The Past, Present and Future of Interactive Mapping: Part 2

Last week, in Part 1 of this blog, we took a look at the long, winding road that interactive mapping has taken over the past 20 years. Moving from the stone age (or paper age as far as mapping is concerned) to the present digital era hasn’t been easy, but both web and mobile computing technologies have truly changed the game for interactive mapping. Does it get better? Part 2 of this blog will explain how it does get better and why you should care.
mapcontentThe Future—Mobile, Wearable Tech, and the Always Connected User

It doesn’t take much to notice the massive influence mobile devices are having on our everyday activities. Excluding social media, which is another blog in itself, we use our smart phones and tablets (heck I’ll even group in those silly “Phablets”) in countless ways thanks to all of our apps and the always on, cellular internet connection these devices possess. Interactive maps really thrive on mobile devices thanks to the introduction of the intuitive touch screen display on the first iPhone, redefining how we interact with smart phones (remember how cool pinch to zoom was on Google Maps!). Following the success of Apple’s iPhone, Google followed suit with its Android operating system, further pushing what smart phones could do with maps (GPS, turn-by-turn directions, 3D building effects). Naturally tablets increased this functionality and new touch screen Ultrabooks with Windows 8 are getting into the game as well (the jury is still out on Microsoft’s new operating system, but it still has promise). So what’s next?

With current smart phones at the brink of reaching their full potential, what is the next great platform for interactive mapping? I answer that question with another question. Where does mapping and the user interface coexist with a person’s everyday lifestyle? Enter the potential market for wearable tech. Whether it’s a device like Google’s Glass that allows you to always see what’s happening with your mobile device or the potential for Apple’s iWatch to always connect you to your iPhone, interacting with maps through wearable technology can potentially further enhance the way we get from A to B. There is one caveat with this new frontier: it needs to be done right. From my first glimpses of what Google Glass can do, using maps is a simple, noninvasive experience. It’s this sense of augmented reality that will allow interactive mapping to reach new levels.
The need for a better, more immersive approach to mobile computing is what spawned wearable technology and it only makes sense to translate this untethered web presence into a new, previously untouched frontier: the wilderness that is indoor GPS Mapping. The technology of global positioning systems has really come a long way (as previously mentioned in Part One), but even with these advances, acquiring an accurate location still is quite the endeavor in wide open spaces, let alone deep inside shopping malls or campus buildings. It is here where the new positioning technologies really take indoor mapping to new heights. Wi-Fi Fingerprinting, ultra-sensitive Bluetooth signals, and dedicated tracking beacons (sounds real Big Brother doesn’t it) are all leading the way into cutting the cord on satellite GPS triangulation and ushering in effective alternatives to accurate, small-scale positioning.
“But this all seems a bit imposing” you may say. I agree! But your smart device will be no different than the IP address you already provide on a daily basis, still protecting all you personal information. Plus you now have the added benefit of finally finding that exotic spice you desperately needed for that gazpacho recipe you always wanted to make (it’s on isle 4, duh). For a good summary on the currentindoor mapping landscape, check out Valerie Sarnataro’s article “GPS Indoor Maps are Here: Never Get Lost in a Mall or Museum Again”.


Meridian Indoor GPS is just one company trying their hand at the mobile indoor mapping market.
Now, if new wearable devices or indoor GPS act as disruptive pieces of technology, instead of becoming a natural extension of the user experience, then these types of innovations will fail. One thing still holds true for the future of interactive online mapping: the real innovation is unknown. Something new will be introduced that we never knew we needed and now we cannot live without (basically the way we all feel about our precious smart phones). If the past 5 years has shown us anything, whether it’s the advances in web standards or the leap forward mobile computing has taken, the next 5 years will be a truly remarkable time for technology/interactive mapping and I can’t wait.
Check back soon to see what’s new at Three Scale and where we are headed with MicroMaps’ new HTML5 mapping.