Those Apple vans are collecting next-gen Maps data and Street View storefronts

No, the mysterious vans that were spotted in different parts of the country this year aren’t part of Project Titan, Apple’s secret self-driving car project. Instead, they are used to gather data that will most likely be used to power future versions of the company’s Maps app, reducing reliance on third-party data providers, as Mark Gurman reported Friday.

Now, according to a new report recently published by 9to5Mac, the ongoing mystery of what these vans are doing out there on the roads has been solved. The report indicates that Apple is building up its mapping data, and using the vans to go around and take as many photos as it possibly can of storefronts and other areas, as well as map the areas where they are visiting. This is meant to lessen the reliance that Apple has on other companies, including TomTom for the mapping data, and even Yelp! for the images of businesses. Apple is also said to be building up a 3D Street View of its own.

The report goes in-depth into what the vans are actually meant to be accomplishing, outright denying that these vehicles have anything to do with Apple’s testing of a self-driving car. Indeed, these vans, which have typically been seen in white, black or beige, are solely on the road to bolster Apple’s map-driven initiative, which it aims to build up its own base maps information. According to the report, this would mean that, by 2017, Apple would be able to sever the majority of its ties to other companies that it has had to rely on to get Maps off the ground in the first place. Indeed, TomTom, a service that Apple uses for its Maps app, recently confirmed that its own contracts had been renewed with Apple just recently, but when those contracts might end was unknown at the time.

Unfortunately, an unnamed source suggests that Apple’s deadline in this area might not pan out, and Apple could have to wait until 2018 to actually announce this new Maps.

As noted in the original report, all of this means many different things, especially for Apple and its goal to do just about everything on its own, but it also means a better experience for the end user. If Apple can remove as many middlemen as possible in the Maps experience, then it also means that Apple can directly control the Maps environment, its updates, and the core user experience.

Adding to his report, Gurman notes that the vans are used to collect Street View data, and take pictures of businesses. Street View data could be used to compete with Google’s similar feature, and photos of businesses could be used to reduce once again the company’s reliance on third-party partners such as Yelp, who’s been providing the photos of business storefronts seen in Maps app.

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