Saturday, December 29, 2007

Location awareness for iPhone coming soon?

There are unconfirmed rumors via various Mac blogs (GearLive which has photos of what is claimed to be the new update, and this was commented on at MacRumors and The Unofficial Apple Weblog) that the iPhone will soon be getting a firmware update which will add "locate me" functionality to Google Maps. This functionality was released a month or so ago on other Google Maps Mobile platforms, as Ed Parsons and others reported, so it would certainly make sense for it to appear on the iPhone sometime soon. It uses cell tower information to give an approximate location (reports seem to suggest accuracy to within a few hundred meters in urban locations, and lower accuracy in rural locations). Glenn at AnyGeo also just posted about a hardware add-on called locoGPS which will provide real GPS on the iPhone, which of course will give a more accurate location. This currently requires a Jail Broken iPhone (i.e. one that has been hacked to allow third party applications to be installed), but presumably this will change when Apple opens up the iPhone to third party apps in the next few months.

The report at GearLive also says that the new release of iPhone Google Maps will support the hybrid display mode (it currently just provides "Map" and "Satellite" displays), and the new Options screen that they show also adds a new "Drop pin" function, presumably for visually marking a location on the map.

So one way or another, it looks as though hopefully the location determination options for us iPhone owners will be improving soon!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Where the fugawi?

I just received an email announcing a new service called Touratel from a GPS company called Fugawi. My first thought was surely that's not a real company name, but it is, apparently they've been around since 1995, though I don't remember running into them before. There are a few old discussions about the company name if you google around. It makes a change to see a bit of a sense of humor in company names rather than just some boring old acronyms, I guess!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Keynote address at FME Worldwide User Conference (post number 100!)

Just a short post to say that I will be giving the keynote address at the Safe Software FME Worldwide User Conference 2008, which will be in Vancouver on March 6-7, at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue which is where the GeoWeb conference was held, and which is a great venue with its "in the round" main hall.

I have known the co-founders of Safe, Don Murray and Dale Lutz (pictured here in the Safe Insider Newsletter), since the very early days of Smallworld. They founded the company in 1993, which was the same year that we began in North America with Smallworld. We had an early mutual customer in electric utility BC Hydro, and I remember being introduced to them when Safe was still relatively unknown, by Marv Everett, who ran the transmission system GIS at BC Hydro back then (who incidentally is now retired and living in Campbell River on Vancouver Island, and enjoying spending time on his boat - see the picture below).
Captain Marv
The BC government provided data back then in a format called SAIF, which BC Hydro needed to use, and Safe Software were the experts in this (which is where the company name came from). Marv was a big advocate of Safe, and they became a key business partner for Smallworld across our whole customer base after that initial BC Hydro project. And of course Safe works with all the major GIS vendors, so that partnership continued through my time at Intergraph.

Anyway, enough reminiscing ... I am very pleased to see how successful Don and Dale have been with Safe since then, and look forward to attending the FME conference, and spending some time in Vancouver which is one of my favorite cities.

Oh, I almost forgot (this ended up not being such a short post after all) - this is my 100th post since I began blogging on April 20th this year. It's been fun so far!

Friday, December 7, 2007

When navigation systems are superfluous

Took this photo earlier today in Buffalo, Wyoming, driving home from relatives in Sheridan. Instructions for getting home: continue straight on I-25 south for 376 miles, exit on 20th St and you're home. Bit of an easy day for the navigation system really, not too many instructions needed there!
Prius navigation system in Wyoming

Neo-pointless question of the moment: is this thing "GIS"?

There has been a flurry of discussion triggered by Joe Francica's post on "neogeography is not GIS" which I referenced in my previous post. I just wanted to make the comment that asking whether something is "GIS" just seems like a completely pointless question to me. "GIS" is not a well defined term. Many competitors of ESRI (my previous employers included) have tended to dislike the term since they feel it has been somewhat hijacked by ESRI - I couldn't find reference to GIS just now in a quick skim through the Intergraph web site and only one token reference at the GE Smallworld site. "GIS" is not an aim in itself (despite the quasi-religious attachment some people have to the term), it is a tool to help solve business problems. The "neogeography" systems clearly overlap significantly with the functionality provided by the traditional "GIS" vendors. And we have significant growth in the open source geospatial software arena, which you may or may not categorize as "neogeography" but it is another disruptive influence in the marketplace.

If you work in an organization that uses location data, or you are developing applications in this area, you just need to look at the tools which can help you work with that data and choose the best tools for the job, based on various criteria including functionality, cost, risk, etc. You shouldn't care what labels people may or may not attach to the various systems. There continues to be very rich functionality in the established systems which has been developed over decades, and the new generation of systems is not going to replace all of that any time soon. But probably 95% of the users of geospatial data use 5% of that functionality, and they are all very strong candidates for leveraging the newer generation of systems. If you work for an established "GIS" provider, you need to be working out how to leverage the new generation of systems in your solutions (be they from Google or Microsoft or open source or wherever), and figuring out how you continue to add value in this expanded ecosystem. Trying to fight the new systems head on, or dismiss them as not relevant to what you do, will not be a successful approach. But it is not a case of either "GIS" or "neogeography" (whatever both those things are), it is a case of mixing and matching the pieces that are important for your particular application. And as I said previously, I believe that the proportion of pieces which come from the "new generation" of systems (including open source) will increase rapidly.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

No data creation in neogeography - errr????

I found this post at All Points Blog rather bizarre, on how "neogeography is not GIS". It quotes Mike Hickey of Pitney Bowes (the company formerly known as MapInfo) saying that "there is no data creation in neogeography", when perhaps the most notable trend in the industry at the moment is how crowd-sourced or community generated data is radically changing the way we create and maintain data. I discussed one example in my previous post about OpenStreetMap. There was an interesting link in the comments on that post from my former Smallworld colleague Phil Rodgers on the Cambridge Cycling Campaign's route planner, which also uses community generated data to provide a level of detail not available from any commercial data providers. In doing some further reading on OpenStreetMap I also came across this interesting comparison of their data versus Google's in the small town of Hayward's Heath in England, via an interview on the ZXV blog. And of course there are hosts of other sites generating many different types of geospatial data via community input. The post also said that there is "no spatial analysis" in neogeography, when again there are many interesting developments in this area outside the traditional GIS space - for example what FortiusOne is doing with GeoCommons, and companies like BP and others are implementing increasingly sophisticated applications with Virtual Earth.

I'm afraid this comes across to me as another rather poor attempt by old school GIS guys to justify their continued existence in a rapidly changing geospatial world. Absolutely there will continue to be specialized analytical applications which require specialized software and skills, but the new generation of geospatial software systems will continue to eat into applications which were previously the domain of the traditional GIS companies at a rapid rate, and making blatantly incorrect assertions about "neogeography" isn't going to change that trend.
King Canute trying to turn back the tide

Monday, December 3, 2007

Oxford University using OpenStreetMap data

I came across this interesting post from Nick Black saying that Oxford University (my former hangout) is now using data from OpenStreetMap on its web site for detailed maps, as its data is better than Google Maps for Oxford. Since I know the city well I thought I'd check it out. Here are a couple of sample screen shots around my old college, Balliol.

Here's a screen shot from the Open Street Map version (for live version click here and zoom in):
Screen shot around Balliol College, Oxford from Open Street Map
Note all the footpaths and alleyways, of which Oxford has a lot. On the west side it includes a footpath along the canal and on the east side it shows an all important very narrow alleyway off New College Lane which leads to a great old pub called the Turf Tavern, which is easily overlooked. It also correctly shows that Broad Street is no longer a through street, which is a relatively recent change (some time in the last few years, not sure exactly when). None of these details are shown on the following Google map (for live version click here):
Screen shot around Balliol College, Oxford, from Google Maps
OpenStreetMap is probably something that people are less aware of in North America than in Europe - for those not familiar with it, the following description from their site sums it up pretty well:

OpenStreetMap is a free editable map of the whole world. It is made by people like you.
OpenStreetMap allows you to view, edit and use geographical data in a collaborative way from anywhere on Earth.

So it's essentially a "crowdsourcing" approach to geospatial data collection. There was a lot of interest in OpenStreetMap at the FOSS4G conference this year. I had been impressed with everything I had seen about the project, but I have to confess that I had been thinking of it mainly as a "cheap and cheerful" (cheap=free) alternative to other more expensive but higher quality data sources. It is interesting to see that it has already moved past that in some locations (though obviously not all) to where it is more comprehensive and more up to date than data from commercial sources - this is just a taste of things to come in this regard, I am sure.