Apple Maps to add public transport directions for users in China

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 June, 2015, 4:26pm
UPDATED : Monday, 08 June, 2015, 4:26pm

People in cities across China will soon be able to see information about public and mass transport using Apple Maps, as the company attempts to improve its much maligned but widely used mapping app.

The upgrade will come as part of iOS 9, the latest version of the operating system for iPhones and iPads. It is expected to be announced today at the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Public transit data in mainland China will be provided by AutoNavi, a subsidiary of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba that has partnered with Apple on its mapping service since 2010.

The mass transit information will also be available to users in San Francisco, New York, Toronto, London, Paris and Berlin, with other cities and regions to be added later.

Launched in 2012, Apple Maps has gained a bigger slice of the pie due to its position as the default mapping program for iOS. Yet it has often struggled to keep up with competitor Google in terms of features and accuracy.

Google lost nearly 23 million users when its own Maps app was replaced as the default option on iPhone in 2012. This happened despite widespread criticism of Apple's offering at its time of launch, which led to a rare public apology from chief executive Tim Cook.

Google already offers public transit data for 25 cities across the US for example, but the situation in mainland China is quite different.

All Google services have been blocked completely since the beginning of this year, with several unavailable for local internet users long before that. Overall, the service has been patchy and intermittent for years

Users of Google Maps in China often circumvent the problem by logging into data-gobbling virtual private networks (VPNs) or other censorship-dodging services to access the app.

Chinese App Store statistics show that Google Maps has massively lost popularity, plunging from the number one spot to #653, according to analysis firm App Annie.

By comparison, map apps offered by Baidu and AutoNavi come in at #25 and #32, respectively. Statistics for native iPhone apps are not available.

Apple sold more than 61 million iPhones in the first quarter of 2015, as strong sales in China propelled the US tech giant to revenues of US$58 billion globally for the three month period.