Thursday, 20 September 2012

Apple maps (in the loosest sense of the word)

The new Apple iOS6 release has led to a wave of map related hysteria.  There's a terrific Tumblr that's doing a great job of compiling some fantastic carto-gaffes in the new Apple maps app.  My current favorite...

BBC News gives Apple's maps a pretty rough ride as do any number of others including Apple Insider and Gizmodo. It's all very amusing and, one suspects, Google are having a pleasant day at the office having been dropped on iOS6 in favour of Apple's own map app.  But what are we actually seeing?

We're seeing a company renowned for highly polished product pushing out a poor map and that in itself is feeding the sneering hordes.  Sub-standard product would make Steve Jobs turn in his grave but it proves one thing...making a solid, accurate, searchable, well designed and useable online map (and one that works well on a mobile device) is no easy game.  You can't do it quickly and if you don't know what you're doing you're going to make the sort of errors that we're seeing.  Let's not forget though, Google's own initial efforts were ridiculed and they had their own carto-gaffes in the early days...poorly matched satellite imagery, administrative boundaries in the wrong place, labels poorly positioned...not to mention the awful colours, layout and the fact that most of the known world was missing initially.

The problem for Apple is they need to react quickly to get their map app up to speed.  Google have had 7 years of development.  They have learnt a lot in that time, not least that cartography is not easy.  Apple's initial offering seems to suggest they've poured their map data into a really agricultural and restrictive set of styles.  They've done precious little error checking and none of that manual grunt work required to iron out the problems so we're seeing all manner of missing or incorrectly located POIs, weak navigation and search, terrible satellite even worse hybrid satellite/map effort and more.  It'll be interesting to see how they improve on their map app over the coming months and years but of course...everyone else has a huge head start and will be working on their own products.

Quite simply, Apple dropped the ball on this one and didn't appreciate the difficulty of making a good map that people can use. With maps and location being absolutely central to how we use mobile devices this is potentially a really big deal. I suspect many will simply not upgrade to iOS6 or will just overcome the mild inconvenience of launching a web browser to hit a better map....or they may just wait until Google publish their own Google iO6 map app in the Apple store which will just make Apple's job even harder.

Me? I use Android...

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Zen and the art of cartography

For those that asked and for those that may be vaguely interested, here is my 'Zen and the art of cartography' presentation. I gave this at the British Cartographic Society in June 2012 (UK) and then an updated version at GeoCart 2012 in August (New Zealand). You can view the images below or if you want the accompanying notes, click through to view on Slideshare itself (and select the notes tab below the slides). To be'll make very little sense without the notes unless you just like pretty pictures!


What would Harry have thought of it all?

Today sees yet another bastardization of H. C. Beck's London Underground map. report on a new tube map showing Olympic medal winners.

Rarely a day goes by these days without someone or other taking their own dataset, failing to have a single ounce of their own imagination and slapping it on one of the most famous maps in the world. The data often have no connectivity, no relationship with transport or journey planning and absolutely no need to be displayed as a schematic diagram. But hey, if you want to get people interested...imitation is the sincerest form of plagiarism right?

Now even TfL have got in on the act with an "if you can't beat them, join them" attitude for this latest version is an 'official product', available as a limited edition through their online shop. As those who know me will already know...I am an avid fan of Beck's map. I am also a fan of some of the original uses of it as a vehicle for other, re-engineered purposes (e.g. The Great Bear, 1992) but the time has come to say enough is enough. It's also the last straw and I am hereby announcing a forthcoming paper penned by myself and William Cartwright on this very issue...

PS...did I buy it? yes of course...I'm a map addict. Dammit.