We all saw this coming… but I didn’t think it would be this feature rich right out of the gate. Google has launched a beta of Google Maps Navigation on the new Verizon Droid Android phone. It has a ton of great features, like using streetview to show you what turns look like as well as what your destination looks like. It is only on the Droid right now, and will be released for other Android handsets in time. Whether it makes its way to other platforms like the iPhone, Windows Mobile, or Blackberry… I don’t know. It is certainly a strong selling point for the Android platform if it stays exclusive.
A couple years ago a new dedicated GPS device hit the market called the Dash Express. Dash planned to crowdsource their traffic data. Each Dash Express GPS unit reported location and speed back to the service. Dash then aggregated this data and pushed the results back to every Dash unit. In theory, users would get extremely current and accurate traffic data. In reality, the concept requires a large install base in your area to be effective. If I remember correctly, the Dash unit was nearly $400 at launch, and required a $14/month service plan. In November of 2008 Dash must have seen the writing on the wall, because they quit being a hardware company and started focusing on pushing their system of aggregating traffic data to other platforms and devices.
The concept has been revisited from time to time, and rightfully so, because it’s a solid concept. There is currently a mobile application called Waze that combines geolocation of friends/family, driving directions, maps, traffic data, and accident reporting into one app. The company claims to have a healthy install base in Europe but adoption in the US is still very low. Waze has taken a step in the right direction by being a cross platform application, so the potential install base is much higher than software tied to a single piece of hardware like the Dash Express. As far as execution though, Waze doesn’t cut it for me. At least on the iPhone, the UI is poorly implimented, service is slow, and the previously mentioned small install base keeps the true benefits of crowdsourced traffic from being realized.
This is where Google comes in. They have reached this space from the opposite direction. Google Maps for mobile devices already has an overwhelmingly large install base… a perfect source of information to build traffic data. The Google Blog recently laid out how they are using location data from mobile devices using Google services to build real-time data information for Google Maps users. Google Maps traffic data was recently expanded to secondary roads thanks to the abundance of information gathered from user data. The software that makes this happen comes bundled on Android devices and the Palm Pre, and is an easy download for Blackberry and Windows Mobile. I’m sure most people didn’t even realize they were contributing to the project. The Google Maps application on the iPhone doesn’t have the location reporting feature unfortunately, but I hope it will get added in a firmware update soon. Fortunately for iPhone users though, you don’t have to report data to benefit from it. iPhone users and desktop browser users alike will see the results of crowdsourced traffic data when they use Google Maps.
I know one of the big concerns you’re probably having right now: privacy. Of course there’s always a conversation about how much you should trust a large corporation like Google, but Dave Barth goes to great length to explain how Google is protecting user privacy in the Google Blog post, so please read through the last two paragraphs for sure.
If it’s not obvious by how much I’ve rambled about the subject in this blog post, I’ve had crowdsourced traffic data on my mind for years now, and I’m extremely excited to see it reaching the point where it can benefit a ton of users whether they’re aware of what’s going on behind the scenes or not. And really, I think the best applications of technology are those that don’t require attention or effort from the users in order for them to see the benefits.
That was fun while it lasted… the author stepped in to explain why the installer source for My Location wasn’t working anymore. From the Hackint0sh thread:
“Bad news, I’m afraid.
We have been requested by Google to remove access from the iPhone app to their web cell id service. The app is therefore suspended for now.”
It’s a shame that they’ve killed off such a useful application. Hopefully this means that an official update is around the corner for the iPhone.
Google released a new beta of their Google Maps for Mobiles application that uses cell phone towers to triangulate the user’s position without needing GPS. The beta is limited to a few cell phone systems right now. I tried it on my Windows Mobile 5 phone and it works great. Naturally, iPhone owners instantly speculated about when Apple and Google would offer this functionality as an update to the iPhone’s Google Maps application.
It seems that www.sanoodi.com has beat Google and Apple to the punch, releasing a “My Location” app for the iPhone that seems to enable Cell Tower based positioning in Google Maps.
You have to be running native applications to get the functionality. Add www.sanoodi.com/iphone to your installer.app sources, and find the app under the Misc category.
I’ve only used both the official Google solution and this new solution from one location. They both seem to be just about equally accurate. I’m impressed that the “hacked” solution can be just as accurate as the official solution so soon.
Thanks to Wayne Sutton for the heads up.
Update: You can read more information at the Hackint0sh forums. This app isn’t using triangulation yet, which explains why it’s a good distance off most of the time. It passes the CellID of the tower you’re connect to and compared that to a database of towers. Then the position of that tower is fed into Google Maps.
Google Maps now has a terrain view, showing images of 3D terrain and, if the city is big enough, buildings. New York’s Map has translucent buildings, and of course the Grand Canyon is a pretty good display of the terrain imagery. When I first read about this new feature at Download Squad I was afraid that they would be doing topographic lines or something, but the soft rendered terrain they are using is clean while still communicating quite a bit of (non-scientific) information.