Архив метки: GPS

Apple is rebuilding Maps from the ground up

I’m not sure if you’re aware, but the launch of Apple Maps went poorly. After a rough first impression, an apology from the CEO, several years of patching holes with data partnerships and some glimmers of light with long-awaited transit directions and improvements in business, parking and place data, Apple Maps is still not where it needs to be to be considered a world-class service.
Maps needs fixing.
Apple, it turns out, is aware of this, so it’s re-building the maps part of Maps.
It’s doing this by using first-party data gathered by iPhones with a privacy-first methodology and its own fleet of cars packed with sensors and cameras. The new product will launch in San Francisco and the Bay Area with the next iOS 12 beta and will cover Northern California by fall.
Every version of iOS will get the updated maps eventually, and they will be more responsive to changes in roadways and construction, more visually rich depending on the specific context they’re viewed in and feature more detailed ground cover, foliage, pools, pedestrian pathways and more.
This is nothing less than a full re-set of Maps and it’s been four years in the making, which is when Apple began to develop its new data-gathering systems. Eventually, Apple will no longer rely on third-party data to provide the basis for its maps, which has been one of its major pitfalls from the beginning.
“Since we introduced this six years ago — we won’t rehash all the issues we’ve had when we introduced it — we’ve done a huge investment in getting the map up to par,” says Apple SVP Eddy Cue, who now owns Maps, in an interview last week. “When we launched, a lot of it was all about directions and getting to a certain place. Finding the place and getting directions to that place. We’ve done a huge investment of making millions of changes, adding millions of locations, updating the map and changing the map more frequently. All of those things over the past six years.”
But, Cue says, Apple has room to improve on the quality of Maps, something that most users would agree on, even with recent advancements.
“We wanted to take this to the next level,” says Cue. “We have been working on trying to create what we hope is going to be the best map app in the world, taking it to the next step. That is building all of our own map data from the ground up.”
In addition to Cue, I spoke to Apple VP Patrice Gautier and more than a dozen Apple Maps team members at its mapping headquarters in California this week about its efforts to re-build Maps, and to do it in a way that aligned with Apple’s very public stance on user privacy.
If, like me, you’re wondering whether Apple thought of building its own maps from scratch before it launched Maps, the answer is yes. At the time, there was a choice to be made about whether or not it wanted to be in the business of maps at all. Given that the future of mobile devices was becoming very clear, it knew that mapping would be at the core of nearly every aspect of its devices, from photos to directions to location services provided to apps. Decision made, Apple plowed ahead, building a product that relied on a patchwork of data from partners like TomTom, OpenStreetMap and other geo data brokers. The result was underwhelming.
Almost immediately after Apple launched Maps, it realized that it was going to need help and it signed on a bunch of additional data providers to fill the gaps in location, base map, point-of-interest and business data.
It wasn’t enough.
“We decided to do this just over four years ago. We said, ‘Where do we want to take Maps? What are the things that we want to do in Maps?’ We realized that, given what we wanted to do and where we wanted to take it, we needed to do this ourselves,” says Cue.
Because Maps are so core to so many functions, success wasn’t tied to just one function. Maps needed to be great at transit, driving and walking — but also as a utility used by apps for location services and other functions.
Cue says that Apple needed to own all of the data that goes into making a map, and to control it from a quality as well as a privacy perspective.

There’s also the matter of corrections, updates and changes entering a long loop of submission to validation to update when you’re dealing with external partners. The Maps team would have to be able to correct roads, pathways and other updating features in days or less, not months. Not to mention the potential competitive advantages it could gain from building and updating traffic data from hundreds of millions of iPhones, rather than relying on partner data.
Cue points to the proliferation of devices running iOS, now over a billion, as a deciding factor to shift its process.
“We felt like because the shift to devices had happened — building a map today in the way that we were traditionally doing it, the way that it was being done — we could improve things significantly, and improve them in different ways,” he says. “One is more accuracy. Two is being able to update the map faster based on the data and the things that we’re seeing, as opposed to driving again or getting the information where the customer’s proactively telling us. What if we could actually see it before all of those things?”
I query him on the rapidity of Maps updates, and whether this new map philosophy means faster changes for users.
“The truth is that Maps needs to be [updated more], and even are today,” says Cue. “We’ll be doing this even more with our new maps, [with] the ability to change the map in real time and often. We do that every day today. This is expanding us to allow us to do it across everything in the map. Today, there’s certain things that take longer to change.
“For example, a road network is something that takes a much longer time to change currently. In the new map infrastructure, we can change that relatively quickly. If a new road opens up, immediately we can see that and make that change very, very quickly around it. It’s much, much more rapid to do changes in the new map environment.”
So a new effort was created to begin generating its own base maps, the very lowest building block of any really good mapping system. After that, Apple would begin layering on living location data, high-resolution satellite imagery and brand new intensely high-resolution image data gathered from its ground cars until it had what it felt was a “best in class” mapping product.
There is only really one big company on earth that owns an entire map stack from the ground up: Google .
Apple knew it needed to be the other one. Enter the vans.

Apple vans spotted
Though the overall project started earlier, the first glimpse most folks had of Apple’s renewed efforts to build the best Maps product was the vans that started appearing on the roads in 2015 with “Apple Maps” signs on the side. Capped with sensors and cameras, these vans popped up in various cities and sparked rampant discussion and speculation.
The new Apple Maps will be the first time the data collected by these vans is actually used to construct and inform its maps. This is their coming out party.
Some people have commented that Apple’s rigs look more robust than the simple GPS + Camera arrangements on other mapping vehicles — going so far as to say they look more along the lines of something that could be used in autonomous vehicle training.
Apple isn’t commenting on autonomous vehicles, but there’s a reason the arrays look more advanced: they are.
Earlier this week I took a ride in one of the vans as it ran a sample route to gather the kind of data that would go into building the new maps. Here’s what’s inside.

In addition to a beefed-up GPS rig on the roof, four LiDAR arrays mounted at the corners and eight cameras shooting overlapping high-resolution images, there’s also the standard physical measuring tool attached to a rear wheel that allows for precise tracking of distance and image capture. In the rear there is a surprising lack of bulky equipment. Instead, it’s a straightforward Mac Pro bolted to the floor, attached to an array of solid state drives for storage. A single USB cable routes up to the dashboard where the actual mapping-capture software runs on an iPad.
While mapping, a driver…drives, while an operator takes care of the route, ensuring that a coverage area that has been assigned is fully driven, as well as monitoring image capture. Each drive captures thousands of images as well as a full point cloud (a 3D map of space defined by dots that represent surfaces) and GPS data. I later got to view the raw data presented in 3D and it absolutely looks like the quality of data you would need to begin training autonomous vehicles.
More on why Apple needs this level of data detail later.

When the images and data are captured, they are then encrypted on the fly and recorded on to the SSDs. Once full, the SSDs are pulled out, replaced and packed into a case, which is delivered to Apple’s data center, where a suite of software eliminates from the images private information like faces, license plates and other info. From the moment of capture to the moment they’re sanitized, they are encrypted with one key in the van and the other key in the data center. Technicians and software that are part of its mapping efforts down the pipeline from there never see unsanitized data.
This is just one element of Apple’s focus on the privacy of the data it is utilizing in New Maps.
Probe data and privacy
Throughout every conversation I have with any member of the team throughout the day, privacy is brought up, emphasized. This is obviously by design, as Apple wants to impress upon me as a journalist that it’s taking this very seriously indeed, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s evidently built in from the ground up and I could not find a false note in any of the technical claims or the conversations I had.
Indeed, from the data security folks to the people whose job it is to actually make the maps work well, the constant refrain is that Apple does not feel that it is being held back in any way by not hoovering every piece of customer-rich data it can, storing and parsing it.
The consistent message is that the team feels it can deliver a high-quality navigation, location and mapping product without the directly personal data used by other platforms.
“We specifically don’t collect data, even from point A to point B,” notes Cue. “We collect data — when we do it — in an anonymous fashion, in subsections of the whole, so we couldn’t even say that there is a person that went from point A to point B. We’re collecting the segments of it. As you can imagine, that’s always been a key part of doing this. Honestly, we don’t think it buys us anything [to collect more]. We’re not losing any features or capabilities by doing this.”

The segments that he is referring to are sliced out of any given person’s navigation session. Neither the beginning or the end of any trip is ever transmitted to Apple. Rotating identifiers, not personal information, are assigned to any data or requests sent to Apple and it augments the “ground truth” data provided by its own mapping vehicles with this “probe data” sent back from iPhones.
Because only random segments of any person’s drive is ever sent and that data is completely anonymized, there is never a way to tell if any trip was ever a single individual. The local system signs the IDs and only it knows to whom that ID refers. Apple is working very hard here to not know anything about its users. This kind of privacy can’t be added on at the end, it has to be woven in at the ground level.
Because Apple’s business model does not rely on it serving to you, say, an ad for a Chevron on your route, it doesn’t need to even tie advertising identifiers to users.
Any personalization or Siri requests are all handled on-board by the iOS device’s processor. So if you get a drive notification that tells you it’s time to leave for your commute, that’s learned, remembered and delivered locally, not from Apple’s servers.
That’s not new, but it’s important to note given the new thing to take away here: Apple is flipping on the power of having millions of iPhones passively and actively improving their mapping data in real time.
In short: Traffic, real-time road conditions, road systems, new construction and changes in pedestrian walkways are about to get a lot better in Apple Maps.
The secret sauce here is what Apple calls probe data. Essentially little slices of vector data that represent direction and speed transmitted back to Apple completely anonymized with no way to tie it to a specific user or even any given trip. It’s reaching in and sipping a tiny amount of data from millions of users instead, giving it a holistic, real-time picture without compromising user privacy.
If you’re driving, walking or cycling, your iPhone can already tell this. Now if it knows you’re driving, it also can send relevant traffic and routing data in these anonymous slivers to improve the entire service. This only happens if your Maps app has been active, say you check the map, look for directions, etc. If you’re actively using your GPS for walking or driving, then the updates are more precise and can help with walking improvements like charting new pedestrian paths through parks — building out the map’s overall quality.
All of this, of course, is governed by whether you opted into location services, and can be toggled off using the maps location toggle in the Privacy section of settings.
Apple says that this will have a near zero effect on battery life or data usage, because you’re already using the ‘maps’ features when any probe data is shared and it’s a fraction of what power is being drawn by those activities.
From the point cloud on up
But maps cannot live on ground truth and mobile data alone. Apple is also gathering new high-resolution satellite data to combine with its ground truth data for a solid base map. It’s then layering satellite imagery on top of that to better determine foliage, pathways, sports facilities, building shapes and pathways.
After the downstream data has been cleaned up of license plates and faces, it gets run through a bunch of computer vision programming to pull out addresses, street signs and other points of interest. These are cross referenced to publicly available data like addresses held by the city and new construction of neighborhoods or roadways that comes from city planning departments.

But one of the special sauce bits that Apple is adding to the mix of mapping tools is a full-on point cloud that maps in 3D the world around the mapping van. This allows them all kinds of opportunities to better understand what items are street signs (retro-reflective rectangular object about 15 feet off the ground? Probably a street sign) or stop signs or speed limit signs.
It seems like it also could enable positioning of navigation arrows in 3D space for AR navigation, but Apple declined to comment on “any future plans” for such things.
Apple also uses semantic segmentation and Deep Lambertian Networks to analyze the point cloud coupled with the image data captured by the car and from high-resolution satellites in sync. This allows 3D identification of objects, signs, lanes of traffic and buildings and separation into categories that can be highlighted for easy discovery.
The coupling of high-resolution image data from car and satellite, plus a 3D point cloud, results in Apple now being able to produce full orthogonal reconstructions of city streets with textures in place. This is massively higher-resolution and easier to see, visually. And it’s synchronized with the “panoramic” images from the car, the satellite view and the raw data. These techniques are used in self-driving applications because they provide a really holistic view of what’s going on around the car. But the ortho view can do even more for human viewers of the data by allowing them to “see” through brush or tree cover that would normally obscure roads, buildings and addresses.
This is hugely important when it comes to the next step in Apple’s battle for supremely accurate and useful Maps: human editors.
Apple has had a team of tool builders working specifically on a toolkit that can be used by human editors to vet and parse data, street by street. The editor’s suite includes tools that allow human editors to assign specific geometries to flyover buildings (think Salesforce tower’s unique ridged dome) that allow them to be instantly recognizable. It lets editors look at real images of street signs shot by the car right next to 3D reconstructions of the scene and computer vision detection of the same signs, instantly recognizing them as accurate or not.
Another tool corrects addresses, letting an editor quickly move an address to the center of a building, determine whether they’re misplaced and shift them around. It also allows for access points to be set, making Apple Maps smarter about the “last 50 feet” of your journey. You’ve made it to the building, but what street is the entrance actually on? And how do you get into the driveway? With a couple of clicks, an editor can make that permanently visible.

“When we take you to a business and that business exists, we think the precision of where we’re taking you to, from being in the right building,” says Cue. “When you look at places like San Francisco or big cities from that standpoint, you have addresses where the address name is a certain street, but really, the entrance in the building is on another street. They’ve done that because they want the better street name. Those are the kinds of things that our new Maps really is going to shine on. We’re going to make sure that we’re taking you to exactly the right place, not a place that might be really close by.”
Water, swimming pools (new to Maps entirely), sporting areas and vegetation are now more prominent and fleshed out thanks to new computer vision and satellite imagery applications. So Apple had to build editing tools for those, as well.
Many hundreds of editors will be using these tools, in addition to the thousands of employees Apple already has working on maps, but the tools had to be built first, now that Apple is no longer relying on third parties to vet and correct issues.
And the team also had to build computer vision and machine learning tools that allow it to determine whether there are issues to be found at all.
Anonymous probe data from iPhones, visualized, looks like thousands of dots, ebbing and flowing across a web of streets and walkways, like a luminescent web of color. At first, chaos. Then, patterns emerge. A street opens for business, and nearby vessels pump orange blood into the new artery. A flag is triggered and an editor looks to see if a new road needs a name assigned.
A new intersection is added to the web and an editor is flagged to make sure that the left turn lanes connect correctly across the overlapping layers of directional traffic. This has the added benefit of massively improved lane guidance in the new Apple Maps.
Apple is counting on this combination of human and AI flagging to allow editors to first craft base maps and then also maintain them as the ever-changing biomass wreaks havoc on roadways, addresses and the occasional park.
Here there be Helvetica
Apple’s new Maps, like many other digital maps, display vastly differently depending on scale. If you’re zoomed out, you get less detail. If you zoom in, you get more. But Apple has a team of cartographers on staff that work on more cultural, regional and artistic levels to ensure that its Maps are readable, recognizable and useful.
These teams have goals that are at once concrete and a bit out there — in the best traditions of Apple pursuits that intersect the technical with the artistic.
The maps need to be usable, but they also need to fulfill cognitive goals on cultural levels that go beyond what any given user might know they need. For instance, in the U.S., it is very common to have maps that have a relatively low level of detail even at a medium zoom. In Japan, however, the maps are absolutely packed with details at the same zoom, because that increased information density is what is expected by users.
This is the department of details. They’ve reconstructed replicas of hundreds of actual road signs to make sure that the shield on your navigation screen matches the one you’re seeing on the highway road sign. When it comes to public transport, Apple licensed all of the type faces that you see on your favorite subway systems, like Helvetica for NYC. And the line numbers are in the exact same order that you’re going to see them on the platform signs.
It’s all about reducing the cognitive load that it takes to translate the physical world you have to navigate into the digital world represented by Maps.

Bottom line
The new version of Apple Maps will be in preview next week with just the Bay Area of California going live. It will be stitched seamlessly into the “current” version of Maps, but the difference in quality level should be immediately visible based on what I’ve seen so far.
Better road networks, more pedestrian information, sports areas like baseball diamonds and basketball courts, more land cover, including grass and trees, represented on the map, as well as buildings, building shapes and sizes that are more accurate. A map that feels more like the real world you’re actually traveling through.
Search is also being revamped to make sure that you get more relevant results (on the correct continents) than ever before. Navigation, especially pedestrian guidance, also gets a big boost. Parking areas and building details to get you the last few feet to your destination are included, as well.
What you won’t see, for now, is a full visual redesign.
“You’re not going to see huge design changes on the maps,” says Cue. “We don’t want to combine those two things at the same time because it would cause a lot of confusion.”
Apple Maps is getting the long-awaited attention it really deserves. By taking ownership of the project fully, Apple is committing itself to actually creating the map that users expected of it from the beginning. It’s been a lingering shadow on iPhones, especially, where alternatives like Google Maps have offered more robust feature sets that are so easy to compare against the native app but impossible to access at the deep system level.
The argument has been made ad nauseam, but it’s worth saying again that if Apple thinks that mapping is important enough to own, it should own it. And that’s what it’s trying to do now.
“We don’t think there’s anybody doing this level of work that we’re doing,” adds Cue. “We haven’t announced this. We haven’t told anybody about this. It’s one of those things that we’ve been able to keep pretty much a secret. Nobody really knows about it. We’re excited to get it out there. Over the next year, we’ll be rolling it out, section by section in the U.S.”

Apple is rebuilding Maps from the ground up

Fantasmo is a decentralized map for robots and augmented reality

“Whether for AR or robots, anytime you have software interacting with the world, it needs a 3D model of the globe. We think that map will look a lot more like the decentralized internet than a version of Apple Maps or Google Maps.” That’s the idea behind new startup Fantasmo, according to co-founder Jameson Detweiler. Coming out of stealth today, Fantasmo wants to let any developer contribute to and draw from a sub-centimeter accuracy map for robot navigation or anchoring AR experiences.
Fantasmo plans to launch a free Camera Positioning Standard (CPS) that developers can use to collect and organize 3D mapping data. The startup will charge for commercial access and premium features in its TerraOS, an open-sourced operating system that helps property owners keep their maps up to date and supply them for use by robots, AR and other software equipped with Fantasmo’s SDK.
With $2 million in funding led by TenOneTen Ventures, Fantasmo is now accepting developers and property owners to its private beta.

Directly competing with Google’s own Visual Positioning System is an audacious move. Fantasmo is betting that private property owners won’t want big corporations snooping around to map their indoor spaces, and instead will want to retain control of this data so they can dictate how it’s used. With Fantasmo, they’ll be able to map spaces themselves and choose where robots can roam or if the next Pokémon GO can be played there.
“Only Apple, Google, and HERE Maps want this centralized. If this data sits on one of the big tech company’s servers, they could basically spy on anyone at any time,” says Detweiler. The prospect gets scarier when you imagine everyone wearing camera-equipped AR glasses in the future. “The AR cloud on a central server is Big Brother. It’s the end of privacy.”
Detweiler and his co-founder Dr. Ryan Measel first had the spark for Fantasmo as best friends at Drexel University. “We need to build Pokémon in real life! That was the genesis of the company,” says Detweiler. In the meantime he founded and sold LaunchRock, a 500 Startups company for creating “Coming Soon” sign-up pages for internet services.

After Measel finished his PhD, the pair started Fantasmo Studios to build augmented reality games like Trash Collectors From Space, which they took through the Techstars accelerator in 2015. “Trash Collectors was the first time we actually created a spatial map and used that to sync multiple people’s precise position up,” says Detweiler. But while building the infrastructure tools to power the game, they realized there was a much bigger opportunity to build the underlying maps for everyone’s games. Now the Santa Monica-based Fantasmo has 11 employees.
“It’s the internet of the real world,” says Detweiler. Fantasmo now collects geo-referenced photos, scans them for identifying features like walls and objects, and imports them into its point cloud model. Apps and robots equipped with the Fantasmo SDK can then pull in the spatial map for a specific location that’s more accurate than federally run GPS. That lets them peg AR objects to precise spots in your environment while making sure robots don’t run into things.
Fantasmo identifies objects in geo-referenced photos to build a 3D model of the world
“I think this is the most important piece of infrastructure to be built during the next decade,” Detweiler declares. That potential attracted funding from TenOneTen, Freestyle Capital, LDV, NoName Ventures, Locke Mountain Ventures and some angel investors. But it’s also attracted competitors like Escher Reality, which was acquired by Pokémon GO parent company Niantic, and Ubiquity6, which has investment from top-tier VCs like Kleiner Perkins and First Round.
Google is the biggest threat, though. With its industry-leading traditional Google Maps, experience with indoor mapping through Tango, new VPS initiative and near limitless resources. Just yesterday, Google showed off using an AR fox in Google Maps that you can follow for walking directions.

Fantasmo is hoping that Google’s size works against it. The startup sees a path to victory through interoperability and privacy. The big corporations want to control and preference their own platforms’ access to maps while owning the data about private property. Fantasmo wants to empower property owners to oversee that data and decide what happens to it. Measel concludes, “The world would be worse off if GPS was proprietary. The next evolution shouldn’t be any different.”

Fantasmo is a decentralized map for robots and augmented reality

Отключение GPS-станций в России может ухудшить качество навигации

Россия с 1 июня отключит наземные станции американской навигационной системы GPS, объявил вчера вице-премьер РФ Дмитрий Рогозин. Это, пояснил он, ответ на затруднения, с которыми сталкивается отечественная ГЛОНАСС при установке своих станций в США.
Отключение GPS-станций в России может ухудшить качество навигации

Sonar Rolls Out “Here-Now” Mobile Social Network, Adds Status, Messaging, Notifications

sonarlogo

This time last year, Brett Martin took the stage at TechCrunch Disrupt in New York to launch Sonar, a mobile app that connects you to friends and other people nearby, based on your existing social networks. Fast forward to today and the Battlefield runner-up is rolling out a major update to its mobile app that will allow Sonar to finally become the “Here-Now” social network.

The app previously focused on providing relevant information to users about others around them based on connections via Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, and Twitter. Extremely useful for conferences like Disrupt, when you’re at a party or maybe even starting a new job.

So what’s new? Aside from the usual under the hood tweaks, Sonar has crammed in Status, Sonar Presence, Notifications and Messaging. The status update serves as a hyperlocal broadcast tool for those within close proximity and even pushes out a notification to your friends when they’re close by.

Sonar Presence runs in the background to let others know what you’re up to or when friends are nearby, pushing a notification to alert you to folks you are already connected to. Sonar says one way they’re set apart from other apps in the space is that they’re most interested in showing you real connections and people you actually care about. Like others in the space, battery issues remain because current devices aren’t optimized to use GPS properly. You can pause Sonar in the background, BTW.

Notifications will only ping you when friends you actually know and are connected to are nearby.

Messaging is pretty straight forward and lets you lob chats back and forth with other Sonar users. So if you’re heading into the office and Sonar notifies you that a co-worker is close by, you can send a message asking them to hold the elevator or ask if they need a coffee. Sonar also offers a replacement to the irritating “Where are you guys” texts that are a staple of meeting up at a concert or park. Brilliant, no?

Oh, you think you’ve heard this before, have you? How useful is Highlight outside of the San Francisco tech circle? Because it’s pretty worthless in New York. There are folks working in every industry imaginable, not just tech. The connections that I’ve personally made with folks in fashion, entertainment and countless other industries are innumerable thanks to Sonar. And what about getting results anywhere outside of a tech hub? Sonar says they had users in 35 countries just within a week of their launch last year, and have seen usage in more than 65 countries total. If you don’t see the value in a service like Sonar, then you’re totally missing the point and drinking the kool-aid.

Oddly enough, I’d heard this pitch before but it came at a time before the App Store was even a thing. Back in 2008, Mike declared that he’d seen the “Future Of Social Networking.” He described it as such:

A few years from now we’ll use our mobile devices to help us remember details of people we know, but not well. And it will help us meet new people for dating, business and friendship. Imagine walking into a meeting, classroom, party, bar, subway station, airplane, etc. and seeing profile information about other people in the area, depending on privacy settings. Picture, name, dating status, resume information, etc. The information that is available would be relevant to the setting – quick LinkedIn-type information for a business meeting v. Facebook dating status for a bar.

Given the intimate connection we have with our mobile devices, who wouldn’t want this type of service at our fingertips? It’s not like we don’t immediately Google someone we’ve just met anyway.

Mike never disclosed the name of the company and we never heard from them again. But it doesn’t matter. Sonar does just that and more.

Sonar [App Store]


Sonar Rolls Out “Here-Now” Mobile Social Network, Adds Status, Messaging, Notifications

9M Users Strong, MapMyFitness Brings Check-Ins, Advanced Google Maps Integration To Fitness Tracking

Screen shot 2012-05-21 at 6.41.19 PM

MapMyFitness is a veteran of the online health and fitness space, with the first iteration of its website appearing back in the summer of 2005. Since then, the startup has developed a suite of fitness-oriented websites (like MapMyRUN.com, MapMyRIDE.com, MapMyWALK.com, et al) to let users track and store their running, cycling, walking and hiking endeavors, along with accessing a database of international routes, fitness calculators, nutrition tracking, events listings and more. MapMyFitness has long had a stable community of committed users, but over the last year, things have been moving steadily north.

CEO Richard Jalichandra (who joined the startup from Technorati last year) tells us that MapMyFitness recently passed 9 million registered users, and that, collectively, its mobile apps have amassed over 30 million downloads, making it one of the biggest players in the fitness tracking space.

The good news for MapMyFitness, however, has been the recent telescoping growth in registrations (not downloads), with the latest 1 million registrations occurring over the last 40 days. That’s an increase from the 54 days it took for the site to go from 6 million to 7 million users, and the 47 days it took to pass 8 million users. All in all, that’s 3 million new users in the last 5 months, and the CEO says the company is today seeing 25K new registrations a day, significant when viewed against its nearly 7-year history.

It’s based on this recent uptick in activity that MapMyFitness is today launching one of the biggest feature updates the platform has seen since rebranding in 2007. The startup has completely rebuilt its portfolio of websites, and is now beta testing three big new features: Updated routes, personal challenges, and courses, with the main attraction, Jalichandra says, being the latter.

The CEO claims that the introduction of its new feature makes MapMyFitness the only online fitness service to have integrated Google Maps API v3.9 (the latest version of its API) and leverage its full functionality.

What does that mean? While MapMyFitness users could already plan, track, and share their routes, Jalichandra says that Courses adds a notable difference in performance and user experience, enabling users to go beyond the actual route. By incorporating realtime info on traffic, weather, safe routes, directions, realtime elevation, and custom markers, now users can go beyond the route, planning the best Segway route home from work, for example..

Really, the feature is intended to bring MapMyFitness into the gamification/Foursquare era, as it provides both hardcore and casual athletes with both leaderboards and check-ins. Courses offers an automatic “check-in activity” for every exercise logged to track the speed, distance, consistency, and intensity of workouts, ranking users by gender, age, and weigh on the platform’s new leaderboard.

There’s also a group segmenting feature that allows users to compare themselves, leaderboard-style, against specific groups, be they local clubs, friends, or fierce cycling rivals, backed by a points system that incorporates personal best times and monthly consistency, awarding badges to the users with the most overall points on climbing courses, those with the most completions of a course, the fastest time, etc., etc.

Courses will span MapMyFitness’ five primary categories, including cycling, running, walking, hiking and winter sports, as well as hundreds of subcategory specialties (like unicycling) and enables users to create new Courses directly from their iPhones, BlackBerrys, Androids, Windows Mobile phones and iPads.

It also helps that Courses leverages the startup’s database of more than 50 million routes, 1 million climbs, and 30K event courses through realtime processing, allowing users to measure fitness and track progress in realtime or over time.

With RunKeeper on a laudable mission to build “the health graph,” alongside an API that’s already attracted 50+ integrations, big funding, and a platform that’s quickly becoming one of the top destinations for tracking and sharing fitness routines, incumbents are feeling a little bit of pressure.

But, as its name implies, MapMyFitness does maps better than most, especially now that it is powering its new features with Google’s latest mapping technology. According to the startup’s CEO, other than Strava, MapMyFitness is the only platform that offers realtime GPS activity leaderboards, and he thinks that components of the service, like route mapping, the ability to send a route to your phone to route with directions, along with the ability to choose from over 40 sports give its service a leg up on the competition.

MapMyFitness also capitalizes on three revenue streams: Media, digital commerce and subscriptions, and enterprise software, with this diversity resulting in the startup’s revenue doubling each of the last four years, the CEO says, and is projected to triple in 2012. This has allowed the startup to avoid raising outside investment beyond its Series A in 2010 and to grow, under its own volition, to a team of 78, giving it an advantage over its competition in terms of good old human capital.

With its deep database of courses, routes and trails, some added stickiness thanks to leaderboards and check-ins, and some big data collection and storage capabilities on the back-end using postGIS, it wouldn’t be surprising to see MapMyFitness continue in its accelerating growth trajectory. And maybe even find a little funding waiting in the wings.

Also, don’t be surprised if MapMyFitness ends up being featured by Google at some point. My guess would be here.

Courses will be available initially through a private beta test for first 100,000 users
who sign up here. iPhone and Android MMF users will only see superficial changes reflected in its new site — now available to one and all — at new.mapmyfitness.com. Widespread access to Courses et al will be offered later this summer.

What do you think?


9M Users Strong, MapMyFitness Brings Check-Ins, Advanced Google Maps Integration To Fitness Tracking