Maps, the Apple way. Four ideas to improve user experience in the iPhone.



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A lot has been written about two of the last Apple job postings. Apple looking for an app developer with experience in games and weeks later asking for a top engineer with passion for maps. I really liked the comments from the Keith Andrew interview with Rob Fahey and his approach. The hiring is more likely to be oriented to prepare Apple to grow and to have internal knowhow to give a useful SDK to third party developers. 


I have to think that the job opening about maps has to go up that alley, and not necessarily to develop a substitute for the Maps app and to finish with Google. I don't think this is the case. It is true that Apple acquired last month Pla

cebase
, a mapping company, but I think they where more interested in their API that finding an immediate substitute for Google Maps



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As an engineer on the Maps team, your responsibilities will range from implementing low-level client/server code to implementing high-level user interfaces. You'll be responsible for implementing new and innovative features, fixing problems and enhancing the performance of Maps. You will work closely with the other engineers on the Maps team, other iPhone and iPod touch teams as well our partners in other companies.



After reading the job description carefully  and reading some comments, seems clear to me that what Apple wants is to revamp the iPhone Maps. They're looking for an engineer to work on:


  • Base code, implementing Placebase's API PushPin.

  • User interface and usability (new app features will be added at some point).

  • iPhone teams, MapKit framework to use the new features in other apps and even desktop or MobileMe. 


Hence the title of my post. Apple what is really looking is to reinvent maps, continue using Google Maps, but the Apple way. We all agree that is not going to wait sitting to see how Android gets real navigation GPS, for example. 


There have been some innovations since the last Maps update. Now augmented reality is used in a bunch of apps, but not as impressive as I thought they could be. The navigators industry has jumped and created software and hardware for the platform. Could Apple imagine two years ago that TomTom would be fighting to be at the top earning lists in the App Store? Nope. 


There has been a lot going on. These are my five suggestions for them to catch up and bring Maps to the next level:


An app location aware

There must be a better way for "This app would like to use your current location". There must be a point between revealing too much information and not using it at all. If you think about it we use member cards for supermarkets, public transport and even gyms that track our behaviour. The moment your iPhone is aware of it's location it could do cool things for you and save time: Instead of a Tube map it could suggest a journey based on my daily commute in the mornings.


Augmented reality

So you use your camera and thanks to the iPhone compass you can see items in your screen. As futuristic as it sounds, this is in it's Stone Age. If Apple, or anyone else, can make that flat information be displayed around me more interactively and... smarter, it will be a huge step.  




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Multi-perspective

Google has pictures from space. They even sent out cars to get a Street View perspective. Even Microsoft has pulled out a more than respectable Bird's Eye View for Visual Earth (now Bing). The most innovative concept I've seen in maps is Jack Schulze’s featured on WIRED where he included a multi-perspective view that combined satellite and street level in the same view. This is the beginning of something. 


Layered information

Using Placebase's PushPin to let third parties, read content providers, to include a wealth of informations to the maps. This could be traffic, demographics, traffic, tracking buses in their itineraries, properties for rent/sale,… you name it! A new layered Maps will contain Google's a base and custom content. This could be a powerful tool for all those maps apps that promote businesses (say Starbucks) and to have a chance to be in an Apple default app. 


This is my take on three aspects that could be integrated some day in our iPhones. What do you think? Are those feasible? Is Apple preparing something just in case their relation with Google deteriorates?