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Summary:

Updated: While James is enjoying the inclusion of Sprint Navigator on the Palm Pre, I’m still a bigger user of Google Maps. I have on-board navigation in my SUV, so I’m generally in good shape for directions — just not so much for traffic. That changes […]

maps_2009-25-08_141258Updated: While James is enjoying the inclusion of Sprint Navigator on the Palm Pre, I’m still a bigger user of Google Maps. I have on-board navigation in my SUV, so I’m generally in good shape for directions — just not so much for traffic. That changes today as Google Maps gains traffic data for all U.S. highways and arterials.

The data isn’t just from a standard traffic service either. Google is leveraging all of those Google Maps clients by crowdsourcing the data:

“Imagine if you knew the exact traffic speed on every road in the city — every intersection, backstreet and freeway on-ramp — and how that would affect the way you drive, help the environment and impact the way our government makes road planning decisions. This idea, which we geeks call “crowdsourcing,” isn’t new. Ever since GPS location started coming to mainstream devices, people have been thinking of ways to use it to figure out how fast the traffic is moving.”

The first typical concern when a company starts using the data of its many users is one of privacy. Google seems to have that under control as it only uses anonymous speed and location info at the individual user level. It then aggregates nearby data points to use for the actual traffic data. Google says it also only uses data from phones if a handset owner has enabled location services. To add just a bit more privacy and security, I’d like to see there be an opt-out to send back location data to Google, but I’m not overly concerned by this omission.

Google-maps-iphoneAfter pressing the “Show Traffic” button, I can already see the real-time traffic on my Palm Pre, which will come in handy on the road. Many of the smaller roads in my area that previously didn’t show traffic are appearing now. I wonder if some cows escaped to cause a traffic jam near me. There’s never any traffic where I live.

The new traffic coverage is already available in Google Maps on all handsets, with one noteable exception. – Apple’s iPhone. Obviously, the traffic data that used to appear on the iPhone will continue to appear, but it won’t be as widespread as you can tell by this screenshot. Compared to the one from my Palm Pre for the same area, you can see that the data is limited.

Update: As pointed out by Otto in the comments, the arterial traffic data is available on the iPhone when zooming in a little more. The Google Mobile Blog mentioned a lack of support on the iPhone, so I reached out to them directly for clarification. A Google spokesperson replied with this statement: “The Google Maps application that comes pre-installed on the iPhone can display live traffic, but Apple devices do not participate in the traffic crowdsourcing.”

Based on this, it sounds to me like the iPhone can take advantage of the additional real time traffic data on smaller roads, but doesn’t contribute traffic data back to Google. If my take is accurate, Google is missing out on a huge number of traffic data points, given the large number of iPhones in the U.S. I’ve updated the headline to reflect this thought.

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  1. It shows up just fine on my iPhone, Kevin. Mine looks like the top shot, not the bottom one. I even loaded up Sellersville, PA, for exact comparison. I see full traffic. iPhone 3GS, 32 GB.

    Hint: Zoom in a little bit.

    1. Thanks Otto. I did zoom in and see more traffic data on the iPhone. Hmm… the Google Mobile Blog says “Some phones, such as the T-Mobile myTouch 3G and the Palm Pre, come with Google Maps and traffic crowdsourcing pre-installed (the iPhone Maps application, however, does not support traffic crowdsourcing).”

      Perhaps what they’re saying is that the iPhone will receive traffic data, but not actually provide any back to Google. If that’s the case, the iPhone comes out a winner in this case – it gains the benefit but has no privacy or data cost! I’ll shoot a note to my Google contacts to confirm before rushing a correction. Thanks again! :)

  2. yes, I have been seeing the same thing in San Fran for a few days now, traffic data OFF the beaten path. I THINK this is really just legacy “should be” based on the inrix engine and their historical traffic mapping. I don’t really think they are doing a “dash” and actually GETTING real time flow info from GPS enabled phones. that would take a lot of parsing and privacy contract to figure out.

  3. In Chicago suburbs I am seeing more detail of lesser streets as well as I zoom in. This is an amazing new feature. Life is good in the tech lane!

  4. I think the iPhone is displaying the same data as every other device; I compared with my PC for “off the beaten track” roads and it looks the same. You do have to zoom in a bit before they’ll show you traffic on smaller roads though.

  5. So how do we go about telling Apple that we’d really like them to include that in their app.

  6. Considering the massive iPhone population in the city of Los Angeles, google is really missing out on a large number of contributors in a city that REALLY could use this data. Now.. why hasn’t google released a turn-by-turn GPS app for the iPhone utilizing this data??? I would buy it right now!

  7. So in places like Manhattan or London, how do they know it’s not thousands of people walking, rather than driving?

  8. I feel sorry for the guys at Waze.. they just released a crowd sourcing program about a month or so ago only to have Google stomp right in their playground

  9. http://www.apple.com/feedback/iphone.html

    This is where you have to go to request this feature to be added to the iPhone.

  10. Google already has (and probably has crawlers reading) all on my gmail. Now they trak me wherever I go. Stalin and Nixon must be kicking themselves in their graves that they didn’t create Google. Have the source wilfully divulge all its secrets for free intelligence for free and advertisers to pay all the bills … What a country!!

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