Tag Archive for 'Mobile'

Adventures in Nokia Maps pt. 4: pedestrian navigation

The tricky part of pedestrian navigation is, that it actually involves a lot of refinement work on current base maps in order to provide a good service. Using regular digital road maps, as we know them in Google Maps for instance, is just not possible. Pedestrians need different information. Most maps currently used in navigation devices are made by and for people in cars, moving at 35km/h and faster. As pedestrian you move slower, on other paths and parts of the street, your orientation senses work differently, you notice other landmarks, signs, use short-cuts, cross streets randomly and can make u-turns whenever you want to.

Nokia Maps 3.0 has some enhancements aimed to help pedestrians. I especially found the 3D-like landmark drawings on the map and the continuous reverse geocoding very helpful. I think I already mentioned in an earlier post the very well done cartography, optimized for smaller displays.

Walking directions work in most cases well. Nokia Maps knows the park next to the subway station I often use and shows me the shortest path to it.

Nokia Maps pedestrian navigation

Seems an easy task, but Google Maps, based on TeleAtlas’ road network in that area, shows some fantasy foot paths inside the park and suggests another route circling around.

Google Maps pedestrian navigation

OpenStreetMap shows the real layout of all foot paths in the park and provides good walking directions (by OpenRouteService) too.

Bruno-Kreisky-Park in OpenStreetMap with walking directions

The quality of the returned walking directions depend on the strength of the GPS signal in some cases. If it’s weak, Nokia Maps doesn’t dare to send you out to take a walk on a three lane street full with speeding cars.

Imagine you step out the subway station and ask Nokia Maps for the shortest way walking to your destination. If you’re lucky and the signal is good, Nokia Maps snaps you to the right street and returns good results.

Nokia walking directions

Let’s assume it’s a bad GPS day and your signal is about 10m off, happens quite frequently in urban areas. Nokia snaps you on a 3 car-lane street and suggest you start walking there. Not good.

Nokia walking directions problem

That’s what the situation looks like on the aerial. The subway station was under construction then, but there is an exit next to the containers. Anyways, a pedestrian navigation service should never propose walking on that road.


Other services I tried in that area had some problems too. Google Maps sent you on the same road. OpenRouteService basically returned a good walking route, but didn’t know that you had to jump off a 3m wall to reach the nice foot path along the canal.

Adventures in Nokia Maps pt. 3: the POI catalogue

IMHO Nokia Maps 3.0 has basically two outstanding features:

  • great cartography on small displays
  • comprehensive POI catalogue

While trying Nokia Maps I usually kept thinking why I would buy Nokia Maps and not use Google Maps mobile, which is a free application. If it’s only for looking up addresses and directions, and I don’t care about the mobile data connection, I’d go for Google. Google does the same or even a better job here.

When it comes to looking up POI nearby, Nokia Maps is way ahead of Google.

The other day I was looking for a post office, because the one I knew was under construction and closed (and the staff there couldn’t tell me where the nearest post office is btw). The official Austrian mail site totally failed on a mobile browser, no chance to get a list of their offices. Google returned a couple of search results considering my location, but would have sent me way far away to a post office in another district, giving nice directions with public transport though. Nokia Maps showed me two post offices in the neighborhood and provided walking directions of course.

Post offices is of course only one category in the catalogue. The POI catalogue seems very well organized and can be explored quickly, even tough it’s pretty comprehensive. I found the catalogue better usable and more efficient on mobile devices than a Google Maps mobile search for POI.

Better usable because a search for POI in Google Maps mobile requires you to stop, type and check results. A catalogue you can explore easily while walking, by using only one thumb, just like an iPod. It requires less attention than a text search.

More efficient because a Google Maps mobile search basically returns lots of locally irrelevant results. Google is probably working on that, but in the meantime Nokia delivers better, clearer and more useful local POIs.

Additionally there is an entire guide-section in the catalogue, providing mobile tourist guides I guess. Unfortunately I didn’t try this feature.

Bottom line: people who want more out of mobile maps than just address search and directions should give Nokia Maps 3.0 a shot.

Adventures in Nokia Maps pt. 2: public transport

The main point I’m interested in when it comes to mobile maps is pedestrian navigation. In Vienna I don’t own a car, usually move around by bike, or use public transport during cold and wet periods like this month.

One of the first things I tried using Nokia Maps 3.0 was to find the best route from our new office to one of our client’s office. Easy task: I enter the address of our client’s office and hit “Walk to”. Somehow I expected Nokia Maps to consider public transportation on the route, which, as it turned out, it does not. Instead it proposed me a 1½h hike across the city. I’m sure it was the quickest route walking, but certainly not what I was looking for.

Ok, Nokia Maps 3.0 doesn’t feature public transport directions. Google Maps Mobile does in Vienna btw, it offers public transport incl. walking directions, which is really useful.

Otherwise, Nokia improved public transport coverage in Nokia Maps 3.0 a lot. You can browse the POI catalogue and find the nearest bus/tram/subway/railway stop, plot them on the map and let you guide there. That’s a start. Once you’re on the subway or bus, you probably figure out how to move around. However, built-in public transport directions would be even more convenient.

Filling Gaps on Maps

Stefan Knecht, co-founder and CIO of United Maps, got in touch with me providing information about his company and their products. United Maps works hard on adding more value to existing maps, as we know them on Google Maps or in automotive navigation systems, and create digital maps for humans. Considering the increased popularity of GPS enabled mobile devices and the given potential of pedestrian navigation systems, it seems to be the right thing to do these days.

Over at Vector One and at United Maps‘ website (blog) you’ll find detailed information about their product and vision.

I took the chance and asked Stefan some more questions, see below.

Q: United Maps creates digital maps optimized for pedestrian use, a perfect addition to many mobile mapping applications. Who would United Maps consider as primary target group? Is your focus rather on the white labeled map as data product or are you working on API like services to attract individual developers for instance too?

Stefan: I’d like to reframe “target group” to something more universal like “use group”. At the time being, we concentrate on delivering what we carry in our company name: a unification of maps, attributes and use cases to enable mobile people finding their way and discovering things around them.

So the focus is on comprehensive, nationwide and B2B data products rather than on public APIs and just another mash-up. We’re not mashing-up what’s already out there — we try to drill deeper and possibly beyond what’s easily visible on the web.

Q: The OpenStreetMap foundation is currently working on a new licensing model: ODbL should basically allow OpenStreetMap features and copyrighted map features being held in the same database. Have you considered OSM-integration in United Maps?

Stefan: First of all: OSM does a great job, all kudos to them. The recently completed dataset of Hamburg is incredibly good. I wonder how OSM will perform in “flat world”, outside of larger cities and how OSM will be able to scale into less populated and geek-prone areas.

To answer the question and as far as I can judge from the ongoing debates within the OSM community: the modularity of a dozen CC license types shouldn’t be brought into ODbl. The legal situation already is far too complex – and it doesn’t become easier with just another set of derivative licenses and constraints to consider.

Q: I believe gathering detailed cadastral maps across Europe can easily turn into an exhausting process – different legislations, different mapping traditions and INSPIRE implementation has just started. Do your GIS experts consider other and maybe easier accessible sources, such as vectors derived from commercial EO data, rather than official public data to “fill the gaps” in Europe and push United Maps rollout forward?

Stefan: One of our goals is to match INSPIRE specifications on a base level to enable users of our United Maps gather and aggregate data on top. For other data sources besides federal information: any valuable source that can deliver coverage for a given set of national boundaries is welcome and might be licensed and matched with the data we already have. We’re positively testing options – and expectedly, both data availability and legal constraints change at every administrative border … or any 150 miles in Europe.

Q: Nokia Maps is probably a serious competitor for United Maps. As far as I know Nokia Maps, their approach is to provide landmarks instead of precise building footprints to support orientation or even suggest shortcuts through buildings for pedestrian navigation. Where would you see the main difference to Nokia Maps or what aspect do you think makes United Maps the better choice for pedestrians?

Stefan: It would be impudent to name United Maps as a competitor to Nokia Maps. Nokia Maps is a B2C product and naturally powered by Navteq data. For the time being, United Maps is in a B2B space.

I don’t see that precision of footprints is a real issue: it’s rather the availability and rollout of supplemental data to enhance the usage experience on Nokia Maps. If landmarks are helpful – why not integrate them? I don’t see us producing 3D-mockups for a simple reason: if you’re a human on the move, trying to orientate yourself on the 3-inch-screen isn’t really simplified by 3D-models that you rarely see in entirety in the urban jungle. If 3D-models remain picturesque building hulls they act as visual landmarks. The pedestrian shortcuts through buildings can only be produced with a topologically closed and hence routable network beyond — and this ultimately is, what United Maps does: gather content, attributes and pathways that are relevant for people outside of cars.

Q: You’re partnering with the Technical University of Munich. How important is the scientific input for United Maps? Is United Maps a research project?

Stefan: United Maps draws from the research we commissioned at TUM before we started the company. We repurpose the initial scientific results into a commercial setting and take academic aproaches onto a industrial scale. The scientific input is most valuable and will be perpetuated to specific domains and settings. We’re just developing a multimodal pedestrian routing application that seemlessly routes you back and forth through automotive traffic and mass transit alternatives.

The mother of all Q: Will there be an iPhone version of United Maps?

Stefan: United Maps does better, hyperlocal maps at large. The iPhone and all other smartphone devices will use the web for mapping and possibly web services navigation. If there’s a business case for a tailored iPhone application, we’ll do that in-house or offshore it to a partner. We’ll have Germany ready as comprehensive hyperlocal dataset in April, then Austria and Switzerland — everything beyond is subject to change and upcoming partnerships. And we’re naturally open to partnerships of any extent.

United Maps presentation at the Telematics Munich Show

Speech to navigation

Better than typing and of course a much safer method for looking up directions while driving a car.

via [The Ask.com Blog]

Last.fm to go

Yet another application which makes the iPhone more appealing:

MobileScrobbler connects your Apple iPhone or iPod Touch with the Last.fm social music website.

The T-Mobile Austria EDGE network can carry data speeds up to 220 kbit/s. Last.fm radio uses an MP3 stream encoded at 128 kbit/s. So I guess this should basically work, but still depends on how reliable and stable EDGE is, where I don’t have any experiences with. A 3G iPhone connected to a broader bandwith would certainly do a better job on Last.fm radio.

The definition of flat-rate in most mobile phone contracts is another questionable point: a flat-rate ending at 200 MB per month (like offered in the T-Mobile Germany iPhone data package) wouldn’t allow me to enjoy Last.fm too much.

A quick example: my daily way to work, where I usually listen to my iPod, takes 25 minutes, one way. After 5 days, Monday to Friday going to work, listening to Last.fm radio only my way to work and back, streaming at 128 kbit/s, I would have already exceeded a flat-rate of 200 MB, without even using the internet on the iPhone for something else.

That wouldn’t make sense, and is in my opinion a gadget show stopper. [via macnotes]

iPhone GPS module

TomTom GPS Module on iPhoneReason enough to reconsider my current minimalistic mobile gadget strategy: rumors say that TomTom is doing a GPS module for the iPhone.

Sweet, though, built-in would be sweeter than plugged-in. [via Geograffiti]

Update: the picture and news about the TomTom iPhone GPS module turned out to be fake, but today Engadget reports about another iPhone GPS hack. So I guess there is something cooking…

LBS guerilla tactics

Rainer links to an interesting NYT article about the recently introduced My Location feature in Google Maps mobile. Actually the first thought coming to my mind when I heard about My Location two weeks ago was: “How come that Google knows cell tower positions, almost worldwide?”.

As far as I know it’s one of the best kept secrets among mobile carriers. Christopher Schmidt gave a talk about that issue at the Where 2006 conference, explaining the ignorance of most mobile carriers and showed us his GSM location hack.

According to the NYT article, Google gathers cell location information the same way as Christopher did: users equipped with mobile phones and GPS devices send cell and location information back to a central unit, where it’ll be provided for other users without GPS devices.

Or in other words, Google uses GPS enabled mobile phones, like your 800,- EUR Nokia N95 for instance, to enhance their service. Strangely not every Google employee supports this strategy and dare to sell a N95 on eBay.

However, Rainer points out, and I totally agree, that an API for LBS is needed. We have seen what happened when developers gained access to geographic information through APIs. LBS has been the next big mobile thing for a couple of years now. I think an LBS API could finally make it happen and bring thousands of ideas and map mashups to mobile devices.


I guess I just changed my opinion about simplicity and cell phones…

Seems like some developers did their usability homework.

Major cell phone downgrade

I got a new cell phone. While most people try to get new phones with more features, fancier ringtones, better displays and cameras, I made a major downgrade and bought the dirt cheap low-end mobile Motorola MOTOFONE F3 from a gypsy at a hairdresser in Budapest.

MOTOFONEThe thing is that my phone broke on the trip to Budapest and I tried to find a quick replacement, without selling my soul to a Hungarian mobile carrier. So the hairdresser gypsy was the best given option.

While configuring the new phone I really started liking it.

Quite unusual for a phone these days, it offers no functionality but making a phone call and sending a message. The device has even barely a menu. The e-paper display provides space for 6 digits in two lines, no pixels or colors at all. The address book contains one name and number per entry, there is no camera and maybe 7 basic ringtones. It does feature vibration mode though, but no profiles of course.

Text messages are very rudimentary too: I can pimp my lower case text messages with commas and question marks. That’s it. No smiley or other funny symbol, not even a point, an exclamation mark or quotes.

Due to the lack of a menu you do advanced menu settings by typing totally abstract number codes, like ***470* for setting the time format for instance. Isn’t that just great?

It’s a plain phone and it’s fantastic!