Here’s how Walkie-Talkie mode works on your Apple Watch

When smartwatches became a thing, everyone kept talking about how it was bringing the ‘Dick Tracy’ capability of talking to your wrist – but that didn’t actually materialize.

With the launch of the Walkie-Talkie app within watchOS 5 though, Apple brought a childhood dream of many to life: being able to chat with a buddy just by talking on the wrist.

There was a key question we were left with though: how hard will it actually be to use? How will you stop being interrupted all day long?

The Walkie-Talkie is pretty simple: you’ll get a list of of cards, with all the Apple Watch owners you’ve spoke to recently at the top (or the option to add more with a tap of the ‘plus’ icon underneath). 

Above the cards is the ‘Available’ slider – tap this to the off position and people won’t be able to contact you at all (the same if you’ve got the Do Not Disturb option turned on too).

Tapping the person you want to chat to will move you to a screen packing the yellow circle emblazoned with ‘Talk’ – and you’ll know what to do then.

At this point, the other big question hovered into view: would owning an Apple Watch suddenly mean anyone you knew with a similar device could start shouting out of your wrist?

After all, at the advent of the Apple Watch who didn’t endure a number of rude digital sketches being sent to their wrist from their supposed friends?

The good news for those that work in sensitive offices is that you’ll need to accept the conversation. The person beginning the chat will press Talk, and speak into their Watch – and on the other end, the intended subject will hear a couple of beeps and feel a haptic buzz.

If they want to chat, a tap will play the message. Covering the Watch with your hand will stop the message from blaring out loud – but otherwise you’re going to hear the vocal missive from your pal.

While the first message hangs in the ether until it’s played, from then on the chat is the true walkie-talkie experience you’d be looking for: instantaneous chats from wrist to wrist in pretty high-quality audio. Saying ‘over’ at the end of each statement is optional.

Wrist chatter

The chats are either sent over Wi-Fi, cellular data (if you’ve got an LTE-enabled Watch) or if you’re connected to your phone, you’ll piggyback on the phone’s connection to get the chats to your Watch.

Once finished, the connection will hang open for around five to six minutes, at which point it’ll terminate. It seems there’s no way to end it manually though, so if you’re chatting away and your boss walks in you’ll need to quickly set yourself to ‘unavailable’ or snap on the Do Not Disturb option, lest she or he hear your chum waxing lyrical their latest trip to the bathroom.

Is it worth the price of a new Apple Watch to just have the chance to chat aimlessly to a friend, when you can just, you know, phone them? Well, such is the nostalgic thrill… kind of.

How to watch the Austrian Grand Prix online: stream F1 live for free from anywhere

So whose weekend is this one going to be? The F1 drivers’ championship keeps swinging between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, with Hamilton’s win in France last week giving him the edge…for now. You can stream F1 live with this guide to see how things progress at the Austrian Grand Prix.

So it’s all starting to look a bit like a two-horse race, with Hamilton and Vettel looking like they’ll be going head-to-head at the top of the Drivers’ World Championship. But Hamilton had the best of it in Friday’s practice sessions, leading his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas in second in both the morning and afternoon. Bottas, incidentally, won at Austria’s Red Bull Ring last year and will be hungry to make it two in a row this year to make up some ground on Hamilton and Vettel.

Watching the Austrian Grand Prix from the comfort of your own TV is thankfully really straightforward, and on pretty much any device. And the best thing about it…you can do so absolutely free of charge, regardless of where on earth you are! Read on to find out how to stream F1 live.

How to watch the Austrian Grand Prix for free anywhere in the world

If you don’t have easy access to watch the Austrian Grand Prix online in your country, the best way to watch it for free is to download and install a VPN service, which effectively tricks your computer into thinking that it’s in another country. It’s really easy to do, and works for loads of sporting events where live streams may not be readily available where you are:

How to stream F1 live in the UK for free:

How to watch Austrian Grand Prix in the US for free:

How to stream the Austrian Grand Prix in Australia

Photos courtesy of Formula1.com

The 787 planning to intercept the ‘Einstein eclipse’

As far as inflight entertainment goes, EFLIGHT 2019-MAX has it sorted. Not only will this Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner gives its passengers a view of a rare total solar eclipse above the clouds, but it will chase this natural phenomenon as it rolls across the planet, extending what would otherwise be a two-minute totality to an eight or even nine-minute totality. 

EFLIGHT 2019-MAX is scheduled to take off from Easter Island on July 2 2019, the date of the next total solar eclipse, and race along with the moon’s shadow at at over 560mph. Fancy being on board? It’ll cost you: seats are priced from $6,750 to $9,750.

What is a total solar eclipse? 

Remember the Great American Eclipse? If you were in the US on August 21 2017, you’ll know all about eclipses and the wonder of totality. A total solar eclipse is when a new moon crosses the Sun as seen from a particular, and rather narrow, path across the surface of the Earth. That’s called the path of totality, and only within this 70 miles (or so) wide zone can you witness the moon shadow sweeping across you.

A Boeing 787 Dreamliner

EFLIGHT 2019-MAX will ‘fool Mother Nature’. Credit: LATAM Airlines

The temperature drops, daylight fades to night, and all that’s left is a beautiful halo around the moon – the Sun’s corona. During a precious couple of minutes it becomes obvious that the Sun is not yellow, but ice-white. The structure you can see in the solar corona is incredible; it twists and billows, and within it you can see bright red explosions on the surface of the Sun. As the moon moves away, beads of sunlight pour through the valleys of the Moon, eventually causing a flash of light called the diamond ring. Totality is over. As emotionally powerful as it is visually stunning, totality is so sweet, but so short. 

Why is EFLIGHT 2019-MAX intercepting the eclipse? 

And that’s the trouble with totality – it only lasts a couple of minutes. Only a relatively small part of Chile and Argentina will get a good view of the July 2019 total solar eclipse, and only for about 2 minutes and 20 seconds. Since total solar eclipses only occur every 18 months or so, why not try extending that to nine minutes?

A total solar eclipse

Totality is stunning, but you need clear skies to see it. Credit: LATAM Airlines

EFLIGHT 2019-MAX is the brainchild of Dr Glenn Schneider of the Steward Observatory and the Department of Astronomy at the University of Arizona. “It’s an absolutely spectacular experience to watch, from horizon to horizon, the transit of the moon’s shadow as it’s projected on to the surface of the Earth,” says Schneider. And he should know: an avid eclipse-chaser, he’s seen 35 total solar eclipses from the ground, and 14 of them from 37,000ft. 

How is the EFLIGHT 2019-MAX’s flightpath calculated?

“It’s all about velocity of the moon’s shadow, and how much it slows down to,” explains Schneider. “The moon is relatively close to Earth during this eclipse, so the shadow is wider, it’s close to the equator, where the rotational velocity of the air helps, and there’s also the high speed of the aircraft.” 

The geometrical circumstances are ideal for such a chase. “The velocity of the moon’s shadow at the point of greatest eclipse – about 4 minutes 32 seconds – is only 2,000kmh [about 1,240mph], so the aircraft speed, which is a little bit less than half of that, will prolong the duration to nine minutes,” explains Schneider.

Easter Island

EFLIGHT 2019-MAX will take-off from Easter Island in the South Pacific. Credit: Creative Commons CC0

His eclipse flight of 11 July 2010 was the last time a flight with as long a duration of totality as EFLIGHT 2019-MAX was possible, but 2019 will be a one-off. “It is a unique thing we’re doing,” says Schneider. “It’s all about the look-up angle through the airline’s windows, and a 787 has very tall windows compared to most aircraft.” 

Although it can’t be repeated, the supersonic but now-retired Concorde raced the Moon’s shadow along the the Tropic of Cancer back in 1973 to create a whopping 74-minute totality. 

Where will everyone sit on EFLIGHT 2019-MAX? 

All on one side, although in economy some rows have access to two windows and some to one, such is the design of aircraft. “You buy yourself a row of seats, and if you want to time-share those nine minutes of totality with a partner or friend, then you can do that at no extra cost,” says Schneider. “It’s a little different in the front of the aircraft, where seating arrangements are different in business class, where you book an individual window.”

A Boeing 787 Dreamliner

The Dreamliner’s tall windows will make it easier for passengers to view the eclipse. Credit: LATAM Airlines

Since the eclipse will be at an attitude of 50 degrees, it will be difficult for two people to observe simultaneously on a row with only one window. “I expect the majority will be individual people using an entire row, though maybe a third will be sharing,” says Schneider. “With nine minutes of totality, you can trade off.” 

Why is it called the ‘Einstein eclipse’? 

The Great South American Eclipse that will occur on July 2 2019 comes a fraction over 100 years since a total solar eclipse on May 29 1919 which proved that Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, first described in 1915, was correct. It changed science forever.

In Einstein’s theory, the gravitational field of the Sun should bend light, since it distorts spacetime in its vicinity. The only time it’s possible to test that theory is during totality, when it’s possible to photograph the position of stars around the Sun, and later see how their exact position differs using photographs of the same stars in a regular night sky.

Chile's Elqui Valley

Totality viewed from Earthbound locations such as Chile’s Elqui Valley will be just over two minutes. Credit: Creative Commons CC0

It’s called gravitational lensing, and it’s regularly observed today in deep space. On the island of Principe, off the west coast of Africa, British astronomer Arthur Stanley Eddington took photographs that proved Einstein’s theory was correct. Physics has never been the same. 

While it’s now possible to prove Einstein was right using some fairly basic equipment, it’s not certain there will be scientists on board EFLIGHT 2019-MAX performing experiments. However, there will certainly be astronomers on hand to get the best view of one of nature’s greatest events.

“The sky clarity is great for observing totality, but the view of the shadow and its motion across the Earth is an unbelievable thing to see,” says Schneider. “It really puts you in your place in the solar system.” 

TechRadar’s Innovation series is brought to you in association with Honor

Benchmark’s Mitch Lasky will reportedly step down from Snap’s board of directors

Benchmark partner Mitch Lasky, who has served on Snap’s board of directors since December 2012, is not expected to stand for re-election to Snap’s board of directors and will thus be stepping down, according to a report by The Information.

Early investors stepping down from the board of directors — or at least not seeking re-election — isn’t that uncommon as once-private companies grow into larger public ones. Benchmark partner Peter Fenton did not seek re-election for Twitter’s board of directors in April last year. As Snap continues to navigate its future, especially as it has declined precipitously since going public and now sits at a valuation of around $16.5 billion. Partners with an expertise in the early-stage and later-stage startup life cycle may end up seeing themselves more useful taking a back seat and focusing on other investments. The voting process for board member re-election happens during the company’s annual meeting, so we’ll get more information when an additional proxy filing comes out ahead of the meeting later this year.

Benchmark is, or at least was at the time of going public last year, one of Snap’s biggest shareholders. According to the company’s 424B filing prior to going public in March last year, Benchmark held ownership of 23.1% of Snap’s Class B common stock and 8.2% of Snap’s Class A common stock. Lasky has been with Benchmark since April 2007, and also serves on the boards of a number of gaming companies like Riot Games and thatgamecompany, the creators of PlayStation titles flower and Journey. At the time, Snap said in its filing that Lasky was “qualified to serve as a member of our board of directors due to his extensive experience with social media and technology companies, as well as his experience as a venture capitalist investing in technology companies.”

The timing could be totally coincidental, but an earlier Recode report suggested Lasky had been talking about stepping down in future funds for Benchmark. The firm only recently wrapped up a very public battle with Uber, which ended up with Benchmark selling a significant stake in the company and a new CEO coming in to replace co-founder Travis Kalanick. Benchmark hired its first female general partner, Sarah Tavel, earlier this year.

We’ve reached out to both Snap and a representative from Benchmark for comment and will update the story when we hear back.

WhatsApp copies Telegram to add one-way ‘broadcast’ mode to group chats

“Good artists borrow great artists steal” is a phrase that Facebook seems acutely aware of.

It’s common to speak of Instagram, the Facebook-owned photo-app-now-social-network, borrowing from Snapchat, but now Facebook’s WhatsApp chat app is increasingly drawing its innovation from others such as Telegram.

This week, WhatsApp outed a new feature for its groups that is essentially a replica of Telegram’s channels — that is, a one-way broadcast communication stream.

Telegram channels are popular for setting up a broadcast news feed that allows people to sign up to get alerts from channel admins, who might be news agencies, companies, schools, public interest groups or more. Now WhatsApp is adding the feature to gives its message app new use cases.

Actually, as is often the case for WhatsApp, users have unofficially adopted channel-like behavior for some time. Last year, for example, there were reports of a rural journalist using the messaging app to report and broadcast local news. Doing that is suddenly a whole lot easier through this new ‘broadcast-only’ feature.

“One way people use groups is to receive important announcements and information, including parents and teachers at schools, community centers, and non-profit organizations. We’ve introduced this new setting so admins can have better tools for these use cases,” WhatsApp wrote in a short blog post.

Still, the fact that WhatsApp requires users to provide a phone number to join groups — anyone’s number can be looked up by any group member — is one issue when it comes to creating or joining public groups. Telegram has introduced usernames, which mitigate that issue, but still, the app doesn’t have anything like WhatsApp’s scale which is a crucial consideration when deciding which app to plump for.

WhatsApp has over 1.5 billion active users, more than 200 million of which are in India, whereas Telegram recently passed 200 million active users worldwide.

California man arrested for sending death threats to FCC’s Ajit Pai over net neutrality

While many people in this country are angry with current chairman of the FCC Ajit Pai, arguably with good reason, it’s unfortunate that at least one has descended to the level of sending credible death threats and, unsurprisingly, has subsequently been arrested.

Shortly after the FCC voted in December to nullify the agency’s 2015 net neutrality rules, Norwalk resident named Markara Man contacted Pai several times threatening him and his family.

According to a Justice Department press release, Man first told Pai that he was responsible for the death of a kid who had killed herself because of the loss of net neutrality. Next he sent a list of locations around Arlington, where the chairman lives, and threatening to kill members of his family. The third apparently was just an image of a framed photo of Pai’s family.

This clearly rises above the low-level — yet also deeply inappropriate — casual slurs against the chairman one sees in practically every discussion of FCC issues, including this website. As such it was investigated by the FBI, which traced the emails to Man’s location and confronted him.

He admitted to sending the emails in order to “scare” Pai, which I can only imagine it did. He’s been charged with the incredibly wordy crime of “threatening to murder a member of the immediate family of a U.S. official with the intent to intimidate or interfere with such official while engaged in the performance of official duties, or with the intent to retaliate against such official on account of the performance of official duties.” If convicted he could face up to 10 years, but that’s all up in the air still.

Listen: as you may be able to tell from TechCrunch’s own coverage of FCC issues and net neutrality (mostly by myself), I’m no fan of Chairman Pai’s, though I try my best to stick to the facts — which, helpfully, are also largely anti-Pai. But threatening the family of the man is, I hardly need say, taking it much too far. Not only is it reprehensible on its face, but it feeds a narrative of spite and ignorance that works counter to the very goals the threat-maker evidently espouses.

Net neutrality is a serious issue and the current administration’s elimination of the 2015 rules is a perfectly good reason to protest and, indeed, take Pai personally to task, since he is the foremost architect of our present situation. By all means call your elected officials, make net neutrality an issue in the 2018 midterms, and make your voice heard. But for everyone’s sake keep it civil.

Here’s what it was like to stumble into Netflix and Lyft’s activation for GLOW at ‘Muscle Beach’

Today at “Muscle Beach” in Venice, Calif., Netflix and Lyft joined forces for a promotional campaign in support of the streaming media site’s (really excellent) dramatization of the origin story for the women’s wrestling league — GLOW (or the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling).

Your intrepid reporter was taking a walk on the beach and stumbled upon the marketing stunt (which was kind of genius).

For those of y’all who don’t know, Muscle Beach is sort of a mecca for weight lifters and body builders — including, back in the ’80s, a young Ah-nold Schwarzenegger. A history that made it an ideal spot to celebrate Netflix’s (pretty terrific) ode to all things new wave-d, hair metal-ed, neon accented, high-waisted, cocaine addled and muscle-bound.

Members of the cast posed for pictures, and wrestlers engaged in training sessions and ’80s-themed exercise classes throughout the day.

The activation will be up for the next week and included a Reebok pop-up with limited-edition ’80s styles; a photo booth and costumes for pictures; free copies of Paper Magazine and trading cards emblazoned with the pictures of each of the most popular characters from the show.

The day wasn’t without incident. Some Muscle Beach-goers got into a war of words with security over the event’s unannounced takeover of the basketball courts adjacent to the “beach.”

The second season of “GLOW” dropped today on Netflix.

 

Apple Maps is still terrible, but Apple is doing something about it

Apple Maps doesn’t exactly have a sparkling history, and even Apple has admitted that it was embarrassed by its launch back in 2012. Thankfully,  the company is completely rebuilding Apple Maps from the ground up.

Starting in the iOS 12 beta and starting with Cupertino, this reinvention of Apple Maps isn’t just going to be from Apple updating the existing app with new city records and third-party map data – Apple has invested in its own mapping tech to rival Google Maps, according to TechCrunch.

Apple’s fleet of advanced mapping vans, similar to Google Street View cars that gather data and photos at a street level, is finally going to put its data to use this year. The new Apple vans are strapped with LiDAR arrays and eight overlapping cameras along with the standard measuring tools. 

The most interesting map-curation tool at Apple’s disposal, however, is your iPhone. Apple already gathers location data from iPhones, but it will be doing this even more from here on out in an effort to change the map real-time. 

It doesn’t end at the iPhone and street level, either. Apple has deployed satellites to gather even more data and satellite imagery. It will then be cross-referenced with the street level data so that the maps are as accurate as possible.

Mapping out the future 

For the longest time, Google has reigned supreme when it came to Google Maps, but now Apple wants a shot at giving it some serious competition.  Apple Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services Eddie Cue even goes as far as to say he hopes Apple will have “the best map app in the world”.

This means you can expect more consistent Apple Maps updates outside of year-to-year iOS refreshes. Apple says it will use location data to “change the map real-time and often”, which means you should be notified to sudden changes to your route. 

If Apple is able to build an infrastructure that uses this its own van and iPhone data to create a constantly updated map, the third-party Google Maps might not be everyone’s default app choice anymore when they’re looking for directions.

For anyone worried about their data anonymity, Apple says you don’t need to worry – the company promises it will collect data from its users in a privacy-first manner in order to update map data on the fly with new street and heavy traffic changes. It will only collect data in bits and pieces and never know a person traveled from point A to point B. 

The new Apple Maps will launch in San Francisco and the Bay Area in a future iOS 12 beta update and should cover Northern California around the time we expect an iPhone XI and iPhone 9.  

The best Xbox One games 2018: 25 must-play titles

Even though the Xbox One is approaching its fifth birthday (which makes it positively geriatric in console years) we think it’s just reaching its peak. With a strong library of games and services to offer and lots more exciting new games in the pipeline, we think the Xbox One family of consoles has a lot of life in it yet. 

Although the Xbox One receives criticism for its first-party lineup, it does have some unmissable genre-defining exclusives which include the Forza, Halo, Gears of War and Sea of Thieves series. And with the 4K capabilities of the Xbox One X, these games are looking better than ever. 

As well as AAA releases, Xbox One is also a great place to find high-quality indie games thanks to its ID @ Xbox program which has made titles like Ori and the Blind Forest and Cuphead absolutely essential plays for this generation. 

Thanks to Microsoft’s commitment to backwards compatibility, it doesn’t matter whether you’re using the Xbox One S or the 4K powerhouse that is the Xbox One X, there’s going to be something on this list of the best Xbox One games that will suit you. 

Read on to see which games make the Xbox One shine. And keep checking back – we’re updating this list all the time. 

 Check out the video below to see more on the Xbox One X 

Making the old feel new again

After a year away, Assassin’s Creed is back and it’s bigger and better than ever. In Assassin’s Creed Origins you go back to ancient Egypt, before the brotherhood and before the Templars, where you play as the original assassin Bayek. 

Assassin’s Creed is a series that was growing increasingly stale but with Origins the formula has been refreshed with new RPG mechanics, story-driven side quests and a far more free-flowing combat system.

Whether you’re new to the series or a fatiguing fan, Assassin’s Creed Origins is absolutely worth playing as it’s the strongest installment we’ve seen in years.

Read our full review of the game and our tips and tricks guide

A refreshing jump back in time

In the latest Battlefield game, DICE takes players back in time to World War One and by doing so completely rejuvenates the once stagnating franchise. 

The game offers a poignant and entertaining single-player campaign that sets a new standard for first-person shooter. Broken into six sections, each following a different character and front line location, the campaign never feels dull or repetitive –and  even feeds neatly into Battlefield 1’s multiplayer mode which, while familiar, also benefits from the much-needed breath of life that the change in setting gives. 

Graphically impressive, entertaining, and sometimes touching, Battlefield 1 is a return to form for the series. 

Remastered Thrillride

Xbox is home to a number of great driving titles already but Burnout Paradise Remastered is the latest to hit the road. First released in 2008, Paradise wasn’t quite as appreciated as it should have been.

Sure, it was different to the rest of the Burnout series but it’s a prime example of how to do an open world driving game right and we’re happy to see it returned and remastered. The visuals aren’t massively different and that’s a real shame but you do get that 4K resolution and buttery smooth frame rate of the latest generation.  Plus a lot of DLC.

Beautiful and frustrating in equal measure

After a long development and lots of anticipation, Xbox indie exclusive Cuphead has finally been released. Was it worth the wait? It certainly was. Cuphead is a run-and-gun platformer with stationary boss fight levels thrown in. 

With visuals and a soundtrack inspired by 1930s animation but gameplay inspired by the platformers of the 80s this game has had us torn since we first tried it at Gamescom. It’s lovely to look at but its gameplay is challenging and you’re going to find yourself frustrated and dying a lot.

We enjoyed Cuphead so much we named it Best Xbox Exclusive in our 2017 Game of the Year Awards

Still, it’s an indie experience that shouldn’t be missed and you’ll only find it on Xbox and PC.

Master the remaster

Dark Souls is an iconic series in the gaming world and with this remaster you have the chance to go back to where it all started in 2011, but with improved visual fidelity and performance. All the better to see those horrific and punishing enemies. 

This is the same original game with all of its DLC but that’s no bad thing. Dark Souls is a fantastic, must-play title and it’s great to see it on the latest generation of consoles. Not just because the framerate bump to 60 fps makes it a much smoother and more exhilarating gameplay experience. 

A smart, stealthy, steampunk adventure

Following the surprise 2012 hit Dishonored wasn’t going to be an easy task, but Dishonored 2 has more than lived up to its expectations. 

Picking up 15 years after the events of the original, Dishonored 2 takes players back to the Victorian Steampunk city of Dunwall. This time, though, you have the choice of whether or not you want to play as the original title’s protagonist Corvo, or his equally-skilled protegee Emily. 

Dishonored 2 doesn’t differ wildly from the first game, but there was nothing wrong with Dishonored in the first place. What we get is a vastly improved and close to perfected take on it. 

Anyone who likes their games filled with atmosphere, character, and a bit of wit and intelligence will find Dishonored 2 worth picking up. 

A retro-slash-modern romp through the underworld

DOOM is very, very good. Not in a “wow, that’s good for a remake” kind of way, either. It’s genuinely a great shooter – so much so that we gave it a Game of the Year award in 2016. While Overwatch reinventing the wheel for first-person shooting games, DOOM impresses us by bringing us back to the time where dial-up internet was the only way to access AOL email: DOOM is, in so many ways, an excellent evolution of what the series was 20 years ago. It’s brutal. It’s bloody. It has devilish, frightening creatures that bleed when you slice them in half with a chainsaw. It’s the experience we wanted two decades ago but couldn’t articulate it because of the limitations of technology.

“Our weapons are fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency and gigantic sidequests.”

Inquisition is the proverbial RPG banquet – a 200-hour array of quests, magic-infused scraps, postcard landscapes and well-written character interactions that’s perhaps a bit too familiar, at times, but makes up for it with sheer generosity.

It puts you in charge not just of a four-man party of adventurers but also a private army with its own castle and attendant strategic meta-game, tasked with defeating a mysterious demon menace.

The choice of Unreal Engine makes for vast open environments and sexily SFX-laden combat – fortunately, you can pause the latter to issue orders if the onslaught becomes overwhelming. It’s a genre giant.

The homecoming we’ve waited seven years for

All things considered, this is one of the best games Bethesda has made. It ticks all the boxes: a massive, detail-oriented open-world; still-fantastic tenets of looting and shooting; a story filled with intriguing side quests and subplots that feel like they matter; and of course a classic soundtrack that brings it all to life. 

In many ways it’s the game we’ve been waiting for since Fallout 3 steered the series away from its top-down role-playing roots. Not only is the world itself wider, but the plot is better, and more digestible, than any of the games before it. There’s still a sense of mystery about what’s happening but you no longer have to dig forever and a day through terminals to piece it together.

Welcome home, stranger.

Still the best football sim money can buy

FIFA is, for many console owners, a highly anticipated annual event. The latest and arguably greatest installment in the football sim series has arrived in the form of FIFA 18. 

Whether you’re looking to play against others online, build up a management career on your own or play a cinematic story mode that’ll give you an insight into the dramatic life of a premier league footballer, FIFA has a game mode just for you. 

The best thing is, there’s always more than enough to throw yourself into and agonize over until the next game rolls around with further incremental improvements that’ll convince you to upgrade. 

You can read our full review of FIFA 18 right here and make sure you’re the best on the pitch using our tips and tricks guide.

Huge, exotic and amazing to behold: Australia is a petrol-head’s dream

While the original Forza titles were about pristine driving skills around perfectly kept tracks, the Horizon series has a penchant for trading paint and isn’t afraid to have you get down and dirty with off-road races from time to time. 

While the first two entries in Turn 10’s spin-off franchise surprised and delighted, Forza Horizon 3 is the unabashed pinnacle of the series, and stands amid some of the greatest racing games ever made. Good news for Xbox One X owners – Forza Horizon 3 now has its 4K and HDR patch. 

The Gears keep on turning for this excellent third-person shooter franchise

Despite a new platform, a new development team and a new-ish set of muscled heroes on its box art, Gears of War 4 isn’t some grand reimagining of the series that helped Xbox 360 go supernova back in 2006. But then again, such a revelation shouldn’t come as a shock – this is the cover shooter that made cover shooters a fad-filled genre all unto itself, so messing too drastically with that special sauce was never a viable option.

Instead, the Xbox One and Xbox One S get the Gears of War template we all know and love with a few extra features gently stirred into the pot. For a start, the jump to current-gen tech has made all the difference to The Coalition’s first full-fat Gears title. Spend a little time in the previously remastered Gears of War: Ultimate Edition and you’ll see how small and confined those original level designs were, even with a graphical upgrade to make it feel relevant again. 

It’s more than just graphics, though. It’s the return to form for the franchise; the focus on what makes a Gears game so great, that really won us over. 

There’s no fear and loathing in Los Santos – just explosive entertainment

Yes, including one of last generation’s greatest games among this generation’s finest is rather boring, but GTA V on Xbox One is too good to ignore, with HD visuals, a longer draw distance and a faster frame-rate.

Among other, more practical perks it includes a first-person mode, which genuinely makes this feel like a different game, though the missions, tools and characters are the same. The new perspective pushes Rockstar’s attention to detail to the fore, allowing you to better appreciate the landscape’s abundance of in-jokes and ambient details.

GTA V’s open world multiplayer remains a laidback thrill, whether you’re stuntdiving with friends or teaming up to complete a Heist (a long overdue addition to MP, but worth the wait) – it’s probably the best place to hang out on Xbox Live.

Halo multiplayer at its best

A franchise that has defined Xbox as a platform for a long time is Halo and Halo 5: Guardians is a worthy addition to the series. With both a single-player campaign and the usual thrilling multiplayer combat, this is the Halo game for Xbox One you don’t want to miss. 

Though its single-player campaign isn’t the best in the franchise in terms of story, this is Halo multiplayer combat at its most fun and anyone that loves playing online with friends will enjoy what the various modes on offer.

Say hello to the triple indie

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is developer Ninja Theory’s first attempt at publishing its own game and it’s quite an achievement. The game follows Senua, a Celtic warrior suffering from psychosis who travels to Hell to rescue her lost lover.

The game uses an interesting mix of binaural audio and innovative visual techniques to communicate Senua’s experience with her psychosis to the player, resulting in a game that’s likely to be quite different from anything else you’ve played recently. 

Disturbing, insightful and extremely enjoyable to play, this is a game worth taking a look at and we’re glad to see it makes its debut on Xbox One. Xbox One X owners will have the benefit of being able to choose between three visual modes which promote either resolution, framerate or visual richness.

You can read all about our experience with the motion capture tech behind Hellblade right here

How many Snakes does it take to change a lightbulb?

Okay, so Hideo Kojima’s last game for Konami – and his last ever Metal Gear game – might be a little tough for the MGS n00b to get to grips with, but it’s still one of the best stealth-action games ever crafted. The open-world shenanigans will satisfy all your behind-enemy-lines / Rambo fantasies and probably confuse you with crazy plot twists and a million characters all with the same gravel-toned voices.

But hey, that’s all part of its charm, right?

Bold, brilliant and brutal

Middle-earth: Shadow of War is the sequel to the accomplished Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and builds upon all of its strengths. 

Taking up the role of Talion once more, this game takes you back to a beautifully realized world that’s bursting with originality. If you were a fan of the original game, we highly recommend that you pick of Shadow of War as it’s an improvement in almost every way.

Read our full review here and check out our handy tips and tricks guide.

Friends who slay together, stay together

You’ve probably heard of the Monster Hunter franchise before now – it’s a classic that’s been going a long time. But we haven’t seen it on console for a while. Until now. Monster Hunter: World is the franchise’s debut on the latest generation of consoles and it’s a true breath of fresh air. 

Giving players the option to play solo or team up with up to three other friends, this game invites you into a living, breathing game world to hunt down some monsters. For research. And fun. 

You’ll face a learning curve with Monster Hunter: World and the dark-souls style of combat has the potential to frustrate, but this is the most accessible Monster Hunter game we’ve seen in years. If you’ve been looking for a chance to break into the series, this is it. 

In our review we called the game “a bold and confident new chapter” and gave it a “play it now” recommendation. Thinking of becoming a Monster Hunter yourself? Make sure you check out our full survival guide

A Metroid-Vania platformer with light RPG elements and loads of heart

Although Ori was released early on in the Xbox One’s life cycle, it remains one of the best platformers on the console, bar none. Shockingly beautiful and ultra-deadly, the world of Ori and the Blind Forest inspires and impresses in equal measure. Add to that the game’s phenomenal, easy-to-learn-hard-to-master control scheme and light RPG elements and you have the recipe for a timeless classic.

Sure, there are some sequences that aren’t as enjoyable as the rest of the game (we’re looking at you timed post-boss fight sequences) but ultimately this is a series that continues to enthrall long after you put the controller down.

Not had enough Ori in your life? We’ve learned that the game will be getting a sequel in 2019 called Ori and the Will of the Wisps. It will pick up where are story left off (no spoilers, please!) and will see Ori platforming his way through the eponymous forest for a second run. 

The team-based shooter you need to buy on Xbox One

Overwatch has, without a doubt, been one of our favorite games to come out of the last year – garnering our Game of the Year 2016 award.

It’s a classic team arena shooter from Blizzard that sets two six-person teams of wildly different characters against each other in a bright and cartoonish science fiction universe. And while it feels similar to the Call of Duty you’ve played before, Overwatch turns traditional shooters on their heads by adding unique character abilities and cool-downs to the mix that force you to strategize every once in a while instead of blindly running from room to room.

Great graphics, tight maps, and a good roster of characters to enjoy playing. Overwatch is good old fashioned fun and we thoroughly recommend it. 

A chilling return to form

Your gaming collection isn’t really complete if it doesn’t have a quality horror title and if we had to suggest one it’d be the newest installment in the Resident Evil franchise. 

Resident Evil is the franchise that put survival-horror games on the map and though it lost its way slightly in later titles, the newest game is a return to form for Capcom. 

By going back to the survival-horror basics and getting them dead on, Capcom has made Resident Evil 7 a genuinely frightening and exhilarating gaming experience. If you have the stomach for the gore, it’s absolutely worth playing.

Don’t miss our full review of the game.

The name of the game is freedom in Lara’s latest sprawling outing

Despite being the sequel to a prequel about the young life of the Lara Croft, this still feels like a Tomb Raider game that has grown up. The reboot which saw a brave new direction for the franchise seemed a lot of the time to be little more than a bit of light Uncharted cosplay, but Rise is a far more accomplished game.

There’s now a genuine open world which feels like there is always something to do, and something more than just harvesting up collectibles in exchange for a light dusting of XP. There are also tombs. Yes, that might seem a fatuous thing to say given the name, but the previous game gave them short shrift. In Rise though they are deeper and more plentiful. Rise also has one of the best narratives of any Tomb Raider game, penned again by Rhianna Pratchett, it’s sometimes rather poignant.

So come on, ditch Fallout 4’s wasteland for a while and give Lara some love.

They had the technology to rebuild him, better than before

The original Titanfall was a great game – so great that it long held a place on this very list. However, its sequel, Titanfall 2, improves on it every conceivable way: the motion is more fluid, there are more distinct titans to choose from and, hold onto your hats here, there’s actually a single-player campaign that might take the cake for the best first-person shooter story of the year. 

This game’s pedigree is inherited from one of this generation’s smartest and most unusual shooters. The original Titanfall married ninja-fast on-foot combat to the gloriously thuggish thrill of piloting giant mechs, which are summoned from orbit a few minutes into each match.

The skill with which Respawn has balanced this mix of styles in the sequel is remarkable – Titans have firepower in excess but they’re easy to hit, and maps offer plenty of places for infantry to hide. These ideas coalesce into one of this year’s most remarkable entries in the genre and is well-deserving its own shot in the spotlight as well as a Game of the Year nomination.

Stories don’t come bigger than this

Geralt didn’t have the smoothest of entries to consoles, but after some heavy patching and a lot of angry words about visual downgrades, we’re left with an RPG boasting tremendous scope and storytelling.

Oh, and combat. And don’t forget Gwent, the in-game card game. And there’s the crafting to get stuck into. And the alchemy.

You’re rarely short of things to entertain yourself with in The Witcher 3’s quasi-open world, then, and all the better that you’re in a universe that involves the supernatural without leaning on the same old Tolkien fantasy tropes. Invigorating stuff.

Superb in every sense

Looking for an incredible single-player shooter? Look no further than the 2017 wonder that was Wolfenstein II. Picking up from where the original game left off, this game is a timely social commentary and a superbly silly adventure all rolled into one well-written package.

With tight mechanics and a story worth caring about this is one of the most satisfying first-person shooters we’ve played in a long time. In our full review we called it “expertly crafted” and recommended that you play it now. 

Here are the biggest new releases this week.

Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy (Out June 29): Crash Bandicoot spins his way to Microsoft’s console for the first time in franchise history with the 2017 re-make of the original Crash trilogy. Levels are just as challenging as you remember but now have that 4K polish you’ve come to expect from modern games. 

The Crew 2 (Out June 26): Continuing Ubisoft’s experiment in racing games, The Crew 2 returns to the U.S. with planes and speedboats in toe. You can swap between vehicles on the fly and you’ll once again be competing in races across the States and try to best opponents both computer-controlled and live online. 

NieR: Automata – Become as Gods Edition (Out June 26): One of the best Action RPGs last year is finally coming to Xbox One. Nier: Automata offers a unique aesthetic and fast-paced combat alongside traditional RPG elements. There’s an element of replayability to it, but we won’t ruin any of those surprises here.

The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit (Out June 26): A free downloadable title set in Dontnod’s Life is Strange universe, Captain Spirit is the outwardly charming but deeply troubling story of a son trapped with his emotionally and physically abusive father. These style of games, in case you’ve never played them, are more about immersive gameplay over run-and-gun action, but they’re heartfelt looks at sometimes dark, sometimes beautiful moments in a character’s life.

Apple is rebuilding Maps from the ground up

I’m not sure if you’re aware, but the launch of Apple Maps went poorly. After a rough first impression, an apology from the CEO, several years of patching holes with data partnerships and some glimmers of light with long-awaited transit directions and improvements in business, parking and place data, Apple Maps is still not where it needs to be to be considered a world-class service.

Maps needs fixing.

Apple, it turns out, is aware of this, so it’s re-building the maps part of Maps.

It’s doing this by using first-party data gathered by iPhones with a privacy-first methodology and its own fleet of cars packed with sensors and cameras. The new product will launch in San Francisco and the Bay Area with the next iOS 12 beta and will cover Northern California by fall.

Every version of iOS will get the updated maps eventually, and they will be more responsive to changes in roadways and construction, more visually rich depending on the specific context they’re viewed in and feature more detailed ground cover, foliage, pools, pedestrian pathways and more.

This is nothing less than a full re-set of Maps and it’s been four years in the making, which is when Apple began to develop its new data-gathering systems. Eventually, Apple will no longer rely on third-party data to provide the basis for its maps, which has been one of its major pitfalls from the beginning.

“Since we introduced this six years ago — we won’t rehash all the issues we’ve had when we introduced it — we’ve done a huge investment in getting the map up to par,” says Apple SVP Eddy Cue, who now owns Maps, in an interview last week. “When we launched, a lot of it was all about directions and getting to a certain place. Finding the place and getting directions to that place. We’ve done a huge investment of making millions of changes, adding millions of locations, updating the map and changing the map more frequently. All of those things over the past six years.”

But, Cue says, Apple has room to improve on the quality of Maps, something that most users would agree on, even with recent advancements.

“We wanted to take this to the next level,” says Cue. “We have been working on trying to create what we hope is going to be the best map app in the world, taking it to the next step. That is building all of our own map data from the ground up.”

In addition to Cue, I spoke to Apple VP Patrice Gautier and more than a dozen Apple Maps team members at its mapping headquarters in California this week about its efforts to re-build Maps, and to do it in a way that aligned with Apple’s very public stance on user privacy.

If, like me, you’re wondering whether Apple thought of building its own maps from scratch before it launched Maps, the answer is yes. At the time, there was a choice to be made about whether or not it wanted to be in the business of maps at all. Given that the future of mobile devices was becoming very clear, it knew that mapping would be at the core of nearly every aspect of its devices, from photos to directions to location services provided to apps. Decision made, Apple plowed ahead, building a product that relied on a patchwork of data from partners like TomTom, OpenStreetMap and other geo data brokers. The result was underwhelming.

Almost immediately after Apple launched Maps, it realized that it was going to need help and it signed on a bunch of additional data providers to fill the gaps in location, base map, point-of-interest and business data.

It wasn’t enough.

“We decided to do this just over four years ago. We said, ‘Where do we want to take Maps? What are the things that we want to do in Maps?’ We realized that, given what we wanted to do and where we wanted to take it, we needed to do this ourselves,” says Cue.

Because Maps are so core to so many functions, success wasn’t tied to just one function. Maps needed to be great at transit, driving and walking — but also as a utility used by apps for location services and other functions.

Cue says that Apple needed to own all of the data that goes into making a map, and to control it from a quality as well as a privacy perspective.

There’s also the matter of corrections, updates and changes entering a long loop of submission to validation to update when you’re dealing with external partners. The Maps team would have to be able to correct roads, pathways and other updating features in days or less, not months. Not to mention the potential competitive advantages it could gain from building and updating traffic data from hundreds of millions of iPhones, rather than relying on partner data.

Cue points to the proliferation of devices running iOS, now over a billion, as a deciding factor to shift its process.

“We felt like because the shift to devices had happened — building a map today in the way that we were traditionally doing it, the way that it was being done — we could improve things significantly, and improve them in different ways,” he says. “One is more accuracy. Two is being able to update the map faster based on the data and the things that we’re seeing, as opposed to driving again or getting the information where the customer’s proactively telling us. What if we could actually see it before all of those things?”

I query him on the rapidity of Maps updates, and whether this new map philosophy means faster changes for users.

“The truth is that Maps needs to be [updated more], and even are today,” says Cue. “We’ll be doing this even more with our new maps, [with] the ability to change the map in real time and often. We do that every day today. This is expanding us to allow us to do it across everything in the map. Today, there’s certain things that take longer to change.

“For example, a road network is something that takes a much longer time to change currently. In the new map infrastructure, we can change that relatively quickly. If a new road opens up, immediately we can see that and make that change very, very quickly around it. It’s much, much more rapid to do changes in the new map environment.”

So a new effort was created to begin generating its own base maps, the very lowest building block of any really good mapping system. After that, Apple would begin layering on living location data, high-resolution satellite imagery and brand new intensely high-resolution image data gathered from its ground cars until it had what it felt was a “best in class” mapping product.

There is only really one big company on earth that owns an entire map stack from the ground up: Google .

Apple knew it needed to be the other one. Enter the vans.

Apple vans spotted

Though the overall project started earlier, the first glimpse most folks had of Apple’s renewed efforts to build the best Maps product was the vans that started appearing on the roads in 2015 with “Apple Maps” signs on the side. Capped with sensors and cameras, these vans popped up in various cities and sparked rampant discussion and speculation.

The new Apple Maps will be the first time the data collected by these vans is actually used to construct and inform its maps. This is their coming out party.

Some people have commented that Apple’s rigs look more robust than the simple GPS + Camera arrangements on other mapping vehicles — going so far as to say they look more along the lines of something that could be used in autonomous vehicle training.

Apple isn’t commenting on autonomous vehicles, but there’s a reason the arrays look more advanced: they are.

Earlier this week I took a ride in one of the vans as it ran a sample route to gather the kind of data that would go into building the new maps. Here’s what’s inside.

In addition to a beefed-up GPS rig on the roof, four LiDAR arrays mounted at the corners and eight cameras shooting overlapping high-resolution images, there’s also the standard physical measuring tool attached to a rear wheel that allows for precise tracking of distance and image capture. In the rear there is a surprising lack of bulky equipment. Instead, it’s a straightforward Mac Pro bolted to the floor, attached to an array of solid state drives for storage. A single USB cable routes up to the dashboard where the actual mapping-capture software runs on an iPad.

While mapping, a driver…drives, while an operator takes care of the route, ensuring that a coverage area that has been assigned is fully driven, as well as monitoring image capture. Each drive captures thousands of images as well as a full point cloud (a 3D map of space defined by dots that represent surfaces) and GPS data. I later got to view the raw data presented in 3D and it absolutely looks like the quality of data you would need to begin training autonomous vehicles.

More on why Apple needs this level of data detail later.

When the images and data are captured, they are then encrypted on the fly and recorded on to the SSDs. Once full, the SSDs are pulled out, replaced and packed into a case, which is delivered to Apple’s data center, where a suite of software eliminates from the images private information like faces, license plates and other info. From the moment of capture to the moment they’re sanitized, they are encrypted with one key in the van and the other key in the data center. Technicians and software that are part of its mapping efforts down the pipeline from there never see unsanitized data.

This is just one element of Apple’s focus on the privacy of the data it is utilizing in New Maps.

Probe data and privacy

Throughout every conversation I have with any member of the team throughout the day, privacy is brought up, emphasized. This is obviously by design, as Apple wants to impress upon me as a journalist that it’s taking this very seriously indeed, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s evidently built in from the ground up and I could not find a false note in any of the technical claims or the conversations I had.

Indeed, from the data security folks to the people whose job it is to actually make the maps work well, the constant refrain is that Apple does not feel that it is being held back in any way by not hoovering every piece of customer-rich data it can, storing and parsing it.

The consistent message is that the team feels it can deliver a high-quality navigation, location and mapping product without the directly personal data used by other platforms.

“We specifically don’t collect data, even from point A to point B,” notes Cue. “We collect data — when we do it — in an anonymous fashion, in subsections of the whole, so we couldn’t even say that there is a person that went from point A to point B. We’re collecting the segments of it. As you can imagine, that’s always been a key part of doing this. Honestly, we don’t think it buys us anything [to collect more]. We’re not losing any features or capabilities by doing this.”

The segments that he is referring to are sliced out of any given person’s navigation session. Neither the beginning or the end of any trip is ever transmitted to Apple. Rotating identifiers, not personal information, are assigned to any data or requests sent to Apple and it augments the “ground truth” data provided by its own mapping vehicles with this “probe data” sent back from iPhones.

Because only random segments of any person’s drive is ever sent and that data is completely anonymized, there is never a way to tell if any trip was ever a single individual. The local system signs the IDs and only it knows to whom that ID refers. Apple is working very hard here to not know anything about its users. This kind of privacy can’t be added on at the end, it has to be woven in at the ground level.

Because Apple’s business model does not rely on it serving to you, say, an ad for a Chevron on your route, it doesn’t need to even tie advertising identifiers to users.

Any personalization or Siri requests are all handled on-board by the iOS device’s processor. So if you get a drive notification that tells you it’s time to leave for your commute, that’s learned, remembered and delivered locally, not from Apple’s servers.

That’s not new, but it’s important to note given the new thing to take away here: Apple is flipping on the power of having millions of iPhones passively and actively improving their mapping data in real time.

In short: Traffic, real-time road conditions, road systems, new construction and changes in pedestrian walkways are about to get a lot better in Apple Maps.

The secret sauce here is what Apple calls probe data. Essentially little slices of vector data that represent direction and speed transmitted back to Apple completely anonymized with no way to tie it to a specific user or even any given trip. It’s reaching in and sipping a tiny amount of data from millions of users instead, giving it a holistic, real-time picture without compromising user privacy.

If you’re driving, walking or cycling, your iPhone can already tell this. Now if it knows you’re driving, it also can send relevant traffic and routing data in these anonymous slivers to improve the entire service. This only happens if your Maps app has been active, say you check the map, look for directions, etc. If you’re actively using your GPS for walking or driving, then the updates are more precise and can help with walking improvements like charting new pedestrian paths through parks — building out the map’s overall quality.

All of this, of course, is governed by whether you opted into location services, and can be toggled off using the maps location toggle in the Privacy section of settings.

Apple says that this will have a near zero effect on battery life or data usage, because you’re already using the ‘maps’ features when any probe data is shared and it’s a fraction of what power is being drawn by those activities.

From the point cloud on up

But maps cannot live on ground truth and mobile data alone. Apple is also gathering new high-resolution satellite data to combine with its ground truth data for a solid base map. It’s then layering satellite imagery on top of that to better determine foliage, pathways, sports facilities, building shapes and pathways.

After the downstream data has been cleaned up of license plates and faces, it gets run through a bunch of computer vision programming to pull out addresses, street signs and other points of interest. These are cross referenced to publicly available data like addresses held by the city and new construction of neighborhoods or roadways that comes from city planning departments.

But one of the special sauce bits that Apple is adding to the mix of mapping tools is a full-on point cloud that maps in 3D the world around the mapping van. This allows them all kinds of opportunities to better understand what items are street signs (retro-reflective rectangular object about 15 feet off the ground? Probably a street sign) or stop signs or speed limit signs.

It seems like it also could enable positioning of navigation arrows in 3D space for AR navigation, but Apple declined to comment on “any future plans” for such things.

Apple also uses semantic segmentation and Deep Lambertian Networks to analyze the point cloud coupled with the image data captured by the car and from high-resolution satellites in sync. This allows 3D identification of objects, signs, lanes of traffic and buildings and separation into categories that can be highlighted for easy discovery.

The coupling of high-resolution image data from car and satellite, plus a 3D point cloud, results in Apple now being able to produce full orthogonal reconstructions of city streets with textures in place. This is massively higher-resolution and easier to see, visually. And it’s synchronized with the “panoramic” images from the car, the satellite view and the raw data. These techniques are used in self-driving applications because they provide a really holistic view of what’s going on around the car. But the ortho view can do even more for human viewers of the data by allowing them to “see” through brush or tree cover that would normally obscure roads, buildings and addresses.

This is hugely important when it comes to the next step in Apple’s battle for supremely accurate and useful Maps: human editors.

Apple has had a team of tool builders working specifically on a toolkit that can be used by human editors to vet and parse data, street by street. The editor’s suite includes tools that allow human editors to assign specific geometries to flyover buildings (think Salesforce tower’s unique ridged dome) that allow them to be instantly recognizable. It lets editors look at real images of street signs shot by the car right next to 3D reconstructions of the scene and computer vision detection of the same signs, instantly recognizing them as accurate or not.

Another tool corrects addresses, letting an editor quickly move an address to the center of a building, determine whether they’re misplaced and shift them around. It also allows for access points to be set, making Apple Maps smarter about the “last 50 feet” of your journey. You’ve made it to the building, but what street is the entrance actually on? And how do you get into the driveway? With a couple of clicks, an editor can make that permanently visible.

“When we take you to a business and that business exists, we think the precision of where we’re taking you to, from being in the right building,” says Cue. “When you look at places like San Francisco or big cities from that standpoint, you have addresses where the address name is a certain street, but really, the entrance in the building is on another street. They’ve done that because they want the better street name. Those are the kinds of things that our new Maps really is going to shine on. We’re going to make sure that we’re taking you to exactly the right place, not a place that might be really close by.”

Water, swimming pools (new to Maps entirely), sporting areas and vegetation are now more prominent and fleshed out thanks to new computer vision and satellite imagery applications. So Apple had to build editing tools for those, as well.

Many hundreds of editors will be using these tools, in addition to the thousands of employees Apple already has working on maps, but the tools had to be built first, now that Apple is no longer relying on third parties to vet and correct issues.

And the team also had to build computer vision and machine learning tools that allow it to determine whether there are issues to be found at all.

Anonymous probe data from iPhones, visualized, looks like thousands of dots, ebbing and flowing across a web of streets and walkways, like a luminescent web of color. At first, chaos. Then, patterns emerge. A street opens for business, and nearby vessels pump orange blood into the new artery. A flag is triggered and an editor looks to see if a new road needs a name assigned.

A new intersection is added to the web and an editor is flagged to make sure that the left turn lanes connect correctly across the overlapping layers of directional traffic. This has the added benefit of massively improved lane guidance in the new Apple Maps.

Apple is counting on this combination of human and AI flagging to allow editors to first craft base maps and then also maintain them as the ever-changing biomass wreaks havoc on roadways, addresses and the occasional park.

Here there be Helvetica

Apple’s new Maps, like many other digital maps, display vastly differently depending on scale. If you’re zoomed out, you get less detail. If you zoom in, you get more. But Apple has a team of cartographers on staff that work on more cultural, regional and artistic levels to ensure that its Maps are readable, recognizable and useful.

These teams have goals that are at once concrete and a bit out there — in the best traditions of Apple pursuits that intersect the technical with the artistic.

The maps need to be usable, but they also need to fulfill cognitive goals on cultural levels that go beyond what any given user might know they need. For instance, in the U.S., it is very common to have maps that have a relatively low level of detail even at a medium zoom. In Japan, however, the maps are absolutely packed with details at the same zoom, because that increased information density is what is expected by users.

This is the department of details. They’ve reconstructed replicas of hundreds of actual road signs to make sure that the shield on your navigation screen matches the one you’re seeing on the highway road sign. When it comes to public transport, Apple licensed all of the type faces that you see on your favorite subway systems, like Helvetica for NYC. And the line numbers are in the exact same order that you’re going to see them on the platform signs.

It’s all about reducing the cognitive load that it takes to translate the physical world you have to navigate into the digital world represented by Maps.

Bottom line

The new version of Apple Maps will be in preview next week with just the Bay Area of California going live. It will be stitched seamlessly into the “current” version of Maps, but the difference in quality level should be immediately visible based on what I’ve seen so far.

Better road networks, more pedestrian information, sports areas like baseball diamonds and basketball courts, more land cover, including grass and trees, represented on the map, as well as buildings, building shapes and sizes that are more accurate. A map that feels more like the real world you’re actually traveling through.

Search is also being revamped to make sure that you get more relevant results (on the correct continents) than ever before. Navigation, especially pedestrian guidance, also gets a big boost. Parking areas and building details to get you the last few feet to your destination are included, as well.

What you won’t see, for now, is a full visual redesign.

“You’re not going to see huge design changes on the maps,” says Cue. “We don’t want to combine those two things at the same time because it would cause a lot of confusion.”

Apple Maps is getting the long-awaited attention it really deserves. By taking ownership of the project fully, Apple is committing itself to actually creating the map that users expected of it from the beginning. It’s been a lingering shadow on iPhones, especially, where alternatives like Google Maps have offered more robust feature sets that are so easy to compare against the native app but impossible to access at the deep system level.

The argument has been made ad nauseam, but it’s worth saying again that if Apple thinks that mapping is important enough to own, it should own it. And that’s what it’s trying to do now.

“We don’t think there’s anybody doing this level of work that we’re doing,” adds Cue. “We haven’t announced this. We haven’t told anybody about this. It’s one of those things that we’ve been able to keep pretty much a secret. Nobody really knows about it. We’re excited to get it out there. Over the next year, we’ll be rolling it out, section by section in the U.S.”