Apple Maps cars hit the road to capture Street View-style images in the U.S. and the UK

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Apple is working hard to improve Apple Maps, the service which arrived with a litany of well-documented issues in 2012, forcing the tech firm to take a long hard look at how it prepared, built and launched its own software. Snapping up map-related startups and hiring experts in the field over the last couple of years has certainly helped to put the app on the path to acceptability, though it now seems the company is looking toward making more substantial improvements.

Updated on 06-10-2015 by Andy Boxall: Added in confirmation of Apple’s own Street View-style mapping initiative.

Apple Maps cars on the roads in the U.S. and the UK.

In mid-June, Apple published a document stating it’s deploying its own Apple Maps vehicles over the coming weeks, confirming the purpose of the mystery vehicles spotted in the U.S. recently. Apple says the cars will “collect data which will be used to improve Apple Maps,” and that some of it will be used in future app updates.

The site says the cars will be on the road between June 15 and June 30, in various cities and states in the U.S., plus locations around England and Ireland. To ease any privacy fears, Apple says it will blur faces and car license plates in any collected images, which also suggests the cars will be used to capture Google Street View-style footage.

Apple’s continued efforts to improve Maps

The news comes after mysterious Apple-operated vans were seen trundling about the streets of several major U.S. cities in recent  months, and were at the time believed to have been busy gathering imagery to help bring new elements to its Maps app.

There had been speculation that the vans – spotted with various gizmos perched on the roof – may have had something to do with Apple’s rumored car project. However, 9to5Mac’s insiders claimed the vehicles have in fact been gathering images of business storefronts to replace the Yelp data that’s currently used by the app, as well as 3D street-level imagery for a feature likely to complement its Flyover offering that gives Maps users a bird’s-eye view of an increasing number of cities and famous landmarks.

It’s thought Apple is aiming to switch to its in-house mapping database some time in 2017, though unspecified issues with scheduling mean the move might not take place till the following year. According to a recent 9to5Mac report, Apple is looking to install its first “entirely in-house mapping database” in a bid to lessen its reliance on third-party data providers such as TomTom.

As Apple steadily improves its Maps software, one of its biggest challenges may be getting users to try out the software again. Many iPhone owners, after all, switched back to Google Maps when the Web giant relaunched its software for iOS at the end of 2012, several months after Apple had replaced it with its own then-flawed offering.