Nokia’s Here Maps App

Earlier this month Nokia, the parent company of Navteq, announced its cross-platform mapping service, which they’re calling Here. To that end, its free iOS app, Here Maps, appeared in the App Store this week. I’ve poked around with it a little bit today and have some thoughts.

Those seeking a true alternative to Apple’s (or Google’s) maps will probably be disappointed. It’s a perfectly serviceable portal to the Nokia’s map platform, but there’s nothing to ooh or aah over. Nokia’s maps aren’t necessarily better; as with all map platforms—Google’s, Apple’s, OpenStreetMap’s and Nokia’s—whose is better varies from place to place. For my little village, for example, Nokia’s street data is a bit better than Apple’s, and it has more POIs; on the other hand, some of Nokia’s POIs are misplaced, and Apple has better, higher-resolution imagery for my area. Again, it depends on where you are.

I’m not a fan of Here Maps’s UI: it’s rather clunky and appears to be designed to be the same across all platforms, rather than using native iOS widgetry. It seems better matched to the iPhone/iPod touch than to the iPad, where the non-native popup windows swallow too much of the screen. The map tiles are bitmapped rather than vector images, and load more slowly than I’d expect. To be sure, there is an offline mode, and a few other features I haven’t explored yet—see Cult of Mac, Macworld and TUAW for more thorough looks at this app. My first impression is kind of meh: it’s good to have multiple map apps, but this one doesn’t really stand out. But it’s free, so it can’t hurt to try it.

The World Fantasy Map Panel

World Fantasy Convention 2012

Herewith my writeup of the “Maps and Fantasy Literature” panel at the World Fantasy Convention earlier this month in Richmond Hill, Ontario, based on fragmentary and cryptic notes and no doubt full of misrepresentations and misattributions. The panel took place on Sunday, November 4 at 10 a.m. Panellists were Robert Boyczuk, Laura Goodin, Matthew Johnson, Sara Simmons, Jo Walton, and Bill Willingham (who acted as moderator). The panel description:

Continue reading “The World Fantasy Map Panel”

Now Out: The Lands of Ice and Fire

Book cover: The Lands of Ice and Fire Today is the release date (in North America) for The Lands of Ice and Fire, a book (sort of) that contains maps of George R. R. Martin‘s Westeros, the setting for A Game of Thrones and its sequels.

George explains that this isn’t an atlas; in fact, it’s “not an actual book at all, but a book-shaped box containing a whole bunch of gorgeous, glossy, fold-out maps of Westeros, Essos, and the lands and seas from A Song of Ice and Fire.” (I hadn’t been sure.) Among the maps is an eagerly anticipated world map. George clarifies that “it’s not a complete world map, no. The idea was to do something representing the lands and seas of which, say, a maester of the Citadel might be aware … and while the maesters know more about Asshai and the lands beyond than a medieval monk knew about Cathay, distance remains a factor, and past a certain point legends and myths will creep here.”

The maps are the work of fantasy cartographer Jonathan Roberts. Sample images at io9 and Tor.com.

Buy at Amazon | publisher’s page

Previously: The Lands of Ice and Fire: Westeros Atlas Coming in October.

Apple-Google Maps Kremlinology

Details continue to emerge, as details tend to do, about how and why Apple replaced Google with its own maps in iOS 6. John Paczkowski reports that the Apple-Google maps arrangement faltered over voice-guided turn-by-turn directions, which Google Maps has had on Android for years but Apple couldn’t get from Google. John Gruber looks at the timeline of Apple’s contract with Google here and here, and has some ideas why Apple would give the boot to Google with time still on the clock.

Pogue calls Apple’s Maps app “an appalling first release. It may be the most embarrassing, least usable piece of software Apple has ever unleashed.” (I guess he never tried version 1.0 of the Podcasts app on older hardware.) In passing, however, he also mentions that Street View is coming to the mobile website in a couple of weeks. Street View is a big part of my own Google Maps usage; if it is for you as well, you’ll welcome that news. (The desktop web version requires Flash, so has not been available to mobile devices.)

The competition has been having fun at Apple’s expense, except that Motorola’s ad gave iOS a nonexistent address to get lost with.

Previously: Early Reviews of iOS 6 Maps; Reactions to Apple’s Maps; iOS Maps: More Reactions and Analysis; iOS 6 Maps: First Impressions and More Links; Apple, Google and China: iOS Maps.

Update: Apple CEO Tim Cook’s statement.

Apple, Google and China: iOS Maps

First, how to report a problem in iOS 6 maps: MacRumors, Macworld. Jamie Ryan reports that reported errors are being corrected quickly.
More information about Google Maps’s removal from iOS 6, and whether it will return with a Google-built app. Eric Schmidt said Monday that, contrary to rumours, Google hadn’t submitted an app yet, and things got muddled from there. The Verge and the New York Times’s Bits Blog reported last night that there was still a year left on Apple’s contract with Google, and that Google was caught flatfooted by the move and is scrambling to build its own map. They are building one, though. It’s just a matter of when we’ll see it.

One place where Apple’s maps are demonstrably better than Google’s is China, where Apple was able to draw upon maps from a Chinese company. The drawback is that the maps aren’t integrated with those in the rest of the world. Anthony Drendel, AppleInsider, Wall Street Journal.

TUAW argues that Apple dumped Google because it wasn’t allowed to do turn-by-turn navigation with Google Maps. Engadget’s Brad Hill believes that the switch was “shrewd, inevitable and an indicator that Apple understands the true battle it wages.” See also AppleInsider’s detailed multipage review.

Roger Zelazny’s Here There Be Dragons

Roger Zelazny’s Here There Be Dragons is a short fairy tale that first appeared as one volume of a two-volume limited-edition deluxe illustrated signed slipcased hardcover set published by Donald M. Grant in 1992. Zelazny wrote it and its companion story, Way Up High (about a girl and a pterosaur) in the late 1960s, and had Vaughn Bodé illustrate them before his untimely death in 1975. The story is about a kingdom that nobody ever left because its Royal Cartographers always wrote “Here There Be Dragons” at the margins of their maps, so everyone thought they were surrounded by dragons. Hilarity ensues when the princess wants fireworks for her birthday, but no one knows how to make them anymore, so the idea is hit upon to enlist the services of a dragon. And so it goes. It’s a clever little story, but you’re almost certain never to see it: the print run was limited to a thousand copies, and while the set is available used on Amazon and AbeBooks, it’s very, very expensive. I’m afraid it has become collectible. (I was lent a copy. I have to give it back.)

iOS 6 Maps: First Impressions and More Links

I’ve been poking around with iOS 6 maps on both my fourth-generation iPod touch and on Jennifer’s third-generation iPad. My initial impression is that the app is fast and renders streets quickly, and turn-by-turn directions seem to be okay in practice. The satellite imagery comes from different sources than Google’s and in some areas is actually higher resolution than what Google offers. There’s a lot of missing data though: searching for local bank branches while we were in Ottawa this weekend, for example, was an exercise in futility.

More analysis from around the Intertubes:

The Next Web reports that Apple’s satellite imagery only shows China and Taiwan when viewed from China. TechCrunch reports that Apple is recruiting former Google Maps staff and points to weirdness that ensues when Apple Maps links are used on the desktop.

iOS Maps: More Reactions and Analysis

Regarding the pickle Apple has gotten itself into by providing its own maps in iOS 6, some context and analysis is provided by Gizmodo, the Guardian, Macworld and The Verge, all of which are worth reading. Cult of Mac suggests some workarounds. AllThingsD has a statement from Apple promising that it will get better, plus news that “the team assigned to the app is under lockdown right now working to fix it.” In general, everyone agrees that maps are hard to do and that Apple has a lot of work ahead of it. Dan Frommer is strangely optimistic, seeing in adversity an opportunity for Apple to prove itself. Meanwhile, 9to5Mac reports that Google does have an iOS map app that is awaiting approval from Apple. (Update: Dalrymple says nope, and he can be relied upon.)

Previously: Reactions to Apple’s Maps; Early Reviews of iOS 6 Maps.

Reactions to Apple’s Maps

Apple’s maps have been out for 26 hours, and they’re already getting pummelled. See coverage from AppleInsider, BBC News and MacRumors. Ian Betteridge: “iOS 6 Maps is a mess.” Max Slater-Robins: “Apple Maps is, in a word, awful.”

What’s happened here is that Google Maps usage has become so ubiquitous, so relied upon—especially on mobile—that any change will be seen as a downgrade.

There’s no question that Google Maps is the best online map product out there at the moment. There’s no question that switching from Google Maps will result in a downgraded mapping experience, no matter how hard anyone tries. But that’s not to say they’re flawless, or that their competitors can never beat them at one location or another.

I’ve been covering Google Maps since its launch in 2005. It’s come a long way since then. It’s gotten a lot better in that time, but it too has had its growing pains, especially when it switched its mapping data providers: first from Navteq to Tele Atlas, then to its own mapping solution, which at the outset was a significant downgrade—sound familiar?

Frankly, a lot of the glitches pointed out here have been found on Google Maps at some point, including the warped bridges, misplaced points of interest, and so forth. If you can’t find similar problems in every map platform, you’re not looking hard enough.

There will be glitches, and errors, and missing data in Apple’s maps for years to come. I know this will be the case because that’s what happened with Google. They started out small, and added features, and added countries, and eventually got good.

The difference this time is that there’s already a Google, with all that good stuff that Apple can’t match yet. Google didn’t have to worry about that kind of competition (MapQuest didn’t even have satellite imagery!).

Bottom line: Apple’s maps are going to suck for a while, folks. Some of you will be able to use them without much trouble; others will find them impossible, in which case you should probably look into an alternative. You could use the Google Maps website until Google gets around to releasing its own Maps app. There are also plenty of third-party map and navigation applications that make use of Bing, OpenStreetMap, or other mapping data.

On the Map: A New Book from Simon Garfield

Book cover: On the MapVia a post by Mark Ovenden on Facebook, I learn about a new book by Simon Garfield, On the Map, which from the description sounds like a book in the vein of Mike Parker’s Map Addict and Ken Jennings’s Maphead.

From the British publisher’s description: “From the early sketches of philosophers and explorers through to Google Maps and beyond, Simon Garfield examines how maps both relate and realign our history. His compelling narratives range from the quest to create the perfect globe to the challenges of mapping Africa and Antarctica, from spellbinding treasure maps to the naming of America, from Ordnance Survey to the mapping of Monopoly and Skyrim, and from rare map dealers to cartographic frauds. En route, there are ‘pocket map’ tales on dragons and undergrounds, a nineteenth century murder map, the research conducted on the different ways that men and women approach a map, and an explanation of the curious long-term cartographic role played by animals.”

It’s out next month in Britain; the U.S. edition will be out at the end of December.

Buy at Amazon | author’s page | publisher (UK) | publisher (USA)

Early Reviews of iOS 6 Maps

The release of iOS 6 is minutes away as I write this, but there are already some early reviews of the new maps, which replace Google Maps in iOS 6. Macworld goes over the new maps at a detailed and functional level.

A lot of people think that the new maps are a substantial downgrade, not just in terms of missing features (Street View) or features that will require third-party plugins (transit directions), but in terms of basic features like local search and directions. Josh thinks that local search is “a tremendous step backwards and something that cripples iOS for Apple’s customers” because it’s limited to names, addresses and Yelp categories. Anil Dash also found problems with local search, as well as with driving directions; he thinks the transition privileges Apple’s corporate priorities over the user experience.

It’s almost certain that this is fallout from the iPhone-Android wars: the presence of Google Maps on the iPhone may have been untenable. Rafe argues that, strategically, Apple needed to stop making Google’s maps better, “which is what they’ve been doing moment-in and moment-out for years. … Usage makes maps better a lot faster than software does.” John Gruber wonders what’s been going on behind the scenes: “We do know that Apple’s existing contract with Google for Maps expired this year. It’s possible Apple tried to renew for another year or two and Google either refused (unlikely, I’d say) or offered to do so under terms Apple found unacceptable (possible, I’d say).”

We won’t know for a while, if ever, why Google Maps are being replaced: whether it’s because Apple wanted to deny Google its userbase, or whether Google wanted user data that Apple was unwilling to share with its chief competitor, or something completely different.

In the meantime, the question isn’t whether Apple’s maps are worse: the consensus seems to be that they are. (When I upgrade to iOS 6 and try them out myself, I’ll be able to add my two cents’ to the conversation.) The relevant questions are, I think, (1) whether Apple’s maps will get better, and how quickly they will do so; (2) whether there will be a standalone Google Maps app, made by Google, for iOS, as has been promised, and how quickly it will be available; and (3) whether said Google Maps app will be feature complete compared to its Android counterpart, or will be limited or hobbled to give Maps on Android an advantage.

Previously: Apple Replaces Google Maps on iOS.

Soundings: A Biography of Marie Tharp

Book cover: Soundings A review in Maclean’s brought to my attention a book that came out two months ago: Hali Felt’s Soundings, a biography of Marie Tharp (1920-2006), who with her partner, Bruce Heezen, created the first global map of the ocean floor, discovered the Mid-Atlantic Ridge’s rift valley, and helped provide the evidence for plate tectonics. She’s a major figure in cartography and among women in science, so I thought I should bring this book to your attention, too. Another one to add to the to-read pile.

Previously (on The Map Room): Marie Tharp; Marie Tharp and Plate Tectonics.

Buy at Amazon | author’s page | publisher’s page

Ground Truthing Google Maps

“Google Street View wasn’t built to create maps like this, but the geo team quickly realized that computer vision could get them incredible data for ground truthing their maps.” The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal gets an exclusive look at Google’s “Ground Truth” program, which uses Street View cars to check and improve map data. I can’t help but see giving press access to this as another example of Google explaining how hard making their maps is for competitive reasons.

Dung Kai-cheung’s Atlas

A book has been brought to my attention that sounds relevant to my interests: Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City by Dung Kai-cheung, an English translation of which is now out from Columbia University Press.

Book cover: Atlas by Dung Kai-cheungFrom the publisher’s blurb: “Much like the quasi-fictional adventures in map-reading and remapping explored by Paul Auster, Jorge Luis Borges, and Italo Calvino, Dung Kai-cheung’s novel challenges the representation of place and history and the limits of technical and scientific media in reconstructing a history. It best exemplifies the author’s versatility and experimentation, along with China’s rapidly evolving literary culture, by blending fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in a story about succeeding and failing to recapture the things we lose. Playing with a variety of styles and subjects, Dung Kai-cheung inventively engages with the fate of Hong Kong since its British ‘handover’ in 1997, which officially marked the end of colonial rule and the beginning of an uncharted future.”

I will get back to you on this one once I’ve bought it and read it. In the meantime, here is an interview with the author. Here is a review in The Japan Times. Via Jeff VanderMeer.

Buy at Amazon | publisher’s page