Maps are the basis for hundreds of brilliant apps but, irrespective of the app and the person it’s intended for, developers face some common hurdles. We’ve been talking to Alex Osaki from the HERE product marketing team, to find out more.
Alex explains that there are issues everybody in the mapping industry has to overcome, and they’re not just related to HERE or third-party developers. One of the biggest problems is the way that people interact with their phones and location-based apps in general.
“A British cartographer called David Woodward put it best,” says Alex. “He accused cartographers of having reduced mapping to a mathematical activity. You may know your latitude and longitude to within 100 metres but if you can’t find a way to relate that to your surroundings, you’ll never find your way home.
“His point is that we take maps as being objective, but they’re not. Cartography is fundamentally an artistic statement: all maps are personal, which makes it incredibly ironic that although all maps are personal and everyone experiences the world in a different way, at the moment, everyone experiences their map in the same way.
“You open a mapping app and it’s always the same view. It’s a street map with a little dot for your position and a search box at the top, and maybe a compass in one of the corners. If you look at a map app, it’s very computational. Despite bright colours, the map itself is, as David Woodward says, a mathematical activity. The real problem we’re looking to solve is the homogenisation of maps - the idea that maps are flat and the same for everybody.”
Whichever of the plethora of available apps you use, the maps look increasingly similar. Alex explains: “The world is constantly changing and, as it becomes more urbanised, people are faced with increasingly complex ways of getting around.”
There are so many location-based apps out there that attempt to answer a whole host of questions. What’s the weather like? Will I get rained on if I decide to cycle or walk? Is there good availability of vehicles from the car share that’s close to my apartment? Are they working on the street outside the office today? How much will it cost to get across town to the airport by taxi? Is there a subway stop close to the restaurant I’m meeting my friends at this evening?
There’s pretty much an app for everything, all packed to the rafters with features, and it makes choosing the right one, or flicking between multiple apps and finding what you need more confusing than ever. Adding extra features to apps can simply compound the issue, and Alex explains: “If we’re everything to all people, it means that we’re not the best thing that we could be to the group of people that we want to target. Every additional feature you add makes the app more difficult to use; it makes it more complicated; you end up with a sort of mission creep.
All of these issues mean we need a new way of looking at maps, and that’s something we're going to start to talk about at CES in January. Imagine a map that’s more customised to your exact needs, that’s completely individual and personalised and allows you to do stuff you’ve never previously dreamed of. That’s the future for mapping, so watch this space and visit us at CES Central Plaza, Booth #CP-2.