The death of Cartography

OSM Cambridge

So it appears that Apple have decided it’s time to ditch Google Maps in favour of Tom Tom’s own version.

Many people have commented on the business wisdom of this, the relative amounts of money that Google make from Maps compared with Android (about four times as much!), and the relative strengths and weaknesses of the different platforms.

What few people have commented on, which is surprising, is the death of the map maker’s art.

Not in the press release

I accept that this wasn’t one of the things that Apple chose to highlight, but it’s there nevertheless: in the comment that they will access “anonymous real-time crowdsourced data from our iOS users to keep this up to date.”

In layman’s terms, they will be using your input to make the maps more accurate.  And near real time.

Of course this isn’t the first time this has been done.  Openstreetmap.org has done this explicitly for a while now, and in some countries is as reliable as the official maps. So why not go with them, Apple?  Well firstly, because they are open source Apple would have to release the data back into the wild.  And secondly because Apple need something with a consistent minimum standard now – not in three months time.

Another difference is that openstreetmap requires active participation.  With the right analytics behind it, and a far bigger community, Apple’s maps could do so much more.

Number of openstreetmap users: 600 000

Number of iPhones : 100 000 000 +

Issues: privacy and unemployed cartographers

As the folks from openpaths have identified, your phone’s geography tells people a lot about you, and at least in the US there is a question about if police need a warrant to get at your phone data.  This is a whole lot more accurate data, gathered in a similar way to Waze.

And what about the cartographers? Well if there still a place for them it may be as curators of the information, rather like Wikipedia senior editors. If not…

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