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How Google Maps made Iceland look magical, and more tech news today

Your tech news digest, by way of the DGiT Daily tech newsletter, for Wednesday, 19 August 2020.

1. Google Maps gets better

I think Google Maps is one of the best Google products for many reasons. It’s pioneering, it keeps adding improvements, and it’s useful every day while being free. It’s also great to see competitors in the space, like Apple Maps, and the collaborative OpenStreetMap.

Now, Google Maps has more detailed imagery to help see forests, mountains, crosswalks, sidewalks, accurate street sizes, and more.

It’s down to two sets of improvements:

  • The first is new color-mapping. Google says it takes satellite imagery and, with computer vision, translates it into a more comprehensive view of an area at scale. The update focuses on arid, icy, forested, and mountainous regions.
  • Here’s Mt Rainier, for example:

  • While topography was evident before, now Google Maps shows a dramatically clearer view of the snow-capped mountainous region and vegetation surrounds. Iceland looks completely different, in another example.
  • Google says it’s made this update for 100M square kilometers of land on Earth, or 18 billion football fields. Not bad.
  • The other update is more detailed street information. This is less comprehensive, only covering San Francisco, London and New York for now. But assuming it does roll out to more places, it’s useful for traversing the urban landscape on foot or by bike. The new update here shows more accurate shape and width of a road to scale.
  • Now there’s more exact sidewalks, crosswalks, and pedestrian islands, giving a better idea if you need to deal with a side street or a major thoroughfare.
  • This is rolling out across “the coming months” implying a data-gathering approach, whereas the color-mapping technique is rolling out this week to “all 220 countries and territories currently supported by Google Maps”.

2. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra reviews are out, and the view is: the new Note 20 Ultra stands apart, but that’s only because it doesn’t have too many direct competitors. And at $1,300, there’s a reason not many phones are this stacked. But it’s hard to find value at this price (Android Authority).


3. Here’s how LG and Samsung might make foldable phones more durable: New patents aim to reduce stress at the bend points.


4. Vivo X50 Pro review: One small step for performance, one giant leap in stability: mid-ranger with serious camera chops, thanks to the gimbal, but far from perfect.


5. Instagram’s extremely familiar new QR codes are a shortcut directly to your profile, just like Snapchat (Engadget).


6. Netflix is testing a “Shuffle Play” button: play shows and movies based on your list and history, no need to exhaust yourself trying to pick something (Engadget).


7. Apple renames Apple Beats 1 Apple Music 1, not to be confused with Apple Music (app) or Apple Music (subscription) (Gizmodo).


8. Apple insider tells a fascinating story: The case of the top-secret iPod, built for the US Department of Energy (TidBITS).


9. You’ll need a Facebook account to use future Oculus headsets. This has made a lot of people who just want to game without a social account, unhappy (The Verge).


10. A move for driverless mass transit hits speed bumps (Wired).


11. BlackSky’s latest satellites return images just 58 hours after launch (TechCrunch).


12. NASA is tracking a growing anomaly in Earth’s magnetic field (ScienceAlert).


13. Researchers can duplicate keys from the sounds they make in locks (kottke.org).


The DGiT Daily delivers a daily email that keeps you ahead of the curve for all tech news, opinions, and links to what’s going down in the planet’s most important field. You get all the context and insight you need, and all with a touch of fun. Plus! Rotating daily fun for each day of the week, like Wednesday Weirdness. Join in!

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