All posts tagged ‘maps’

File Under: Software & Tools

Copycat MapQuest Continues to Play Catch-up

MapQuest draggable route directions

Online mapping pioneer MapQuest released a feature to customize driving directions by dragging the route. Google Maps, the relative upstart that continues to lead with its snazzy tool, published a similar feature over sixteen months ago.

You’ve got to feel for MapQuest, who first brought driving directions to the web in 1996, two years before Google was even founded. Remarkably, MapQuest is still the leader in online mapping, but it saw its market share recently shrink below 50%.

Google changed online mapping when it jumped into the scene in 2005 using Ajax to create a draggable map and non-refresh zooming. MapQuest seems to have struggled more than other mapping tools not just to innovate, but to even keep up. Several months after Google Maps was released, MapQuest released an Ajax-enabled map, though it still required what now seem like old timey buttons to choose the direction to move the map.

This latest feature also feels like a lesser copy. The map is resource-intensive and all the way at the bottom of the driving directions screen. Dragging the route feels clunky. Once I released my new route, it disappears, only to turn a second or two later.

There is a silver lining in this new MapQuest feature. The company is not sitting still and is working on its feature-set, even if it is mostly copying its competitors. Hopefully the pioneer of online mapping will find some time to remove the arrows from its back and bring us something as revolutionary as it did in 1996, or Google did in 2005.

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File Under: Mobile, Software & Tools

Hold the Planet in Your Palm With Google Earth for the iPhone

Google Earth on the iPhoneGoogle Earth is now available on the iPhone/iPod Touch. Although Earthscape previously released a version of Google Earth for Apple’s mobile devices, the official app is considerably faster and free (though EarthScape has since dropped its price to free as well).

In fact, the iPhone version of Google Earth is remarkably speedy considering its complexity and the fact that it’s constantly streaming data from the web. Using a wifi connection there was almost no hesitation in my testing. Falling back to an Edge connection did of course slow things down.

Our sister site, Gadget Lab, found similar results, concluding that Google Earth on the iPhone “speeds along at a fair clip.”

As you would expect, the iPhone version takes advantage of all the touch screen niceties — pinch to zoom, twist to spin the map and throw the screen to move around. Tilting the iPhone screen adjusts the altitude of your view.

Navigating Google Earth with your fingers takes some getting used to — changing the angle of your view using the tilt features is by far the tickiest part — but once you adjust it’s easy to get where you want to go. Like the Google Maps app on the iPhone, Google Earth can zoom in on your current location by using the iPhone’s GPS triangulation tools.

The main downside to the iPhone version of Google Earth is that you can’t add custom layers or download any of the cool Google Earth overlays. Currently the app offers overlay markers for Wikipedia entries and Panoramio photos, but that’s the extend of third-party content.

Google Earth for the iPhone is free and can be downloaded through Apple’s App store (iTunes link).

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File Under: Uncategorized

Google Geocoding Goes The Other Way

Reverse geocoded location of WiredGeocoding usually refers to taking an address or other location and turning it into a pair of coordinates. You can then plot that coordinate on an online map, or find things near it. Latitude and longitude points are really useful to programs, but not so useful for people.

Google now supports reverse geocoding. If you already have the coordinates, you can now find the address. It’s not perfect, as it often gives a range of addresses, but it sure beats a long string of numbers.

They updated both their HTTP verion and the Ajax version, which means you can reverse geocode from the client side using JavaScript or the server side using whatever you want. Here’s a call to the Wired office coordinates using the HTTP version. Webmonkey has a full geocoder tutorial for server-side geocoding. Note that Google returns coordinates as longitude,latitude, but expects them to be passed to the geocoder as latitude,longitude.

Google released a clickable example map to show off the Ajax reverse geocoder. Drag and zoom the map to the spot you want to reverse geocode, then click. The script grabs the coordinates and prints the address in an info window.

Coordinates on TwitterWith the increase in location-based services, and devices like iPhones and Android phones that have access to GPS, we’ll be seeing more latitude and longitude input. Already I’ve noticed many users on Twitter with latitude and longitude as their location, which isn’t very human-readable. The coordinates are likely for computers, but perhaps now we’ll have a more readable version that also works for humans.

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File Under: Events

WhereCamp Zooms in on Portland

WhereCamp PDX

WhereCamp, the free un-conference for geo-locative enthusiasts, kicks off a Portland edition the weekend of October 17. Expect glimpses beyond Google Maps, digging deep into the future of location-based technology, both on and off the web.

Since it’s an un-conference, the attendees will create the schedule, and it’s an exciting time in web geography. The iPhone and Android are merging GPS with web-enabled devices. Mozilla added location-awareness to its browser. Mapping, and the technology surrounding it, is becoming more real time.

The event starts Friday with a “human mashup” art exhibition exploring “the ways art and technology deal with Momentum, Maintenance, Multiplicity, and Mobility.” Saturday is full of break-out sessions led by the attendees. Sunday, the real work begins with geo-based games, like PacManhattan, where the city streets become the classic arcade game.

Portland is a perfect home for a location-based conference. Its transportation system, TriMet, was the pilot organization for integrating transit information into Google Maps. Now Google has rolled out transit to 85 cities globally. Social mapper Platial, which we wrote about at Where 2.0 in 2006, is based in Portland, as are other map-related startups like WeoGeo and Cartosoft.

Webmonkey will be making the hike to WhereCamp PDX, bringing highlights and photos of the GPS-enabled geohackers all weekend. If you’re around, be sure to say hi. Otherwise, follow along online and let us know what you think.

File Under: Mobile, Software & Tools

Google Maps Adds Street View, Walking Directions to Blackberry

Google Maps for Mobile was updated Wednesday to include popular website features Streetview and walking directions.

The new features allow you to be distracted just long enough while gazing endlessly into your Blackberry to run into the nearest pole, newspaper rack or fire hydrant.

Err, rather, Streetview allows you to see pictures of your destinations and spots along the direction route from street level. Walking directions does as the name implies; show you where to walk instead of drive to your destination.

The features are available to Java-based phones — basically Blackberrys. Other phones, like Windows Mobile devices, may have a Java virtual machine installed to allow Java-based applications to run. Running Maps through a Java-based client is good enough, but not exactly as good as an app native to the operating system. Windows Mobile just happens to have a native version available too — one lacking these cool new features.

No word on when these features will hit Symbian, iPhone, Windows Mobile and other native versions of the application.

Such is the nature of Google Maps product cycle. Each version of Maps seems to include cool new features derived from the Maps website, and each new release has features not included in the previous release on another device. The cycle goes round, and eventually all applications catch up. It gives every device a chance to be on top for a while.

However, with Android coming out soon, there’s no knowing if the product cycle will originate with Google phones first, then trickle down to the rest of us. Android just happens to run Java out of the box. In fact, we may be seeing a slightly modified version of what we’ll see in Android next week.

The announcement came with a live action video demonstrating how mobile Maps works, complete with a little animated Street View mascot. What is it with Google and comics lately?

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