Google Maps has been visually upgraded to make finding things a little bit easier. The Maps team has consistently added features to the Google Maps platform since it originally launched almost 5 years ago. But with ever more information to sift through, the view can get a bit cluttered at times. Google has responded by making some minor changes that make a major difference in the readability of its maps.
The changes affect both the ‘Map’ and ‘Hybrid’ styles, and include numerous refinements to color, density, typography, and road styling worldwide. For example, in map view, local and arterial roads have been narrowed at medium zooms to improve legibility, and the overall colours have been optimized to be easier on the eye and conflict less with other things (such as traffic, transit lines and search results) that we overlay onto the map. Hybrid roads have gained a crisp outline to make them easier to follow, and the overall look is now closer to an augmented satellite view instead of a simple overlay.
TomTom’s iPhone car kit has officially arrived in the United States Apple Store, two weeks after it launched in Europe. Costing $120 (purchased separately from the TomTom iPhone application and shipping in 2 to 3 weeks), the iPhone car kit mounts to a vehicle dashboard or windshield, and has a built-in GPS receiver in order to improve the reception grabbed by the iPhone 3G or iPhone 3GS. Not interested in the high price? Also check out vehicle iPhone cradles from Navigon and Kensington.
One of the best qualities inherent in a map is its ability to visualize the past. The Historic Earth iPhone app (formerly the Old Map App), created by Emergence Studios in partnership with Historic Map Works, puts this quality in a pretty package available for download from the iTunes App Store. Historic Earth overlays historic maps over current day maps of the same location using geocoding technology, and currently consists of over 32, 000 maps of various US cities and states. The app allows you to find maps from your current location automatically using GPS, manually search by city, zip code, or address, pan and zoom to a map location, and rotate maps using the compass on the iPhone 3GS. The Historic Map iPhone App is available now from the App Store for a limited time price of $5.99.
Best Buy has a new GPS tracker up on its website under its Insignia brand and called the Little Buddy Child Tracker. The small blue stick fits nicely into a child’s lunchbag or backpack (covertly of course) and sends the Big Brother parent alerts via SMS if said child moves outside of a pre-determined geographical area. Costing $99.99, the Insignia Little Buddy Child Tracker ships October 23.
Loopt is adding a new feature to its newborn Loopt Mix standalone iPhone application as I write this. According to Mashable, Loopt is adding real-time activity streams to the Loopt Mix app right now. The feature enables users of Loopt Mix to see updates from other users in the same geographical area in real-time, including uploaded pictures and status updates. This has been a requested feature since the early days of Loopt and will make it much more useful for enabling real-world social interactions.
Google has released version 3.2.0 of Google Maps for Blackberry today, bringing new features such as Layers to the Research In Motion smartphone platform. With Layers, users are able to create My Maps, for example, and see them while mobile. Or, as the Google Mobile blog points out as another example, view the Wikipedia layer to find points of interest and then use the transit layer to create a routing schedule to each. You can download Google Maps for Blackberry version 3.2.0 via http://m.google.com/maps from your Blackberry smartphone and use it now. Windows Mobile and S60 operating system users have had access to Layers via the new update since back in July.
Google’s Android mobile operating system is heading for the military. Defense contractor Raytheon has created a simple Android application that combines maps with a buddy list, though in this case a buddy doesn’t necessarily need to be a human; just something trackable.
The framework is called the Raytheon Android Tactical System, or RATS, and should be deployed in the next couple of months. Raytheon says the system’s ease of use keeps costs drastically down–a few hundred dollars per user compared to the $20, 000 to $30, 000 per user common to other military-grade mobile hardware and software systems.
Mobile social network Loopt announced on Monday that Loopt Mix is now a standalone application for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Loopt Mix, a feature previously found within the original Loopt app, helps users of the location-based social network meet new people according to various criteria such as location and interests. The app is free for download from the App Store.
In other Loopt news, Techcrunch is reporting that the startup acquired GraffitiGEO, a Y Combinator company that incorporates gameplay into restaurant and business reviews. GraffitiGEO also has an augmented reality app in the works that overlays its review data over the live camera feed of an iPhone. As Techcrunch points out, this is an intuitive move by Loopt as the acquisition helps it cover some of the features it original product offering is missing.
Satsports has released a handheld GPS navigation system for outdoor athletes in North America. The device sports a 2.7-inch touchscreen and voice-guided turn-by-turn directions via maps of the United States and Canada loaded onto a microSD card. Card storage also works for photos, MP3 music files, and videos; all of which can be played back on the Satsports device.
In order to accommodate existing smartphone users, Satsports also provides GPS applications for Android and Windows Mobile. The applications, which provide the same functionality accessible directly from the dedicated GPS device, include ski maps covering the globe, related points of interest including bars, restaurants and lodges, speed, altitude, movement and distance recording, and a safety feature that enables rescuers to locate skiers in the event of an emergency.
Athletes into running, cycling, and hiking can access similar features geared to each respective sport. Finally, golfers have the Pocket Caddy app which provides 2D and 3D flyovers of of each hole on 700 pre-loaded golf courses, a stats viewers that can be used with Google Earth to view gameplay after the fact, and the ability to map courses not provided with the included software.
The Satsports GPS is pretty pricey. The device itself retails for $490 while the add-on SD card for mapping and navigation costs another $65. Buyers who chose standalone apps will pay only $8 for both Android and Windows Mobile versions.