The battle of navigation apps has abruptly sparked to life. Google, after a wait of about six years, is relaunching the Street View functionality for Google Maps in India. That means panoramic images of popular locations in 10 Indian cities will now be available on Google Maps. It will also add speed limit information and partner with traffic authorities in multiple cities for congestion and road safety information.
It may not exactly be a coincidence that Indian mapping company, MapmyIndia too has announced the release of Mappls RealView apps with updated maps including panoramic street views. Much like Google’s Street View, the Mappls RealView also allows users to explore a place or an area through 360-degree images captured at the street level. This may give a better sense of the place, and directions.
Google couldn’t launch this feature in India so far, but the tech giant has now partnered with Indian companies Tech Mahindra and Genesys International, to comply with the latest guidelines.
“We believe the launch of Street View in India will be instrumental in delivering a more helpful user experience, from virtually visiting locations to getting a better sense of local businesses and establishments,” said Miriam Karthika Daniel, vice president, Google Maps Experiences at Google.
From what we have witnessed so far, the street view panorama overlays available for now are just a start, and there is still a long way to go before there is close to complete coverage of landmarks in Indian cities. That’s true for either platform.
What are panoramic images for street views?
The Google Maps Street View and Mappls RealView work in the same way – use multi-directional images stitched into one wide panoramic image, to give users a better sense of the place and direction, virtually, as though they’re physically present there and looking around. Google has developed this functionality for 15 years now and collected more than 220 billion Street View images from over 100 countries and territories.
Remember the Street View cars with high-definition cameras mounted on the roof, driving around cities globally? Those were one of the means to achieving the photography results.
Earlier this summer, Google confirmed they are testing a new and upgraded camera system for street view images that will roll out globally in 2023. It has been designed to allow easy mounting on any type of vehicle, likely with a roof-rack or roof-rails, rather than specific installations which made Street View cars so recognizable (but limited the resources too). The idea is to be able to refresh a location’s images frequently.
It is not just about being able to virtually walk around a location. These panoramic images within mapping and navigation applications can include information overlays too, such as routes, establishments, and historical facts, for instance.
This is something Rohan Verma, chief executive officer and executive director, MapmyIndia, alludes to. “Users can also experience immersive 3D maps for pan India and detailed interactive 3D models of iconic tourist, commercial and residential landmarks across India,” he said. MapmyIndia’s 2D maps include house-level detailing and relies on ISRO’s satellite imagery.
Why couldn’t Google launch Street View in India, till now?
In 2016, the government declined to allow Google to collect images for Street View, citing security concerns, particularly around military installations, high-security areas, and borders. The data collection and localization policies have been clarified since then when India announced its geospatial policy last year. The policy let Google start work on Street View again, with Indian companies.
The geospatial policy allows local entities and companies to collect visual data (such as images and videos) up to a certain quality and definition of detail. In Google’s case, Genesys International and Tech Mahindra are doing everything in the chain of data collection, from camera configurations to staying within the definition and detail guidelines, as well as the actual capture and collection of panoramic images.
“Our fleet is still swiftly photographing Indian cities, bringing to life our city’s amazing tapestry of streets and landmarks,” said Sajid Malik, Managing Director of Genesys International Corporation Limited.
Google confirms that Genesys International and Tech Mahindra own the data they collect, and subsequently license it to Google (and any other entities in due course) for usage. Globally, Google follows certain user privacy policies, which include blurring the faces of people and vehicle registration plates in panorama images. The same policies have been applied to the latest Street View images for India.
MapmyIndia’s Mappls app, of which RealView is a part, has been developed in-house. “We are excited to give to users in India, a fully indigenous alternative to foreign map apps, that is more advanced in its capabilities and more valuable for users, while also being fully Indian,” said Verma.
This app, which was previously known as MapmyIndia Move, also has use-cases much beyond just the consumer aspect. These overlays are a very early step into the metaverse experience and can be useful for gaming and virtual reality (remember the Pokémon Go craze), traffic management, smart city monitoring and tourism, to name a few.
What all is covered by Google and MapmyIndia?
Google Street View and MapmyIndia’s Mappls RealView will be largely dependent on permissions in different cities, which should see them kept out of high-security areas and other locations considered sensitive. Even then, there is still a long way to go before the panorama images of all important locations and landmarks, even in the cities which already have some coverage, show up. That said, most monuments and tourist locations have panorama images in place.
Google claimed that Street View in India resumes its journey with fresh images of landmarks in 10 cities (Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Pune, Nashik, Vadodara, Ahmednagar, and Amritsar). The overall coverage span is 150,000 km. MapmyIndia doesn’t give out exact numbers but insisted that there are more than 40 crore geo-tagged panoramas across cities and towns and “tens of thousands of kilometres of highways”.
Google Street View is not the same as Live View
There is another dimension to Google Street View called Live View which is available in other countries, and adds more immersion with overlays – distance markets, arrows, and direction guidelines when you view the immediate location, through your phone’s camera. Google India has not confirmed if Live View will be launching in India soon.
Accessing street view panoramas
First things first, the panorama images for locations are free to access, for both Google and MapmyIndia’s apps. In Google Maps, you will now find the Street View layer option on the web browser as well as apps for Android phones and the Apple iPhone. MapmyIndia’s Mappls RealView is also available via the web browsers on PC, and there are MappIs navigation apps for the iPhone and Android phones. The advantage Google has is that it is integrated within the Maps app, which has a large user base. Google says more than a billion people use Maps globally every month.