Apple released its second project in the past week designed to help public health authorities with COVID-19 response.
The tech giant on Tuesday released data visualizations of how frequent users of the company's smartphones and tablets are searching for directions on the Apple Maps app.
Apple said tracking these trends over time—the company displays trends beginning in mid-January and updated daily—can provide insights into which cities and countries are abiding by social distancing recommendations. Local governments and public health authorities could review the trends to inform future policies as they continue to tackle the novel coronavirus.
"This mobility data may provide helpful insights to local governments and health authorities and may also be used as a foundation for new public policies by showing the change in volume of people driving, walking or taking public transit in their communities," Apple said in a news release.
The data visualization reports from trends in users' searches for driving, public transportation and walking directions in major cities and 63 countries or regions. They don't provide information on the specific locations that for which users searched. The company also said it does not link the user's Apple ID with data collected by the maps app, such as search terms and navigation routes.
Google in early April released a similar project designed to illustrate regional mobility trends, but by aggregating data from users' location histories. Google displays more detailed information on the types of locations users in different countries, states and counties are visiting, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, parks and retail. However, the reports rely on users who have enabled location tracking with Google.
As more cities and states institute directives asking residents to stay at home, tools that help assess whether people are following the orders could prove helpful for local governments. But the usefulness of these system could be hindered by the source of their data.
Apple's mobility trend reports are based on data pulled from searches for directions, not whether the user actually left their home or followed the route. And even among iPhone and iPad users, some download third-party apps for navigation, instead of using Apple Maps. In 2018, Apple Maps was the third most popular mapping app in the U.S. with 23.3 million monthly users, according to market research firm Statista. It followed Google Maps, with 154.4 million monthly users, and Waze, with 25.6 monthly users.
The mobility reports mark the second project Apple has launched in the past week to leverage its network of smartphone users for COVID-19 response.
Apple on Friday unveiled a joint project with Google, one of its top competitors, to use application programming interfaces, Bluetooth technology and smartphones to support contact tracing, a process used in public health to identify people who were in close contact or proximity to someone infected with a virus.