradually brings them to other devices in its ecosystem, making for a more coherent user experience. With the recent launch of the Apple Watch, the company has begun offering smarter and more contextually aware locations — something we’d like to see on the rest of the company’s platforms.

The Apple Watch must be tethered to an iPhone to fully function, and Apple takes full advantage of this with tight integration between the two devices. Perhaps the best example of this comes from notification alerts.

When a user’s iPhone is locked and a notification is received, the user will get an alert on their Apple Watch, while the iPhone will remain silent with the screen off.
The iPhone and Apple Watch interact so seamlessly, it feels inevitable that the rest of Apple’s ecosystem will soon follow.
If a user is actively using their iPhone, the alert will instead display on the iPhone screen, while the Apple Watch will remain silent.

In this way, notifications between the iPhone and Apple Watch are much smarter. Apple has devised a way to make sure that alerts are only received on one relevant screen.

The same can’t be said for the rest of the company’s ecosystem — yet. For example, if you’re on a Mac and are logged into your Apple ID for iMessages, and a message is received, the user will receive alerts for a message on both their iPhone and Mac.

In the case of Apple Watch plus iPhone, some more beautifully than others.

It’s easy to see how Apple could adopt the philosophy used in the Apple Watch and apply it to the Mac with future updates: Using Continuity and Bluetooth Low Energy, Apple’s platforms would know that when a user is actively sitting at their Mac, alerts should be sent to the computer screen.
Ideally, users would be able to only receive alerts on their currently active device, and could also respond to or cancel alerts from that device, regardless of platform.
In the event that the Mac is turned off, idle, or out of range, Apple’s smart notifications would know to send the alert to the user’s iPhone, or to their Apple Watch.

The same logic could also be applied to the iPad, where alerts are again received side by side with an iPhone or Mac. While a user is on their iPad, future Apple software could disable iPhone or Apple Watch alerts for relevant cross-platform applications.

Another cue that Apple could take from the Apple Watch is dismissing alerts. With the company’s current platforms, dismissing an alert or opening a relevant app does not always affect identical alerts on different hardware.

Again learning from what it has created with the Apple Watch, the company should have alerts for connected applications sync between all devices within the ecosystem — and for all apps, not just some.

The Apple Watch also supports actionable notifications on the iPhone, even if the iOS app does not have an Apple Watch app. For example, notifications from the popular email client Mailbox allow the user to archive a new incoming message directly from their wrist.

Those same actionable notifications would work extremely well on a Mac, where users could quickly respond to alerts from their iPhone without having to take the handset off the table or out of their pocket.

Finally, there’s also the issue of alerts for phone calls. This is an area where Apple’s Continuity has, in some ways, become somewhat of an annoyance.

Anyone who has installed iOS 8 or OS X Yosemite knows that whenever receiving a phone call, all of their devices automatically begin to ring. In fact, the devices often continue to ring even after the phone call has been answered.

Generally speaking, users only need to be alerted on maybe one or two of their Apple devices for any type of notification, phone calls included. It’s clear that in this respect, the rest of the Apple ecosystem has much to gain from the tight pairing of the iPhone and Apple Watch.

Article source: http://appleinsider.com.feedsportal.com/c/33975/f/616168/s/4699df16/sc/28/l/0Lappleinsider0N0Carticles0C150C0A50C240Chow0Ethe0Erest0Eof0Eapples0Eecosystem0Ecould0Ebenefit0Efrom0Eapple0Ewatch0Esmarter0Econtextually0Eaware0Enotifications/story01.htm


Apple Maps in China offer a sneak peek at what’s in store for Maps in iOS 9

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Apple has gobbled up mapping market share on iOS (and the Mac) since introducing its own alternative to Google Maps back in 2012, despite lacking a variety of key features. Hints at how Apple Maps may soon improve are coming from a seemingly unlikely source: China.

Apple Maps in China are better than Apple Maps in the U.S.

Bizarrely enough, Apple’s Maps in China are better than Apple Maps in Europe or the United States. Those improvements are likely to trickle back to the rest of us in enhancements due for iOS 9 and the next OS X (as well as in the navigation maps on Apple Watch).

China has rapidly become a critically important market for Apple, growing from virtually nothing prior to the weak initial launch of iPhone 4 on China Unicom back in 2010 into a major market that is now rivaling the United States as Apple’s largest market in the world.

Apple has pivoted to supply China-centric features in iOS and OS X, ranging from a gesture-character keyboard to social media support for popular microblogging services such as Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo to product options specially crafted for the Chinese market (such as gold iPhones and the large screen iPhone 6 Plus).

However, another initiative focused at the Chinese market has been less visible, because it hides behind China’s Great Firewall: improved Apple Maps with accurate transit lines and station depictions.

Transit complaints for Apple Maps

Shortly after Apple Maps first debuted almost three years ago, I profiled for AppleInsider the then-new iOS 6 Maps and its approach to transit information.

The bad news was that iOS 6 not only didn’t even attempt to offer transit directions itself (instead relying on existing routing apps to help out) but also did a very poor job of labeling transit stops or showing where lines went.

As I noted back then, even Caltrain (the commuter rail service serving Apple’s corporate neighborhood) had its stations haphazardly labeled the “Southern Pacific Railroad” (which it hasn’t been since 1985).

Underground transit station passages (like the Powell Station Muni/BART station with a prominent connection to Apple’s own flagship store in San Francisco) were also missing from Apple Maps, making it difficult to see where you’d even access the subway.

On the other hand, Google’s transit support in its own mapping products was only slightly better, and often provided false information—which is worse than no information at all.

Google’s bus arrival data for San Francisco is simply not accurate. Transit directions it gave me in Berlin were ridiculous.

And while Google Maps offered much better subway data when I was in Japan, on a recent trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota, Google Maps told me I’d missed the last light rail train from the airport to downtown, and said there wouldn’t be another one for a long time.

In reality, there were regular trains scheduled and the next one was departing in just a few minutes. Had I trusted Google Maps, I’d have missed it and taken an expensive taxi instead.

Maps trepidation in China

With that global travel experience in mind, as I went through Taiwan, Hong Kong and toward Shenzhen, China in February, I was growing concerned that I’d have no reliable information for navigating the subways in China, let alone walking around on surface streets.

In Hong Kong (which is technically part of the People’s Republic of China), Apple Maps are very similar to the U.S. and the rest of the world: many points of interest missing, no lines between transit stops, and poor labeling of the stops themselves: a three year old mess in need of a diaper change.

And when I spied out China from Apple Maps, things looked even worse: points of interest (including the hotel I’d booked) were not in the correct place at all. Satellite data was atrociously scarce, and metro stops were sort of a hit and miss proposition, with no indication of the connections between stations.

Shenzhen, China in Apple Maps, outside of China

Satellite data for China (which you can peruse from Apple Maps from anywhere) is pretty basic: it looks like Cold War images captured by U2s in the 1970s; not very helpful for navigating around.

As it turned out, the hotel I was staying at (labeled on the map below as Hui Hotel Shenzhen) was depicted as being about six blocks away from its actual location (the blue dot), and on a totally different street.

Points of interest not even close to their actual location

I was terrified that Apple Maps would be worthless in navigating China. Google Maps, while only slightly better, are officially blocked when you enter China. In fact, China blocks every Google service (as well as Facebook, Twitter and most other Western services apart from Apple and its iCloud).

The only way to access anything Google is to install a VPN client and try to establish a tunneled connection through the Great Firewall directly to Google’s servers; doing that is a cat and mouse game that the state actively blocks. It’s also a pain to do, because when you set up a VPN you lose access to local services. I discovered something amazing: Apple Maps within mainland China are much better than those available in the United States.

Sure enough, once I arrived in China I not only lost my data service provided through the SIM card I’d bought in Hong Kong, but I also struggled to decipher the cached Apple Maps data I’d smuggled in.

Then I got local data service via my hotel’s WiFi and discovered something amazing: Apple Maps within mainland China are much better than those available in the United States.

China’s Apple Maps surprise

Apple Maps in China aren’t an improved app with wildly different features. There’s still no transit directions, and everything works the same (it’s the same app, on both iOS and OS X). What’s different is the data.

When browsing China from China, metro stations are clearly marked and lines between stations are plotted out in different colors, very similar to how Google Maps works in cities where it actually works.

Shenzhen, China as shown by Apple Maps within China

Once I acquired a Chinese SIM card (which requires registering with your passport), I could access Apple Maps from anywhere.

Attempting to use Google Maps was a pain, because I had to rely on a VPN. I downloaded four different VPN apps, and only got one to work intermittently, and it cost money to use. It also stopped working entirely after a few days.

For Apple Maps, however, the difference in data was clearly obvious in Shenzhen (the city where Apple contracts to build most of its iOS devices) and up into the Guangdong Province into the massive city of Guangzhou (Canton).

Comparing international Apple Maps’ depiction of China (what you see when you browse China from anywhere outside of China) with the local version of China’s Apple Map data is eye opening.

Even the satellite data is greatly improved. While city-level satellite images seemed to be pretty blurry even on the full screen of a Mac, as you drill down the images are clear enough to easily navigate, even though there was not yet support for Apple’s 3D Flyover images.

Examining the Apple Maps data in China, you’ll also see traffic light indicators for controlled intersections and labels on certain important intersections, other features missing from Apple Maps in other countries.

Subterranean metro station detail

Another feature supported in Apple Maps within China is the details of subterranean metro station tunnels. Particularly in the built up cities of Asia, it’s important to be able to navigate large, complex stations where multiple pathways might take you to exits several blocks apart (each is labeled with an identifier, so you can meet friends or efficiently plan to exit a station even if you aren’t familiar with its layout).

This enhanced maps information is particularly evident when looking at China’s data for Hong Kong. Strangely, this data isn’t available while in Hong Kong. Additionally, China’s data for Hong Kong differs from Hong Kong itself, because the PRC has different names for some streets and points of interest.

The very basic Hong Kong maps Apple supplies to most of the world (below) provide frustratingly little information about the metro stops on Hong Kong Island, let alone the pedestrian tunnels that connect them.

Hong Kong Island, within Hong Kong

However, while in mainland China you can access Hong Kong maps with detailed labels for both the MTR subway stations (marked with a red logo) and the underground passageways that surround them.

The surface streetcar stops are also marked with a different logo, clearly differentiating the frequently stopping, local surface service from the faster subway.

Hong Kong Island as seen from Apple Maps in mainland China

China’s map data makes it clear, for example, that there are no trains that pass between the Hong Kong terminal station (mapped out in orange) and the Central station on the separate Island Line (depicted as red tunnels). However, you can walk between the two stations to transfer, following the subterranean station walkways that stretch out so far that they necessitate moving sidewalks.

The same stark contrast is visible north of Hong Kong Island in Kowloon. In Hong Kong itself, Apple Maps currently provides poor data and terrible transit information. But when supplied with good data from China, Apple Maps details stations, the web of underground passages connecting them, and lots of other enhancements.

Kowloon as shown by Apple Maps in Kowloon

Kowloon as shown by Apple Maps in mainland China

Kowloon as shown by Apple Maps in mainland China (detail)

Oddly enough, despite having a strong retail presence in Hong Kong, Apple still doesn’t provide this Chinese-licensed data in Apple Maps within Hong Kong itself, which would help shoppers find their way to its flagship stores integrated into the ifc mall above Hong Kong Station, or the shiny new store located at Causeway Bay, also on top of MTR subway station.

That is likely to change once Apple introduces improved data for navigating metro stations and inside shopping malls in its Maps, expected to be a key feature of iOS 9. This isn’t a technology issue, it’s a matter of obtaining correct, complete data, an issue that has plagued Apple Maps everywhere.

China’s superior Apple Maps in China don’t extend to the rest of the world. For users in China, Apple Maps provides only a rough outline—or in some cases no data all—in other cities, including its depictions of Japan or California. One exception seems to be North Korea, where China’s Apple Maps provide slightly more detail.

Also long anticipated for iOS 9 (and the next OS X) is the results of the series of navigation and transit routing acquisitions Apple has made over the past two years, including WiFiSlam, Locationary, HopStop, Embark, Broadmap and most recently, Coherent Navigation.

While Apple’s aspirations to “finally” fix transit data and supply transit routing are old news, the insight of what the company is already doing in China—largely due to having better sources of data, rather than some different or new app technology—provides valuable insight into what should be in store for upcoming Apple Maps releases for iOS, OS X and Apple Watch.

Article source: http://appleinsider.com.feedsportal.com/c/33975/f/616168/s/4695e857/sc/15/l/0Lappleinsider0N0Carticles0C150C0A50C230Capple0Emaps0Ein0Echina0Eoffer0Ea0Esneak0Epeak0Ewhats0Ein0Estore0Efor0Emaps0Ein0Eios0E9/story01.htm


Review: CastStudi’s Libre Bluetooth keyboard is an ultra-portable workhorse, with some trade-offs

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An increasing number of consumers and businesspeople are turning to portable Bluetooth keyboards to increase the productivity potential of their iPad. AppleInsider took a look at one of the latest contenders, CaseStudi’s Libre.

Our verdict: The combination of size, battery life, and backlighting on the Libre is tough to beat, though many users won’t like the feel of its keys.

iPad users generally fall into one of two camps: those who think Apple’s on-screen software keyboard is fine for any situation, and those who immediately reach for an external hardware keyboard when they’re ready to type anything longer than a tweet. For the latter group, that often means sacrificing some portability in the name of a better typing experience.

With the release of the Surface in 2012, Microsoft showed the world that it was possible to have a tablet keyboard that was both slim and nice to type on. Following Microsoft’s lead, accessory makers have worked to deliver similarly svelte options for iPad users.

Logitech’s Keys to Go — which we recommended after spending time with it earlier this year — takes portability to the extreme, and this is the standard that the Libre aspires to. To see how it stacks up, we spent three weeks with a preproduction Libre and used it to write a majority of this review.

What it is

The Libre is available either as a standalone keyboard or as part of a set alongside a wrap-around iPad case. Though the actual keyboard hardware is the same in both versions, the industrial design is not.

When packaged with a case, the Libre sports an articulated protrusion on the back that allows it to magnetically link up with a matching slot in the case, effectively turning it into a folio. A section of the case can then be folded outward to serve a stand for typing.

We like this design a lot, because it allows some flexibility in how the Libre is used. On days when you don’t need a keyboard, it can be swapped out for a thinner, rigid cover — which will be available in a variety of styles — or left off entirely.

The folio configuration does come with some caveats. The case is quite bulky, though we suspect anyone concerned about carrying around an external keyboard for their iPad won’t mind quite so much.

The case is also incompatible with Apple’s Smart Covers. The reasoning for this is clear, but given that the Libre keyboard is removable, we’d like to have the option of swapping in a Smart Cover but keeping the case with its built-in stand.

Dimensionally, the keyboard itself is a bit smaller than a sheet of A5 paper and thinner than the iPhone 6. The cover is made from polyurethane — ours was a wood grain print — and the backlit keys are extruded from one continuous plastic panel.

A power button in the upper right sits flush with the case and is flanked by three small LEDs; one shows Bluetooth status, another the battery level, and the third is a charging indicator. A micro-USB port in the side allows for charging from any wall charger, and we were able to get away with juicing up just once a week.

How it works

Pairing the Libre is straightforward, and it’s important to note that it can support up to three Bluetooth devices concurrently — this is especially handy when working with e.g. an iPad and an iPhone at the same time. A quick shortcut switches between paired devices, which is ueful when typing on a tablet but holding a conversation in a service like WhatsApp, which is only available on phones.

The keys themselves are nicely tactile, but the switches don’t feel like the keys on a traditional keyboard. If pressed, we’d say they feel more like buttons on a calculator.

That may seem bad, but we don’t think it is. While typing on the Libre certainly requires some adjustment, we only really found ourselves perturbed at the difference when working on an iPad and a MacBook Pro side-by-side. Those who travel with only an iPad should quickly adjust.

Backlighting is easily our favorite keyboard-related feature, and the Libre’s backlit keys are a welcome addition that the Keys to Go lacks. There are four levels of illumination available, though we rarely felt it necessary to increase it past the lowest setting.

At the end of the day, our biggest problem with the Libre’s keyboard was simple: it has too many keys. CaseStudi has done an admirable job of shoehorning a complete keyboard into the width of the iPad, and they have good reason — the Libre is platform-agnostic — but it’s just not the best decision for iOS users.

We’d like to see an iOS-specific Libre variant that eschews extraneous keys, like the secondary command and option keys that flank the space bar, in favor of larger keycaps. Even if that means accessing some characters via the function key, we think it would be a major increase in usability.

Conclusion

The Libre is a tough product to judge. If you want an external keyboard for your iPad and aren’t overly concerned with heft, there are definitely better options — Apple’s own Bluetooth keyboard comes to mind.

If, on the other hand, you’re the kind of person for whom every gram matters, give the Libre some serious consideration. As a standalone keyboard — paired with a Smart Cover to stand the iPad upright — we think it’s a better option than clamshell keyboard cases like Belkin’s Qode, and gives Logitech’s Keys to Go a run for its money.

Score: 3.5 out of 5

Pros:

  • Incredibly thin and light
  • Backlit keys
  • Excellent battery life

Cons:

  • Keyswitch feel will be difficult for some to adjust to
  • Keycaps are a bit too small
  • Folio configuration makes the iPad package significantly thicker

Where to buy:

Libre is available for pre-order from CaseStudi’s website, with shipping expected in July. The folio set runs $79.99, while the standalone keyboard comes in at $59.99.

Article source: http://appleinsider.com.feedsportal.com/c/33975/f/616168/s/4698cbf0/sc/15/l/0Lappleinsider0N0Carticles0C150C0A50C240Creview0Ecaststudis0Elibre0Ebluetooth0Ekeyboard0Eis0Ean0Eultra0Eportable0Eworkhorse0Ewith0Esome0Etrade0Eoffs/story01.htm


Apple Maps in China offer a sneak peak what’s in store for Maps in iOS 9

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Apple has gobbled up mapping market share on iOS (and the Mac) since introducing its own alternative to Google Maps back in 2012, despite lacking a variety of key features. Hints at how Apple Maps may soon improve are coming from a seemingly unlikely source: China.

Apple Maps in China are better than Apple Maps in the U.S.

Bizarrely enough, Apple’s Maps in China are better than Apple Maps in Europe or the Unites States. Those improvements are likely to trickle back to the rest of us in enhancements due for iOS 9 and the next OS X (as well as in the navigation maps on Apple Watch).

China has rapidly become a critically important market for Apple, growing from virtually nothing prior to the weak initial launch of iPhone 4 on China Unicom back in 2010 into a major market that is now rivaling the United States as Apple’s largest market in the world.

Apple has pivoted to supply China-centric features in iOS and OS X, ranging from a gesture-character keyboard to social media support for popular microblogging services such as Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo to product options specially crafted for the Chinese market (such as gold iPhones and the large screen iPhone 6 Plus).

However, another initiative focused at the Chinese market has been less visible, because it hides behind China’s Great Firewall: improved Apple Maps with accurate transit lines and station depictions.

Transit complaints for Apple Maps

Shortly after Apple Maps first debuted almost three years ago, I profiled for AppleInsider the then-new iOS 6 Maps and its approach to transit information.

The bad news was that iOS 6 not only didn’t even attempt to offer transit directions itself (instead relying on existing routing apps to help out) but also did a very poor job of labeling transit stops or showing where lines went.

As I noted back then, even Caltrain (the commuter rail service serving Apple’s corporate neighborhood) had its stations haphazardly labeled the “Southern Pacific Railroad” (which it hasn’t been since 1985).

Underground transit station passages (like the Powell Station Muni/BART station with a prominent connection to Apple’s own flagship store in San Francisco) were also missing from Apple Maps, making it difficult to see where you’d even access the subway.

On the other hand, Google’s transit support in its own mapping products was only slightly better, and often provided false information—which is worse than no information at all.

Google’s bus arrival data for San Francisco is simply not accurate. Transit directions it gave me in Berlin were ridiculous.

And while Google Maps offered much better subway data when I was in Japan, on a recent trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota, Google Maps told me I’d missed the last light rail train from the airport to downtown, and said there wouldn’t be another one for a long time.

In reality, there were regular trains scheduled and the next one was departing in just a few minutes. Had I trusted Google Maps, I’d have missed it and taken an expensive taxi instead.

Maps trepidation in China

With that global travel experience in mind, as I went through Taiwan, Hong Kong and toward Shenzhen, China in February, I was growing concerned that I’d have no reliable information for navigating the subways in China, let alone walking around on surface streets.

In Hong Kong (which is technically part of the People’s Republic of China), Apple Maps are very similar to the U.S. and the rest of the world: many points of interest missing, no lines between transit stops, and poor labeling of the stops themselves: a three year old mess in need of a diaper change.

And when I spied out China from Apple Maps, things looked even worse: points of interest (including the hotel I’d booked) were not in the correct place at all. Satellite data was atrociously scarce, and metro stops were sort of a hit and miss proposition, with no indication of the connections between stations.

Shenzhen, China in Apple Maps, outside of China

Satellite data for China (which you can peruse from Apple Maps from anywhere) is pretty basic: it looks like Cold War images captured by U2s in the 1970s; not very helpful for navigating around.

As it turned out, the hotel I was staying at (labeled on the map below as Hui Hotel Shenzhen) was depicted as being about six blocks away from its actual location (the blue dot), and on a totally different street.

Points of interest not even close to their actual location

I was terrified that Apple Maps would be worthless in navigating China. Google Maps, while only slightly better, are officially blocked when you enter China. In fact, China blocks every Google service (as well as Facebook, Twitter and most other Western services apart from Apple and its iCloud).

The only way to access anything Google is to install a VPN client and try to establish a tunneled connection through the Great Firewall directly to Google’s servers; doing that is a cat and mouse game that the state actively blocks. It’s also a pain to do, because when you set up a VPN you lose access to local services. I discovered something amazing: Apple Maps within mainland China are much better than those available in the United States.

Sure enough, once I arrived in China I not only lost my data service provided through the SIM card I’d bought in Hong Kong, but I also struggled to decipher the cached Apple Maps data I’d smuggled in.

Then I got local data service via my hotel’s WiFi and discovered something amazing: Apple Maps within mainland China are much better than those available in the United States.

China’s Apple Maps surprise

Apple Maps in China aren’t an improved app with wildly different features. There’s still no transit directions, and everything works the same (it’s the same app, on both iOS and OS X). What’s different is the data.

When browsing China from China, metro stations are clearly marked and lines between stations are plotted out in different colors, very similar to how Google Maps works in cities where it actually works.

Shenzhen, China as shown by Apple Maps within China

Once I acquired a Chinese SIM card (which requires registering with your passport), I could access Apple Maps from anywhere.

Attempting to use Google Maps was a pain, because I had to rely on a VPN. I downloaded four different VPN apps, and only got one to work intermittently, and it cost money to use. It also stopped working entirely after a few days.

For Apple Maps, however, the difference in data was clearly obvious in Shenzhen (the city where Apple contracts to build most of its iOS devices) and up into the Guangdong Province into the massive city of Guangzhou (Canton).

Comparing international Apple Maps’ depiction of China (what you see when you browse China from anywhere outside of China) with the local version of China’s Apple Map data is eye opening.

Even the satellite data is greatly improved. While city-level satellite images seemed to be pretty blurry even on the full screen of a Mac, as you drill down the images are clear enough to easily navigate, even though there was not yet support for Apple’s 3D Flyover images.

Examining the Apple Maps data in China, you’ll also see traffic light indicators for controlled intersections and labels on certain important intersections, other features missing from Apple Maps in other countries.

Subterranean metro station detail

Another feature supported in Apple Maps within China is the details of subterranean metro station tunnels. Particularly in the built up cities of Asia, it’s important to be able to navigate large, complex stations where multiple pathways might take you to exits several blocks apart (each is labeled with an identifier, so you can meet friends or efficiently plan to exit a station even if you aren’t familiar with its layout).

This enhanced maps information is particularly evident when looking at China’s data for Hong Kong. Strangely, this data isn’t available while in Hong Kong. Additionally, China’s data for Hong Kong differs from Hong Kong itself, because the PRC has different names for some streets and points of interest.

The very basic Hong Kong maps Apple supplies to most of the world (below) provide frustratingly little information about the metro stops on Hong Kong Island, let alone the pedestrian tunnels that connect them.

Hong Kong Island, within Hong Kong

However, while in mainland China you can access Hong Kong maps with detailed labels for both the MTR subway stations (marked with a red logo) and the underground passageways that surround them.

The surface streetcar stops are also marked with a different logo, clearly differentiating the frequently stopping, local surface service from the faster subway.

Hong Kong Island as seen from Apple Maps in mainland China

China’s map data makes it clear, for example, that there are no trains that pass between the Hong Kong terminal station (mapped out in orange) and the Central station on the separate Island Line (depicted as red tunnels). However, you can walk between the two stations to transfer, following the subterranean station walkways that stretch out so far that they necessitate moving sidewalks.

The same stark contrast is visible north of Hong Kong Island in Kowloon. In Hong Kong itself, Apple Maps currently provides poor data and terrible transit information. But when supplied with good data from China, Apple Maps details stations, the web of underground passages connecting them, and lots of other enhancements.

Kowloon as shown by Apple Maps in Kowloon

Kowloon as shown by Apple Maps in mainland China

Kowloon as shown by Apple Maps in mainland China (detail)

Oddly enough, despite having a strong retail presence in Hong Kong, Apple still doesn’t provide this Chinese-licensed data in Apple Maps within Hong Kong itself, which would help shoppers find their way to its flagship stores integrated into the ifc mall above Hong Kong Station, or the shiny new store located at Causeway Bay, also on top of MTR subway station.

That is likely to change once Apple introduces improved data for navigating metro stations and inside shopping malls in its Maps, expected to be a key feature of iOS 9. This isn’t a technology issue, it’s a matter of obtaining correct, complete data, an issue that has plagued Apple Maps everywhere.

China’s superior Apple Maps in China don’t extend to the rest of the world. For users in China, Apple Maps provides only a rough outline—or in some cases no data all—in other cities, including its depictions of Japan or California. One exception seems to be North Korea, where China’s Apple Maps provide slightly more detail.

Also long anticipated for iOS 9 (and the next OS X) is the results of the series of navigation and transit routing acquisitions Apple has made over the past two years, including WiFiSlam, Locationary, HopStop, Embark, Broadmap and most recently, Coherent Navigation.

While Apple’s aspirations to “finally” fix transit data and supply transit routing are old news, the insight of what the company is already doing in China—largely due to having better sources of data, rather than some different or new app technology—provides valuable insight into what should be in store for upcoming Apple Maps releases for iOS, OS X and Apple Watch.

Article source: http://appleinsider.com.feedsportal.com/c/33975/f/616168/s/4695e857/sc/15/l/0Lappleinsider0N0Carticles0C150C0A50C230Capple0Emaps0Ein0Echina0Eoffer0Ea0Esneak0Epeak0Ewhats0Ein0Estore0Efor0Emaps0Ein0Eios0E9/story01.htm


Apple bolsters Maps with more business listings data providers

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As part of ongoing upgrades to its in-house mapping service, Apple on Friday added a handful of entries to its rolling list of providers that supply the company with maps data, business listings and satellite imagery.

In an update to Apple’s acknowledgments webpage for Maps data partners, the company quietly announced new business listings provider partnerships with E-WEGO, NavAds, Yellow Pages Group Corp. and Yellow Pages Turkey.

Today’s update officially recognizes local search integration of user-generated reviews from TripAdvisor and Booking.com, two major sources of travel-related information. AppleInsider first reported on the additions in February.

After a rocky debut in 2012, Apple Maps has greatly improved as new data providers and internal Apple teams work to refine data accuracy, Flyover imagery, point-of-interest databases and more.

With an overhaul thought to be in the works, Apple this month acquired high-precision GPS hardware and software maker Coherent Navigation. It is not yet known how the firm’s technology will be assimilated into Apple’s products.

Most recently, Dutch-based mapping data service TomTom confirmed earlier this week that it renewed a contract to provide Apple with street-level data covering North America and Europe.

Apple is expected to announce enhancements to Maps for iOS 9 at the Worldwide Developers Conference in June, potentially including long-awaited transit routing capabilities.

Article source: http://appleinsider.com.feedsportal.com/c/33975/f/616168/s/46927ecc/sc/28/l/0Lappleinsider0N0Carticles0C150C0A50C220Capple0Ebolsters0Emaps0Ewith0Emore0Ebusiness0Elistings0Edata0Eproviders/story01.htm


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