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Nokia Maps 2.0; online mapping dealmaking all around

July 01, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

The online mapping world continues to change rapidly. Nokia Maps recently released an update to their mobile application that the online community seems to have dubbed “Nokia Maps 2.0.” The biggest new feature is pedestrian navigation; very cool stuff.

There is no bicycle navigation yet, and no plans to implement it that I know of.

Here is a demo/commercial of the new Nokia Maps. It starts out with the “Drive” stuff (blah), but gets to the “Walk” stuff about halfway through:

I suppose Nokia Maps would be a direct competitor to Verizon’s VZ Navigator mobile application.

Nokia is the biggest mobile handset manufacturer in the world, with 40% market share—that is “undisputed leader” territory. Their two closest competitors in this area (hardware) are not even close: Samsung and Motorola have 15% and 13% market share, respectively.

Nokia has been on an acquisition spree, as have other mapping companies. They recently purchased a Berlin-based mobile social networking company called Plazes (more).

Nokia also recently purchased Chicago-based NavTeq, the mapping technology provider that still also provides data to Google for Google maps. Mapping tech provider TomTom bought a rival mapping tech provider, Tele Atlas, and now Google has signed a data deal with Tele Atlas.

Oh, and Nokia also bought and open-sourced a mobile phone operating system called Symbian. Lots of folks (including me) thought it was a direct challenge to Google’s Android platform, and that could be true, but this writer has a slightly different take. Regardless, it’s important news; open-source mobile operating system software just allows developers (like Ride the City) to be innovative. There are still some concerns that the new iPhone will not allow applications to provide navigation (directions). Sounds a bit bizarre, but if you have one technology provider that is dominant, and you have a completely closed system, then they might just be able to get away with it. We’ll see how that pans out.

Google has also just released a new mapping technology in beta: Google Map Maker. Think “Wikipedia for maps.” In the wiki sense, it’s similar to the existing My Maps, but it adds new functionality, like “Show features near a point.” I would be hard-pressed right now to try to explain exactly how and why Map Maker differs from My Maps, but it seems like something worth watching closely.

I suspect Google’s move to create Map Maker was brought about from several motivations. One reason could have just been the desire to reduce risk. With all the mapping companies consolidating and getting bought by Google competitors, Google wanted to throw another variable into the mix—crowdsourced maps. There are other reasons Google might have created Map Maker: pure goodwill, a desire to improve map accuracy, to make money, a natural creation flowing from 20% time, and so forth. Some think that this effort by Google is a potential threat to the OpenStreetMap initiative. I’m not so sure, but I think we’ll have to see how things play out. Right now, you can only use Map Maker with a few areas/countries that just don’t have good map data available for them yet, apparently (e.g. the Caribbean islands, Iceland, Pakistan, Trinidad and Tobago, Vietnam, etc.).

I’m not sure what Map Maker means to our efforts to get bicycle navigation on Google Maps. Maybe something, maybe nothing, but I am very interested in this idea of wikimaps (lots of regular people being able to contribute to a map). I think the Ride the City guys really took things up a notch when they introduced their feedback form, which is a sort of wikimap. It seems Google Map Maker might do the same, albeit in a different way. Lean more about Map Maker at the Google Sites website (Google Sites is Google’s wiki product;  think Wikipedia, but a bit more structured, and easier to learn and use for novice computer users). [Update: And, of course, OpenStreetMap would have to be considered at least one of the leading and original wikimap makers.]

Of course, some high profile efforts to use Google Maps to help us get around safely by bicycle are going on in Boston. The bicycle advocate for the city of Boston, Nicole Freedman, is using Google Maps to both figure out where folks are riding (which routes), and then to actually implement Boston’s first bike map. At first, and for a long time (up until 3 minutes ago), I was very skeptical of the crowdsourced bike-route-creating idea, but now I see that is not really what was going on; instead, it was a bike-map-creating idea— somewhat related, but not quite the same thing. In any case, it now sounds to me like a great idea.  :)

And having a full bike map available on Google Maps might not be a first, but it would certainly be helpful to Bostonites, and it would garner some more publicity for our cause. NYC Bike Maps has an example of a full bike map implemented on Google Maps, and there have been countless other efforts from bike organizations and individuals. I think we still need some better Google Maps technology infrastructure to make a really great bike map on Google Maps (e.g. white tile background needed, better/faster Google Maps performance—possibly from the new Flash API, etc.). So, let’s see what Boston can come up with. Best of luck to Nicole and her team and all the bikers and volunteers helping out with those projects!

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