Geography 970

February 21, 2010

“It’s the maps . . . .”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tim Wallace @ 5:01 pm

I like this blurb from Wired this week about how the strength of navigational devices and applications does not lie in the hardware or software, but in the maps.  As the president of TomTom apparently put it, “It’s the maps, stupid”.

The quote is pretty obviously meant to hype up TomTom’s map-makers, TeleAtlas.  But it does bring up a good point: what’s navigation without a map?  “Continue NNW, go for 12 meters and turn WSW”.  Huh?  But the power isn’t just in the maps, but also in their type, accuracy and readability.

I’m sure this isn’t news to the folks at TomTom, Garmin or Google.  Surely they have been designing their road maps as accurate and readable as their budget allows all along.  But the people who use these maps (especially Google’s maps) aren’t always navigating.  They might be mapping lighthouses or corn fields or poverty or weather systems . . . all on maps made for navigating.

I’m looking forward to seeing more options for online maps – stuff beyond what Dennis Wood calls “a bunch of automobile pipes“.  Yeah, it’s the maps, stupid.  So, let’s use the right ones.



  1. thanks for the link to the Wood article – it’s great!

    Comment by markharrower — February 21, 2010 @ 8:58 pm

  2. I think its interesting that we the thought of navigation without a map is so forign. It make perfect sense to me to have a visual display of the directions for many reasons (construction of my own mental map, connection of what computer says vs what is in the real world, etc). But I can also see a time and a benefit to hiding most of this from the driver of a car. If the internal maps work and the directions of turn left at intersection are correct the map thrown up on the screen might only become a distraction. Maybe as the technology improves the gps/sat nav in cars will only be verbal commands/ visual in heads up display/ or some other non map centered method of communication. While i don’t want maps to disappear it makes me think of what might be in store.

    Comment by kjmcgrath — February 22, 2010 @ 1:43 pm

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