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Sunday, March 04, 2007

GPS-enabled handsets....a pedestrian problem

This article has made me think. Flavour of the month at 3GSM were handsets with built-in GPS capabilities. A million and one startups are trumpeting mobile search, mobile navigation and a whole bunch of other ideas, based on the assumption that increasing numbers of phones will have mapping capabilities. Nokia, Google and others have been pushing their mapping strengths.

All this seems to be based on the success of in-car satnav. But there's a problem... all the maps & navigation software is very vehicle oriented. It's of much less use to pedestrians - either because certain routes are inaccessible (lack of crossings, railings etc), or because many rights-of-way (footbridges, paths through parks, alleyways) aren't on the system at all.

So for example, if I wanted to get from my house to a restaurant in Camden Town in London, my GPS-phone probably wouldn't suggest a nice (and much quicker) walk through Regents Park. Interestingly, though, Transport for London's journey planner does get it right.


Anonymous said...

Good post. Transport For London has a great mobile site.

I'm on Orange, which has a link with TFL to automtically find your nearest public transport and then feed this into the Journey Planner. It's good. I use it all the time.

Orange have also just launched a beta version of Orange Local, a java app a bit like Google Maps for mobile... it offers fairly good walking directions.

Anonymous said...

The other problem is that GPS even with assistance will struggle indoors. This means that a lot of the use cases will be limited since we sadly spend too much time indoors.

Anonymous said...

Could the lack of map data for pedestrians really amount to a serious barrier? I doubt.

I know many other European cities where the public transport route planners can optimize well for pedestrians.
How long will it take until the two big map companies acquire this data and package it into the maps used in mobile applications?

By the way, the new Nokia Maps application has an option to optimize for car or pedestrian, but I haven't tried what it really does in practise.

I rather believe that maps, navigation, and geo-tagging of pictures are finally those "location-based killer applications" which the telco industry failed to create a couple of years ago.
End-user need for those is proven from the pre-digital age.

Critical end-user penetration of enabled devices is anyway about 3-4 years away (compare with history of camera phones). Enough time for applications and services to develop a mass-market appeal.

Anonymous said...

I have to say, though, the directions on Google Maps for mobile and Windows Live Mobile are not good around my part of London.

Anonymous said...

Hello Dean,

I've extensively tested Nokia's Nokia Maps tool for both vehicle and pedestrian use. You are right it doesn't do well for automated pedestrian navigation. However, I soon figured out that in most cases it's not necessary. Most things in walking distance are easy to find as you can mark your destination point on the map, then just look where you are and then walk towards it. Even on a mobile screen your current position and the destination are usually on the screen together. In combination with reading street names it's quick and efficient.