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My Thoughts on Maps

Since the release of iOS 6 and iPhone 5, there has been a lot of chatter about maps, in particular, the new Maps app on iPhone. Now I don’t have an iPhone 5, but have updated to iOS 6 on both my iPhone 4S and iPad. To me the overall direction of iOS is great, with a bunch of new features that make sense.
But I would have to agree that on the surface, the new Maps (lets call it “Apple Maps”) app seems to be a very “version 1.0” release, especially when compared to the previous Maps app, powered by Google data (lets call that “Google Maps” for ease). There is a lot of discussion going around about the pros and cons of Apple Maps, and about why Apple chose the timing to release a product that is immature.

This has got me thinking about just how important maps are. I am fascinated by relationships, and how individuals form communities to survive and thrive. In many respects, maps provide a visual representation of the evolution of communities.

As a kid, my parents, grandparents and family friends gave me the building blocks and my parents gave me a whole spare room to set up a model train set. Whilst the train set itself was absorbing and cool, I loved building the townships around the stations, including model buildings, roads, etc. The trains themselves represented the linkage between the towns.

Just before my 21st birthday, just after I graduated from my undergrad degree, I moved to Tokyo, Japan, in order to start my career in the IT industry, and to further my pursuit of karate. This was just on 21 years ago (in less than 2 weeks time), and I was going for 12 months, although this extended to almost 2 years.

Before leaving for Japan, I acquired 2 books that I thought would be useful – the Lonely Planet guide to Japan, and an Atlas of Tokyo, including the various Wards of the city, Subways, rail systems and more. At 20 million residents, Tokyo is a huge city, and it was daunting for a guy who had grown up in Gunnedah, before going to boarding school and university in Brisbane.

On arrival, I had a couple of weeks before starting my job, so I set out, atlas in hand, to explore the city and surrounding places like Kamakura and Kawasaki. I would go somewhere that seemed interesting, get off the train when it seemed cool, and just wander about. When my interest levels declined, I would try to find my way back to the nearest station, and go on to the next place.

This was a good test to develop both my Tokyo navigation abilities and my Japanese language skills. That 2 weeks remains one of the most valuable experiences of life to date, despite the fact that I’ve now traveled to many other cities, countries and continents.

Whenever I go anywhere new, I love to have a local map, preferably before arriving. If nothing else, I get an inkling into what lies in wait, and where I might find resources and cool things to see.

Life is in many respects a collection of cool experiences, and those experiences are built on the relationships between peoples, and the monuments that represent those relationships. Maps are a portable, visual summary of these.

The changing boundaries on maps also represent the changes in societies and cultures. Heck, the world atlas of 21 years ago has entire countries on it that no longer exist, and others that do now that didn’t then. A map has to be quite up to date to be useful.

My iPhone, iPad and notebook computer are my principle mapping devices. I use them to pre-explore new places, and go back and reminisce about old ones.

So my message to Apple is that I am (maybe like many other users) willing to give you a chance to get your stuff together. Your devices are an incredible way to view and explore. But the data has to be current and up-to-date, and the product needs to be easy to use, and it needs to look good. Whilst 2 out of 3 usually aint bad, I look forward to having a powerful, wonderful mapping experience in my iDevices again soon!

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