Google Maps Abandons Experimental Calorie Counter

An experimental feature in the iPhone version of Google Maps that measured the calories burned (and equivalent in mini-cupcakes) when walking a route instead has been pulled due to complaints, TechCrunch reports: the feature couldn’t be disabled, the calorie counts were vague and unhelpful, and it could be actively harmful to users with eating disorders. More at BuzzfeedSlate and The Verge.

Augmented Reality Comes to OS Maps

The Ordnance Survey’s OS Maps mobile app now has a new augmented reality mode. “Using the phone or tablet’s camera view, hills, mountains, coastal features, lakes, settlements, transport hubs and woodland in the vicinity are identified and labelled. If a label is pressed and there is a data connection, a page of useful information about that location is displayed, including nearby walks, photos and places to stay.” AR is very neat but battery-intensive; nevertheless this strikes me as a very useful application of the technology. [iOS App Store, Google Play]

How the Transit App Got Its Curves

transit-appThe makers of the Transit app (iPhone, Androidlike to point out that whereas Apple’s transit maps are beautiful but basically hand-drawn and added manually and slowly, and Google’s maps are algorithmically generated but look terrible, their maps are algorithmically generated but look smooth and neat. A technical post by their backend developer explains in ridiculous detail how they managed to auto-generate their smooth, curved transit network maps.

Maps in iOS 10

I’ve just upgraded my iPhone and iPad to iOS 10, but haven’t had a chance to mess with the new version of Apple Maps; iMore and Macworld set out the changes, including integrated services and apps, predictive intelligence, and improvements in driving directions and search, among other things. Also, you can set it to remember where you parked, which isn’t new in and of itself, but is for iOS.

How the Apple Maps Debacle Changed Apple’s Culture

“We made significant changes to all of our development processes because of it,” says Cue, who now oversees Maps. “To all of us living in Cupertino, the maps for here were pretty darn good. Right? So [the problem] wasn’t obvious to us. We were never able to take it out to a large number of users to get that feedback. Now we do.”

Apple senior vice president Eddie Cue, quoted in this Fast Company profile of Apple, on how the Apple Maps debacle changed Apple’s famously insular culture, opening things up to the point that they now have a public beta program. [James Fee]

A Preview of Maps in iOS 10

iLounge’s Jesse Hollington looks at the changes coming to Maps in iOS 10, the next release of Apple’s operating system for the iPhone and iPad. “Functionally, it doesn’t quite incorporate the kind of sweeping changes we’ve seen in prior years, but instead focuses on redesigning the user experience and adding a few useful iterative features.” (Thanks to James Fee for the link.)

Greater London A-Z Street Map

greater-azIt shouldn’t surprise me that there’s a mobile version of the London A-Z Street Atlas. There are, in fact, several, the most recent of which is the Greater London A-Z Street Map, which covers some 3,743 km2 of territory and stores all its maps—the same maps you’d get in the paper edition—on the device. (Which makes it a fairly significant download: 603 MB on iOS, 382 MB on Android.) The iOS version costs £5 and is compatible with both the iPhone and iPad. The Android version is available on Google Play and costs about the same.

Tube Map Live

Tube Map Live icon Andy Drizen’s Tube Map Live (iTunes), a free iOS app (native iPhone and iPad versions) that shows the real-time positions of London Underground trains on the iconic Tube map, using official data. Hypnotic visualization, but the app essentially promotes Drizen’s £1.99/$2.99 Tube Tracker: tapping on trains or stations calls up an advertising popup. Via TUAW.

The KickMap Comes to London

KickMap London screenshot

In 2007 Eddie Jabbour released the KickMap, a map of the New York subway system that tried to square the circle of various competing and controversial New York subway map designs. The KickMap later became an iOS app; I reviewed the iPad version in 2010. Now Eddie reports that he’s released a KickMap for the London Underground—not satisfied with updating Massimo Vignelli, he’s going after Harry Beck.

[W]hile the Tube Map’s updates over the decades have attempted to follow Beck’s design, a glance at the current iteration reveals that his design heirs have failed to retain his core credo of clarity and ease of use. Ongoing expansion of the Underground, the addition of the new Overground system, and essential disability access information have made most modern Tube Maps, both official and independent, overly complex and difficult to read. … [I]nstead of redesigning the entire map vocabulary as we did for KickMap NYC, we embarked on a fresh new effort to recapture Beck’s clarity and ease of use.

A regular Underground user would be able to evaluate whether the map succeeds in its goal to improve the Tube map’s clarity; I haven’t even so much as been to London, much less taken the Tube. But I’ve downloaded the app (disclosure: I received a promo code) and have played around with it a bit.

What I can say is that the map is gorgeous and scrolls fluidly (at least on an iPhone 5). In a nice touch, it adds detail like neighbourhoods and landmarks only when zoomed in, preserving a simpler, less cluttered map when zoomed out.

Those of you who’ve used the New York KickMap will find much that is familiar. While it can use your iPhone’s GPS to locate the nearest station—a nice touch on a non-geographic map—it does lack the New York app’s Directions function, which can route you between two stations on the network. Something to ask for, I think, in an update.

It costs only £0.69/$0.99 and is a universal iPhone/iPad app. iTunes link.

All Online Maps Suck

This is something I’ve been meaning to write for a while. I should have written it last December, during the hullaballoo over Apple’s maps, but I’ve never been one to strike when the iron is hot.

You’ll recall that there were a lot of complaints about Apple’s maps app when it launched with iOS 6, replacing the previous app that was powered by Google Maps. The map data didn’t match the user experience: it was a first-rate app that used second-rate data. Apple oversold the experience and failed to meet the high expectations of its customers. It was a problem that no other online map provider had ever had to deal with before, not least because no one had launched a new map service with the same amount of hubris, nor the same amount of scrutiny from day one.

But many of the complaints about Apple’s maps verged into hyperbole. The notion that Apple’s maps were uniquely bad compared to other online maps was frankly unfair. Because when you get right down to it, all online maps suck. They all fail in some way, somewhere, and some more than others—and if the maps you use seem fine to you, it’s because they suck somewhere else.

Continue reading “All Online Maps Suck”

Google Maps for iPhone

As announced by AllThingsD shortly before it happened, Google Maps for iPhone was released last night. If you rely on Google’s extensive local search database, Street View or transit directions, downloading this app is a no-brainer. You will say, “At last!” and go get it. Here’s the App Store link.

Some caveats: there is no native iPad version. Both Engadget and Techcrunch point out that this is a get-the-essentials-out-the-door-now maps app: certain features you’d expect from the desktop or Android version (e.g., biking, indoor, offline maps) aren’t available. While it’s vector-based, it seems to me to be a little slower and less responsive than Apple’s native app.

And its interface is quite different from the Google-based maps app we saw on the iPhone prior to iOS 6: not only does it adopt the design language of other Google iOS apps, like Google+ and the iOS 6 YouTube app (which isn’t to my taste, but Google is running with it), but it puts things in different locations: transit, traffic and satellite imagery are obtained by pulling from the right; local info and Street View are on the bottom. Obtaining the 3D map is not at all obvious: it requires a two-finger drag explained here. Which is to say that you may need to get used to the changes. If you were hoping to get the old Maps app back, that’s not happening.