Monthly Archives: November 2008

“Oh duh”: Google Maps and iPhone

Google Maps is awesome.  It is phenomenally cool.  It is the quintessential definition to many of what is Web 2.0: a very dynamic, very interactive, very usable site that presents what I want in a way I want it right now, lets me use it intuitively, and publish it to anywhere else easily.  Some may argue Google Maps is the reason cell phones now have GPS’s in them: for turn-by-turn directions based on map data downloaded to the phone on demand.

Google Maps is also the quintessential example of a mashup: take two unrelated services, push them together, and you’ve got something incredibly new and cool.  Take presidential election results and geolocate voter preferences.  Take restaurant reviews and show me how close I am to them.  Take driving directions to the next level by overlaying speed trap markers.  It is awesome.  And the Google Maps API makes it drop-dead simple to do this in JavaScript, static images (with really long urls), or Flash.  I’m a happy camper.

In the other corner is the iPhone.  It is an awesome piece of engineering and elegance.  It is the new standard for what a phone should do.  It’s touch screen interface is the standard by which all PDAs are judged going forward.  It’s simple user navigation is awesome.  It’s “always within reach” browser is awsesome.  (Sometimes when I’m upstairs and want to quickly look something up, I won’t bother going all the way downstairs to the computer.  I’ll pop out the iPhone and get on the net.)  Stop by the App Store or Cydia and download just about any kind of app from “keep my kids busy while I just quickly finish up …” to “are there any wireless networks open here?” to “lemmie quickly RDP / VNC into that machine over there and …”  And all that “in your pocket”, instantly available anywhere, at the push of a button is awesome.

The iPhone takes Google Maps to the next level too: you can search for a restaurant name or genre, pan around the map, and see things close to you.  You can pick a contact from your address book, and get directions from “where I am right now” (thanks GPS) to their street address.  As you’re driving, you can watch the little blue blinking ball dance accross the map in unison to your driving.  It’s incredibly marvelous engineering feats behind the scenes, and incredibly simple to use.  Cudos to both Google and Apple.  Awesome.

Here’s the rub: iPhone Google Maps mashups.  They don’t exist.  They can’t.  Google Maps app for the iPhone is crafted by Apple.  It is not JavaScript, not Flash, not static images with cryptic urls.  It’s an app.  Ok, granted, there is an iPhone app to show me speed traps.  An iPhone app to geolocate stuff “around me” — restuarants, theatres, etc.  I can download 1000 iPhone apps to map various things.  They’re cool.  They’re also seperate applications.  If I want to both see route information and see the speed traps on 1 map, I’m screwed … unless the app developer implimented everything and it’s dog.

The speed trap app is a great example.  I think they call it trapster.  I can see my current location, I can see speed traps identified by others using this service.  I can mark ones I find when I’m sitting by the side of the road with blinky lights in my rear view mirror.  It’s like driving in a video game.  It’s awesome.  But the developer didn’t impliment screen jestures for navigating the map.  I can’t pinch to zoom out or in, I can’t swipe the screen sideways to move.  I have to use the little joystick controls on the bottom control bar.  And I definately can’t put in my destination address and see the route of how to get there.  Or where the closest ATM is that supports my bank’s card.  Or if any of my address book contacts live nearby.

Around Me is another awesome app that shows me restaurants, theatres, etc, around me.  (Not that I have time to use any of them, but that’s another mater.)  But what if I want directions to there?  Sorry, that’s in the other maps app.

“Ok,” so I say to myself.  “I’m a 1/2 descent web user.  I’ll just use the real Google Maps website for my mashups.”  That’s all fine and good except … now I’m in app #3: Safari.  That has no Flash plugin, by the way.  And (in theory) any url that contains map information is automatically grabbed by the phone and routed to the Google Maps app.  And it doesn’t have my GPS info, so I have to keep track of my current location by manually panning around as I drive.

I came to the awful conclusion at the end of this mental journey that the iPhone’s Google Maps app is incredibly cool.  But it fundamentally defeats the purpose: today’s internet is about mashups.  Combining data in interesting ways.  And I can’t do that with any map data, a target destination, and my current location from my iPhone with Google Maps.  “Oops.”