The new section of Interstate 485 north of Charlotte opens at 1 p.m. Friday – but it might not show up on your phone for months.
The new highway, which will connect N.C 115 and Interstate 85 to complete a 67-mile circle around the city, qualifies as a “basemap change” on Google Maps.
“Basemap changes – things like place names, borders and road networks – can take up to a couple months, but typically it’s faster than that,” Google spokeswoman Mara Harris said in an email. “Oftentimes within a few days.”
Transportation and mapping consultant Michael Dobson said Apple and Google, primary map providers on smartphones using iOS or Android operating systems, have three main sources for updating maps.
The companies can collect the information themselves, as Google does with its Street View cars, but of course driving a car over every road on a map is time-consuming.
Crowdsourcing is another option, and though Map Maker, Google’s amateur mapping program, has been temporarily shut down after pranks, consumers can still report errors on maps and Google will “strive to make these changes as quickly as possible,” Harris said.
Mapmakers’ third source is authoritative information from, for example, local government officials, Dodson said.
“The problem with relying on official sources is there’s generally a time delay, and that can be months,” he said.
For basemap updates like I-485, Harris said Google uses public and commercial data sources along with contributions from users and visual sources. Local search information – think of the bubbles on a Google map pointing out where gas stations and restaurants are – comes from Google’s search results, sources like Yellow Pages directories, and business owners themselves.
Apple did not respond to requests for comment.
Though Dodson thinks tech companies as large as Apple and Google could track information such as local news stories to update maps more frequently than they do, he understands the challenges.
“It’s a very hard thing for these companies to do, because roads on maps change more frequently than people would think,” Dodson said. “And names change even more often, or names may vary locally.”