The Apple Watch will tell you if your train is running late

Apple and its developers are announcing a lot of apps being retooled for its new smart watch, launching next week, but one particular app caught my eye. Crowdsoured public transit app Moovit says it will have an Apple Watch-optimized version of its app ready when the wearable goes on sale whenever that date happens to be.

There are several smartphone apps that will help you navigate the complex train, bus and metro networks of any big city, but the only problem with them is they’re in your smartphone. When you’re rushing to catch a train, or on a crowded sidewalk trying to find the closest bus stop, the last thing you want to do is whip out your device. Putting basic, yet pertinent information you need to navigate a crowded cityscape on your wrist is an ideal use case for a wearable. Moovit says an Android Wear version of the app will also be released in [company]Google[/company] Play sometime in the second quarter.

Moovit Apple Watch 1

 

The [company]Apple[/company] Watch app will give you a tiny map showing the nearest public transit stops so if you’re in an unfamiliar area, you’ll know where to head to catch your bus or train. Tap on one of those icons, and you’ll get arrival times for every train or bus that stops there. While actually planning a trip might be easier on your phone than on the Watch’s limited display, once you have an itinerary entered, Moovit will show you the trip details. For example, Moovit will show you directions to a transit stop and your expected time arrival at your destination.

Also, if you have favorite itineraries programmed into Moovit – for instance, your daily commute to work – the Watch will display the next arrival and departure times of the buses and trains you typically take. Finally, the app will ship alerts to your watch face on service disruptions for those same oft-used transit lines.

Moovit Apple Watch 2

 

This would have been an awfully handy thing to have this week at Mobile World Congress where accessing the Barcelona metro system is a must unless you like 2-hour cab lines. A simple glance at my wrist would have told me where I needed to go to catch my train, and how long I had before it arrived. Instead, I stood around at crowded intersections looking like a rube as I tried to access Google Maps on my phone. ETA information also would have been quite helpful since I often found myself arriving either 30 minutes early or 30 minutes late to appointments.

Moovit, which is often described as the Waze of public transit, has been on a bit of a tear lately. The Israeli company recently raised a $50 million Series C round, and it has expanded into 500 cities in 50 countries while racking up 15 million users contributing transit data to its database.

 

Nokia Here for Android is updated, out of beta and in Google Play

Nokia had quite the beta trial for its new Android version of Here, receiving 3 million downloads in four months after releasing the software for sideload on its website. But Nokia believes it has worked out the kinks and it’s launching a new version of the app with several new features and updates. It’s also making the app far more accessible to the Android-wielding public by offering it in Google Play.

If you already have the beta version of Here, you probably need to download the new version from Play as the beta version likely won’t automatically update. It should be worth the effort since [company]Nokia[/company] has fixed some bugs and added some new bells and whistles to the app.

Most notably, it’s added more interactivity to the maps so you can tap on businesses, points of interest and even traffic alerts to get more detailed information. For instance, tapping on a road closure notice could give you info on how long the street will be closed to traffic and what other streets are affected (assuming Here’s traffic service has access to that information). Nokia is also adding 3D maps of major landmarks to the Android version. Those 3D renderings don’t just look pretty. You can interact with them directly and even zoom through them to get directions inside of a building.

Nokia Here Android update

For a complete list of the new updates, check out this post on Nokia’s Here blog. The new version of the app is already available in Google Play in the U.S., but Nokia said it may take some time for it to populate the Play stores in other regions of the world. This week Nokia also updated its core map data for both Android and Windows phone, adding navigable cartography for several new countries and new details to existing maps. Nokia is also preparing a new iOS version of Here, though it didn’t give details on the timing.

Apple spotted driving sensor-equipped vehicles in the Bay Area

San Francisco CBS affiliate KPIX has been following a mysterious minivan tooling around Concord, California, with a roof rack fool of advanced sensors. Checking in with the Department of Motor Vehicles, the station found it was registered to Apple.

That led to some immediate speculation that [company]Apple[/company] is now testing its own self-driving vehicle fleet, but that’s probably a bit of a stretch. The Dodge minivan clearly has cameras and what appear to be light detection and ranging sensors, which are commonly know as LIDAR or just “lasers.” That’s pretty standard fare for a mapping vehicle, and Apple after all has its own cartography and navigation software, Apple Maps.

Apple sensor-equipped Minivan spotted by Claycord

Apple sensor-equipped Minivan spotted by Claycord

As an example, here’s a picture of a [company]Nokia [/company]Here mapping vehicle used to record 3D topographical data, which Nokia then loads into its Here app and sells to many, many customers (Nokia actually is the largest provider of mapping data to the vehicle navigation industry).

Nokia Here mapping vehicle

That doesn’t mean Apple isn’t stepping up its game. Apple Maps has been a bit of laughing stock since it first launched, and Apple has been trying to bring the service up to par with [company]Google[/company] Maps and Here. These camera-equipped vehicles might be compiling photographic data for a Street View kind of service, but there are other possibilities. LIDAR data could be used to add to its 3D library of cityscapes, and detailed street level imagery could be used to provide more accurate turn-by-turn directions and hone its map data with information on sidewalks, urban furniture and other minute details of the urban fabric.

Apple is delving much deeper into the car with the launch of CarPlay this year, so you would expect it to launch more iOS features and software that target drivers. And as with all with location apps in the car, your service is only good as the maps it draws upon.

With AppLink 3.0, Ford lets you choose your navigation app

Drivers have long waited for the day their favorite smartphone navigation apps would come to their dashboards, but in the case of Ford vehicles that day could only be a year away. Ford on Monday unveiled the newest version of its AppLink system, which bridges the apps in your in your smartphone with apps in your car, and the key feature of that upgrade is its ability to support third-party navigation apps.

Given the popularity of mobile turn-by-turn navigation apps like Google Maps, Waze, Nokia’s Here Maps and increasingly even Apple Maps, you might wonder why we’ve hardly seen any of them appear in car infotainment systems. Most automakers make a lot of money off of their own embedded nav systems – starting with a big upfront payment for an upgraded navigation trim package and often followed by subscription fees.

Meanwhile services like [company]Google[/company] and [company]Nokia[/company] Here aren’t just competitive; in many cases they’re more advanced than their embedded nav system counterparts. They’re also free to consumers so long as they have a smartphone. While most automakers claim they’re open to any developer that can make a useful and safe app for their cars, when it comes to navigation they’ve always protected their turf.

But [company]Ford[/company] appears to be trying to challenge that common auto industry wisdom. It’s already supports a third-party nav app called Scout in older Sync AppLink systems through a partnership with Telnav, and it’s definitely been encouraging location-services apps like Glympse and Life360 into its developer program. Previous iterations of AppLink have had pretty basic graphical interfaces though, but with the third generation of the system, AppLink will be able to project smartphone graphics in real-time onto in-dash displays, making it ideal for maps, said Joe Beiser, Ford director, Connected Services for Europe, Asia Pacific and Africa.

The move to AppLink 3.0 will not only open Ford cars to broader array of navigation, mapping and location-based apps, but Ford is hoping it will open other automakers’ vehicles to its connected car technology. Ford has embarked on the seemingly quixotic quest to open source AppLink, offering it to other automakers and hoping to spur the same kind of cross-manufacturer app ecosystem that Google has built around Android. So far SmartDeviceLink — as Ford calls its open source initiative — doesn’t have any other takers from the auto industry, but Ford is lending a little bit more credibility to the program by supporting third-party navigation software.

In its announcement, Ford didn’t say it is specifically working with Google, [company]Apple[/company] or Nokia to bring their mapping apps into AppLink (Google and Apple are working on their own in-dash user interfaces Android Auto and Car Play that would bring their nav apps into Fords by an alternate route), but it did name Chinese internet behemoth Alibaba as its first partner. Alibaba’s AutoNavi app will be the first to take advantage to use SmartDeviceLink’s new map projection capabilities and presumably will wind up in Ford dashboards when AppLink 3.0 is released.

Don’t count on using AutoNavi’s in-dash capabilities on your drive home though. AppLink 3.0 won’t launch in Ford vehicles until next year, so it won’t even make its debut in Sync 3, the new upgraded infotainment system appearing in higher-end Fords and Lincolns later this year. It’s also unclear whether older Ford models will support an upgrade to AppLink 3.0. Many lower-end vehicles with AppLink only support text interfaces so it’s unlikely they’ll start displaying maps without a hardware upgrade.

Nokia Here data to power Baidu’s non-Chinese maps

The Chinese web giant Baidu has decided on Nokia as its mapping partner for services outside of China.

[company]Nokia[/company]’s Here platform is one of the key remaining businesses of the Finnish firm, following the sale of its handset unit to [company]Microsoft[/company]. Its mapping data, which will now power [company]Baidu[/company] Maps for most of the world, covers nearly 200 countries.

According to a statement, the first extension of Baidu Maps beyond China will take in Taiwan (which China considers to be part of China anyway) and other territories will follow.

Although the Here data will be subsumed by the Baidu brand, it’s worth noting that China is a key market for Nokia – it’s the first country in which Nokia’s upcoming N1 tablet will launch, for example. Then again, as the world’s biggest economy, with increasing numbers of affluent citizens (and, relevantly, overseas-travelling tourists), that’s no surprise.

Can another company deliver on the promise of Foursquare?

Foursquare may be struggling, but that doesn’t mean others aren’t jostling to take its place. A new app, Connect, just raised a $10.3 million Series A, in a round including Marc Benioff, to give it a shot. It calls itself a “living address book.” It’s a digital address book that syncs all your social contacts together, but it’s also a new take on Foursquare’s check-in feature.

The app shows you a map of your city with little face bubbles telling you where your friends are hanging out. There’s a key difference though. Unlike Foursquare, which requires people to “check-in”, Connect extracts data from people’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Foursquare feeds to tell you where they’re located. The black circles represent their main city, pulled from their social profile information, and the red circles represent where a person has recently posted they are. For example, if you post a status about “Having a great time at Dolores Park,” Connect will place you at Dolores Park in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco. When Facebook latently notes your location for its “friends nearby” feature, Connect will pull that too.

Screenshots from Connect app

Screenshots from Connect app

The automatic information drawing removes the friction of the check-in to make your friends’ location data more readily available. You receive notifications when an out-of-town friend is visiting your city. The lead investor in Connect, Brad Bao from Kinzon Capital, told me he invested in the app because it solves a connection problem people didn’t necessarily know they had. “In a way, its similar to Uber before Uber existed,” Bao said. “There’s no way to [latently] inform my friends where I’m at.”

CEO Ryan Allis told me he spent a year and a half building the technology. We already had our surge in geolocation networking in 2011-2012. With Foursquare’s pivot, it appears the heyday might be over. But Connect’s premise intrigued me enough to try it. I liked Facebook’s “friends nearby” feature, despite its creepy vibe. It has almost resulted in me getting together with a friend I wouldn’t otherwise…such promise. Why not expand that to other networks?

But the vision of Connect seems to be a little behind the execution. On my map, there weren’t many friends in San Francisco, despite the fact that Facebook’s app clearly told me no less than three friends were all in my vicinity. That lapse in communication between the apps may be the result of some Facebook’s users privacy settings.

One of the friends the Connect app did show as being in San Francisco isn’t actually here. I texted her to double-check, and sure enough, she’s back in Boston (where she lives full time).

The promise of Foursquare — to know where your friends were so you could connect serendipitously — was so appealing, but technologically we may just not be there yet.

Nokia Here chief Halbherr steps down a few months after taking CEO role

Michael Halbherr has stepped down as CEO of Nokia Here, the Finnish firm’s mapping and location-based services division, after just a few months in the role. He had been with Nokia for eight years and on its leadership team for three, but he only took the Here CEO spot on 1 May this year. The team is now looking for a new chief, under the temporary leadership of Core Map Group SVP Cliff Fox. The division is currently unprofitable, but is betting on success in the connected car market in particular. According to a Wednesday statement, Halbherr quit in order to “focus once again on entrepreneurial activities.”