Over the past few weeks, the mobile mapping application I use most on my Nokia N95 — the excellent and free Mobile GMaps (for Symbian S60) — has gotten a slew of updates that together make for a significantly better user experience. It’s worth the download, especially now that the N95’s slow GPS location fixing has been improved with the latest firmware upgrade.
My favorite new feature is that I can now show my last published location via a simple URL using GMap-Track: here it is. Whenever I use Mobile GMaps, that URL gets updated with my live location every 30 seconds. As of this writing, you’ll see me near Antwerp. From now on, if you ever need to know where I’ve arrived recently, you can check my location via Ogle Earth’s about blurb, on the top right of the index page.
The other major improvement is that map tiles are now cached — this greatly improves speed and cost, especially when roaming, because you can use GMaps without connecting to a data network (if you’ve downloaded the data before, obviously).
Then there is smaller stuff that all adds up: better speed and direction overlays, landscape mode, access to OpenStreetMap tiles, traffic congestion info (in the US)… The one thing it doesn’t do is save tracks — but for that I use a separate Garmin GPS receiver anyway, or I could use Nokia’s own Sports Tracker software. As far as I am concerned, it’s the ability to broadcast my location live that is the real killer component to Mobile GMaps — and then to get information back based on that, automatically.
One feature I haven’t explored much: You can use Mobile GMaps to track other people who are also using the application, live (with their permission). I just don’t know enough people with smartphones:-)
What could improve on this? An API is in the works, so that presumably I will soon be able to query my (or a friend’s) location programatically and send myself an SMS if somebody or something is nearby, or else add a small map of my most recent location to a web page, or have a KML network link show where I am. Some of this stuff is being worked on elsewhere, but not all the pieces are in place yet: With Plazes you currently have to update your locations manually; Twittervision does have an API, and you can update your position automatically when you twitter using Twibble on the N95, but as far as I know there is not yet a ready way to convert that location information into an embedded personal map (or mapplet, for that matter).
There are so many conceivable ways in which a person’s location might be revealed online. One relatively easy solution, using existing standards, would be to publish each new location as a new entry in a personal GeoRSS feed. Collect such feeds of friends to keep track of them, just as if they were blogs:-). Just right now, the Twitter API supports RSS but not GeoRSS for output by individual users. Location-enhanced GeoRSS Twitter feeds would make all manner of mashups possible, not least via Yahoo’s Pipes and Google’s Mapplets. And if Google Mapplets become viewable on the Nokia N95 (or a future GPS-enabled iPhone), then all kinds of wonderful feedback loops will suddenly be possible.