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Niantic Labs may have announced a number of new projects that it plans to roll out throughout 2018, but that doesn't mean that the development studio has given up on the bread and butter that put it on the map. In fact, Pokemon Go's map was recently updated here's why it now looks so different.
The article notes that things began changing within the mobile app during the end of November and the start of December, with South American countries and Southeast Asian countries noticing the change from Google Maps to OpenStreetMap. This new change also slowly began migrating into more recognized territories for the game, including the United States.
So why the change? Well, according to the article OpenStreetMap allows anyone to edit the mapping data. That's right. As an open-source project, it means anyone can modify the data that's present in the mapping source.
This change has resulted in some previously populated areas turning out to be barren. This has also resulted in some areas containing Pokemon no longer containing Pokemon. The change in the map data also means that it's no longer 1:1 accurate to what was previously mapped out in Pokemon Go according to the data feeds from Google Maps.
Of course, this probably has a lot of people wondering "Why would Niantic want people to change the map data?" Well, there's a pretty huge reason as to why the developers may have made the change: China.
Previously, Chinese authorities from the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Justice would not approve of Niantic to launch the game in the mainland due to security concerns. What security concerns? Specifically Google Maps.
In fact, the Ministry of Justice cited that the use of Google Maps in Pokemon Go would disclose important military installations and other sensitive data that the Chinese government did not want made available for public perusal.
What's interesting is that all throughout the year Niantic has been testing Pokemon Go in China for several hours at a time. The tests never last long but users have been reporting that gyms, Pokemon, and PokeStops have been popping up infrequently for a few hours at a time in mainland China.
Of course, so long as Google Maps was in place, China would never give it the go-ahead to launch officially in the mainland. However, switching from Google Maps to an open-source API could mean that the Chinese government may give Niantic the go-ahead to launch Pokemon Go in the country, especially if the sensitive map data is removed from the map display within the game. For now, that's just speculation, but China is Pokemon Go's largest untapped region in the world, and I'm sure Niantic has been mulling over ways to get into the territory without angering the Chinese authorities.
Of course, the switch to OpenStreetMap hasn't been talked about publicly by Niantic, and the change could be for entirely different reasons. We'll likely find out more in the coming weeks.