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Apple uses cars worldwide improve its maps app

Michelle F. Davis
Bloomberg News

Apple Inc. cars are driving around cities from Dublin to Oahu, Hawaii, collecting data to improve the company’s much maligned Maps application.

Apple disclosed the effort Wednesday in a statement on its website, saying it was committed to protecting people’s privacy as it collects the information.

“For example, we will blur faces and license plates on collected images prior to publication,” according to the statement.

Apple debuted its Maps navigation app in 2012, replacing Google Inc.’s mapping data on the iPhone. Mistakes in Apple’s software drew users’ ire, and Google soon released a replacement app for Apple devices. Google Maps has been among the most popular free apps for the iPhone.

Apple said Monday that it would include public-transit directions in its app, something that Google has included for some time.

Apple had looked at possibly acquiring Nokia Oyj’s maps operations to improve its navigational software, people with knowledge of the matter said in April. The automobile fleet illustrates the Cupertino, California-based company’s desire for autonomy, said Anand Srinivasan, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.

“What Apple is doing is to some degree reinventing the wheel here but they want to do it on their own,” Srinivasan said. “Because it’s a daily utility, this is a critical feature. They acknowledge that they’re behind.”