Seems the recent Apple announcement around maps has caused quite the stir. This can only be good. Tom Ashbrook aired a programme on NPR recently discussing ‘The Next Generation of Maps’. There is a link to the show at the bottom of this blog entry. The discussion included guests; two cartographers and a journalist. Their comments and observations (in the first half of the show) were very interesting. Phone in questions, later in the show, included how these new developments may cause people to lose our spatial awareness and how this might help the terrorists. Yawn.

Our Thoughts – From Internet Maps to Mobile GIS & Location Technology

The (shared) digital map medium has been available since the early days of the Internet. As a company, we saw the Web as revolutionizing the world of maps. One of the guests on the show says:

“Paper maps were display and database combined (like old plat map or fire insurance maps). The digital world allows a separation of these two elements. Now the map becomes a flexible display which answers whatever question you have at that time.”

The Internet allowed maps and location data to be shared, no longer running on a desktop in the corner of the office. Innovation came with Google maps, and ESRI’s ArcGIS etc. More data and tools to build maps became available. Yet the use of Internet maps often was an extension of what we did with paper maps; orienting ourselves, driving directions, (digital) searches. Google introduced streetview and 3-D with Google Earth, but these remain novelty more than essential new tools. Google and now Apple, have introduced turn by turn directions; replacing existing technology from the likes of Tom Tom.

Mobile Location Technology and Context

Mobile is the new digital revolution. Why such a big deal, its only the same devices (computers) which have been made mobile? Context context context (I suppose we could say location location location). Now we can ask whatever question we wish at that time based on WHERE WE ARE. Maybe we display this information on a map “show me the closest restaurants to my current location”, maybe we receive a text message inviting us into the restaurant we are just driving past to get a ‘2 for the price of 1’ entree, possibly we simply wish to view the path of an underground pipe we know runs near where we stand.

Maps are no longer historical records they now contain current data from sensors, or eye witness real time traffic updates. With geo-referenced photos and AR (augmented reality), reality is being merged into maps.

But maps are but a part of a now bigger whole. They are simply pictures of information; an easy way for us to understand, pull meaning and relations from a large amount of data. But mobile is far more than about the next generation of maps. We can now integrate location into the tools we use to organise our daily lives. Now we can ask questions about where we are, and have a more meaningful answer given the context of our location. Imagine viewing the path of a tornado on an office computer and trying to organise rescue crews, versus viewing the same information on an iPad in the field surrounded by devastation. The latter uses the same tools (a map) but has the context (the devastation) to better organise and coordinate rescue efforts.

Having the ability to ask questions and view information about where we are is the true power of mobile computing.

And the mobile revolution has only just begun. There are exciting times ahead.

Link to On Point from NPR – The Next Generation Of Maps

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