Google City Tours upgrades with pedestrian directions, UI tweaks

Posted in Mapping on December 29th, 2009 by Justin – Comments

city tours logo Google City Tours upgrades with pedestrian directions, UI tweaksCity Tours was launched in Google Labs six months ago, enabling travelers to create detailed trip routes for anywhere across the globe. Yesterday, Google announced some upgrades to the City Tours platform. Among them are tweaks to the user interface so it looks more like traditional Google Maps, the ability to import My Maps, and the incorporation of complete walking directions. Previously City Tours just estimated the travel time between point A and point B and didn’t take into account the form of travel. Google was also quick to point out in a blog post that City Tours will remain in Google Labs for the time being, but it signifies the company’s intent to infringe on the travel planning industry.

10 geospatial industry trends to watch in 2010

Posted in Apps, GPS Manufacturers, GPS Software, Geospatial Technology, Industry, Mapping, Mobile, Netbooks, Venture Capital on December 28th, 2009 by Justin – Comments

2009 was definitely the year that the geospatial industry took off from a mainstream consumer perspective. Sure location-based applications and services have been around for years, but not for the average Joe/Jane like you and I. This year will be the first year that I actually put together a prediction post, my thoughts regarding what will trend in the industry in 2010. It’s part of my goal to focus on content quality this year which I’ll talk about in a future post. So here goes. These are a few of the areas I think will be important to watch in 2010 and I hope you add your thoughts and opinions in the comments after the post.

1. Augmented reality explodes-and by explodes I’m not referring to the marker-based applications and browsers on the market now. While some industry insiders like to badmouth the augmented reality stuff available now, every successful industry needs to start somewhere. I think 2010 will bring a proliferation of location-based augmented reality apps running the gamut from marketing/advertising to social networking, and even filtering back up to military uses.

2. Game mechanics proliferate-right now Foursquare and Gowalla are the two biggest GPS-using mobile applications that have successfully incorporated game mechanics. Both have been quite successful acquiring users that use the respective apps repeatedly, though neither have the user base (and probably never will) that Facebook and Twitter have. I think we’ll see something from Twitter in this area in 2010 with the launch of its Geolocation API though I think it’ll be in the form of an acquisition (like its recent GeoAPI buy). Once Facebook incorporates location into its platform (which I think will be in 2010), I think we’ll see some interesting uses of game mechanics here as well.

3. Virtual goods and mobile coupons will be huge-I’ve talked about virtual goods before as a fitting business model for location-based applications. Geographical locations, especially those with some sort of historical significance, lend themselves to having a monetizable virtual good attached. Plus the next-to-nothing cost of a virtual good isn’t threatening to the average consumer, even young ones. Eventually though, and I think 2010 will be the year, mobile coupons will a massive industry. Especially once they can be tied to location-not only outdoor location, but in-store location as well. This year I was impressed with the “mobile deal” app usage by people looking for holiday buying deals. Next year the mobile deal apps will be much more complex, contextualized with geolocation, and even more popular!

4. Google-need I say more. Google’s movement in the geospatial industry in the past year has been something like a rocket taking off into space. It seemed like every week the company had a new geo-announcement pertaining to its Maps and Earth platforms, for both end users and developers. With innovations like Google SketchUp making it so easy to create 3D building models, the Google Earth platform will move increasingly toward a 3D interface in 2010 and count on many more information layers becoming available. Possibly most significantly, Google Maps Navigation, free and open source GPS navigation software that is only available legally in the United States will become globally (or at least moving in that direction) available. What that means for Garmin, TomTom, Magellan, Mio and other dedicated PND and GPS handheld manufacturers remains to be seen. Free GPS software that can be used by Garmin and others will also have a direct effect on the viability of companies such as NAVTEQ and Tele Atlas. Right now, on a global scale, both companies have better overall mapping data than Google. But remember that Google cut Tele Atlas as its mapping data supplier in the US recently and that trend will continue.

5. Android LBS apps surpass iPhone LBS apps-okay, maybe not in quantity. Right now the iPhone app platform is the place to be, but with the sheer amount of apps in the App Store it’s becoming tougher for developers to stand out. That goes for LBS apps as well as other types. In 2010 though, we’ll see a ton of Android phones hit the market and they’ll be better than the Droid (imagine that). With more Android phones available, and more Android APIs to work with for developers, I think we’ll see many LBS developers creating innovative applications for the Android Market. I don’t really consider the Blackberry App World, Palm App Catalog, and Nokia Ovi Store as major players at the moment.

6. Search engine results incorporating location-you could argue that there is already Google Local Search and other search engine niches that return search results that are local to the person searching. But I think that geolocation in real-time will play a part in search results, not only on the mobile phone but on the desktop as well. Google and Microsoft already incorporate real-time Twitter results in their search results. Indirectly that means Tweets appended with location information appear in search results almost immediately. Eventually location, whether it be indirectly or directly through mobile search, etc., will play a huge part in search engine results. Especially as search algorithms move to real-time rankings. Look for movement here in 2010.

7. Venture capital cash flowing again-in the first half of 2009, venture capital investments were fairly slow given the recessionary economic environment. In the second half of the year though, investments picked up, and quite a few were in the LBS industry. I think VC cash will flow in 2010 into the LBS industry with a focus on monetization platforms (mobile advertising, etc.) and back-end infrastructure (think SCVNGR-it’s a company that has my antennae pointing skyward). The first half of 2010 will probably include quite a few VC investments into consumer application-focused companies as well. I don’t really expect anything in the way of IPOs, though I’ve heard rumors that Loopt may be heading in the is directions. In terms of acquisition behaviour, look for Google and Twitter to gobble up quite a few smaller LBS companies. Facebook may acquire a few LBS companies of its own as I expect its engineers are working on the geolocation aspect of the social networking platform behind the scenes.

8. Location-based mobile video-the ubiquity of GPS-aware mobile phones and even digital cameras has made geotagging photos easy. Just browse through Flickr and Picasa and you’ll seee millions of personal pictures with latitude and longitude coordinates attached. I think 2010 will be the year of location-based mobile video. Mobile video platforms like Qik are incredibly useful and growing quickly in popularity as more and more people have smartphones with generous data plans. 2010 will bring new mobile video platforms that focus on contextualizing videos with location information. Whether this will be from established platforms or from new names I’m not entirely sure. Microsoft Research has a project called Mobicast which stitches mobile video from multiple mobile phones together, kind of like Photosynth does for pictures. In the future Mobicast may be able to figure out how to stitch together multiple video streams from a single location into a single stream using GPS metadata. This is the future of mobile video and we’ll see it begin this year.

9. Every gadget to include a GPS chip-I admit this might not happen in 2010, but things will move in this direction. Dedicated PNDs used to be the sole domain of the GPS chip, but in the next few years every mobile phone will have one, not just smartphones. In 2009 digital camera and netbook makers began to incorporate GPS chips into their respective gadgets, albeit only occasionally. In 2010 I think most netbooks will have GPS chips and they make great little navigation gadgets with apps like Google Maps. In fact, Google’s own Chrome OS-based netbook will supposedly include a GPS chip and one-click Google Maps access. From a cost perspective, the addition of a GPS chip isn’t much to a company with good distribution, but has a high value for the end user. Most digital cameras and possibly video cameras this year will also include an embedded GPS chip. Geotagging pictures is popular among the average electronics user now and this trend will extend to video I’m assuming. Next will come the incorporation of GPS into every gadget imaginable. Just imagine the Amazon Kindle  10 geospatial industry trends to watch in 2010with a GPS chip. Can’t find an ebook? Just launch Google Maps and access an application that routes you to the nearest bookstore stocking your book!

10. PND prices continue to plummet-now that pretty well every GPS manufacturer pumps out hardware and software with the same features, with different names, they can only compete on price. That drives price down and that’s why it isn’t uncommon to net a decent GPS navigator online for south of $100. Even in the middle of summer. This year it won’t be uncommon to net a Garmin or TomTom GPS, an entry-level one, for $50. ‘Nuff said.

Barranco, Peru 3D Google Earth models

Posted in Mapping on December 28th, 2009 by Justin – Comments

 Barranco, Peru 3D Google Earth models

Ever wonder how far 5 months of Google Earth modeling will get you? Just ask Auquicu, who has spent the past 5 months creating 3D models of buildings in Barranco, a district of Lima, Peru that is full of historical architecture. According to the Google Earth Blog, Auquicu created the models in order to “call attention to institutions and authorities to preserve the monumental architecture of the district, that is in some cases very neglected and damaged.” The effort also utilized over 800 photos applied as textures to the buildings. You can see highlights of the models in the video below or view the KMZ file in Google Earth.

(Image credit: Wikipedia)

Where’s Santa? Ask NAVTEQ, his newest geospatial partner

Posted in Mapping on December 18th, 2009 by Justin – Comments
Garden of the Gods
Just like the “Naughty and Nice” List, the map of the world is highly complex and ever changing. So says a hilarious press release from NAVTEQ yesterday, spoofing itself as the latest and greatest geospatial partner of Santa Claus and the North Pole Department of Transportation. The press release does a great job of pointing out some of the finer points of NAVTEQ maps in the context of some Christmas humor:
  • a fully navigable map of Iceland, apparently useful ‘even though Santa is a “local”‘
  • Visual Content, such as 3D landmarks and 3D City Models, updated for 5 Brazilian cities
  • the 5000 fewer tons of feed that Rudolph and the other reindeer will need to fuel their flight around the world with the help of the company’s fuel efficiency data
NAVTEQ is no stranger to the press release and the majority of them relate to some small map content update, but this one is definitely worth a read.
(Image credit: NORAD)

Google Maps tries physical landmarks for navigation

Posted in Mapping on December 18th, 2009 by Justin – Comments
landmark directions Google Maps tries physical landmarks for navigation
In countries with well-developed transportation infrastructure, it isn’t too weird to see mapped directions by street and split by distance. In other countries, and in some North American areas, the infrastructure isn’t that well developed and it becomes tough to navigate or give/take directions unless we make use of physical landmarks. Google Maps India is doing this, changing its way of offering mapped directions to include the use of physical landmarks, many of which have been added by the community through Google Map Maker.
According to the Google India blog:
Our new algorithm determines from available signals, which of these landmarks are most useful for navigation, based on importance and closeness to the turns that you’re making. We now combine landmark data, counted turns (”the 2nd right”), intersection names, and road names, and try to use whatever information is most relevant and useful for the direction you’re heading in.”
Not only will the new features be available with Google Maps on the desktop for providing information about where to turn and providing confirmation that travellers are on the right route, but also on Google Maps for Mobile for those with cellphones.

Google Earth comes to the Audi A8’s in-dash navigation system

Posted in Geospatial Technology, Mapping on December 17th, 2009 by Justin – Comments

audi google earth Google Earth comes to the Audi A8s in dash navigation system

Google has teamed up with German car manufacturer Audi to bring Google Earth to the car dashboard. Today on the Google LatLong blog, the company announced that the new Audi A8’s in-dash navigation system will include access to Google Earth with its 3D satellite imagery, terrain information, and even Layers including Panoramio photos and Wikipedia entries. The Audi A8 will have access to Google Maps and Google Local Search as well, and will include the ability to receive search information from a desktop computer. That means, for example, you could search for a place to eat for lunch and the route to get there on your desktop or laptop computer, send it to your Audi A8, and have it at your fingertips while you’re behind the wheel! This is almost as cool as an iPhone application that picks out snipers!

Google Earth Engine customizes satellite imagery for monitoring deforestation

Posted in Mapping on December 16th, 2009 by Justin – Comments

google earth engine Google Earth Engine customizes satellite imagery for monitoring deforestation

Today at the COP15 International Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Google demonstrated Earth Engine, its new computational analysis platform that will enable organizations to track deforestation in near real-time.

While normal Google Earth satellite imagery may provide a qualitative look over time at the effects of deforestation on a given area, it can’t provide any quantitative information typically used to make decisions. Earth Engine adds this capability.

The prototype applications, which isn’t currently available to the general public, was created as a joint effort between Google, Carnegie Institution for Science, IMAZON, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The application, which runs on Google’s cloud-based infrastructure, will be provided free-of-charge to tropical countries.

Global Mapping Competition rewards Google Map Maker users with $50, 000

Posted in Mapping on December 16th, 2009 by Justin – Comments

map maker logo Global Mapping Competition rewards Google Map Maker users with $50, 000Map-making fanatics who want to contribute to Google’s global mapping coverage now have the opportunity to do it for dollars. Announced at an event in New York organized by both Google and the United Nations, Global Mapping Competition, which started yesterday, will reward the mapper that adds the most hospitals, schools, universities and medical clinics into Google Map Maker with a $50, 000 UNICEF donation to the winner’s country of choice. The donation will be used to empower citizens through technology.

Google Map Maker is currently available in 170 countries and 6 different languages. Users can add details to Google’s base maps by comparing to its satellite and hybrid imagery, so even if you live in one country, you can contribute to the map of another.

Global Mapping Competition requires registration here. It ends January 31, 2010 and the winner will be announced February 15.

MapQuest rolls out 360 View, MapQuest 4 Mobile v.1.2

Posted in Mapping on December 16th, 2009 by Justin – Comments

MapQuest is rolling out the early Christmas presents from its mapping platform this week, with the beginnings of its new Street View/Streetside-like street level imagery availability, dubbed 360 View, and enhancements to its mobile product line.

mapquest 360 view MapQuest rolls out 360 View, MapQuest 4 Mobile v.1.2

360 View provides panoramic photographic coverage of 30 American cities and 13 suburbs currently and works like Google Street View or Microsoft Streetside. Horizontally images can be panned 360 degrees while vertical images have the ability to move 160 degrees. You can read more about it here, but in my opinion MapQuest is a little late to the game to catch up to Google.

Its mobile product updates may be a little more promising to the company’s own fortunes. Its MapQuest 4 Mobile iPhone application is now available in version 1.2 with a number of new features including:

  • walking directions for pedestrian-only paths
  • map styles with terrain and vegetation imagery similar to that found on
  • a Directions Mode which allows users to expand and contract their route narrative to increase actual map space
  • Metric units support

MapQuest will also be available with GPS support for Android phones and the iPhone’s Safari browser so you’ll have your location automatically found, eliminating some of the hassle of inputing it yourself. A Blackberry version is also now available from the Blackberry App World.

Tracking Santa on Google Maps in real-time

Posted in Mapping on December 13th, 2009 by Justin – Comments
Santa Claus

Santa Claus

Just like last year, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, AKA NORAD, will be tracking Santa’s progress on Google Maps and Google Earth during Christmas. NORAD’s radar system, called the North Warning System, consists of 47 radar installations along the northern border of North America. Once Santa takes off on Christmas Eve, one of the radar installations will pick up his sleigh and reindeer and continue to track him along with the other installations and assisted by satellites (infrared sensors pick up Rudolph’s red nose) until he touches down. During that time you’ll be able to see where he is on the NORAD website, via Google Earth, or on your mobile phone. NORAD will also have a Santa Cam network set up that will take pictures of him as he makes his rounds, augmented by a fighter pilot welcome once he actually arrives in North America.