Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Your phone, your personal navigator

Anyone following the news, will hear about Google Labs launching mapping downloads for Android phones.

This is a big deal, because till now, anyone using Google maps, is either on an unlimited download data plan, or they’re paying a lot of money for accessing maps on their Android phone.

If you have a GPS enabled phone, it means that when you switch on your mapping application, the GPS receiver finds out your latitude and longtitude through connecting with satellites directly. This has been free ever since the U.S. Government released their GPS satellites for civilian use.

Then, the mapping application needs to use the latitude and longtitude (called Geocode) to pinpoint your location on the map, which is properly marked with respect to latitude and longitude for every pixel(called geo-referencing). The usual problem with Google Maps, is that all this mapping data is stored on the server, hence you end up downloading nearly 1MB of data everytime you need to check your location.

Similarly, every time you search for a restaurant on Google Maps, you are actually searching for a geocode, which means that in addition to searching online for the restaurant’s location, you are also searching for the geocode, then pinpointing the geocode on the mapping data on Google Map’s server and then downloading this to your phone. Again, this will take around 1MB of data.

Hence, finding your location takes 1MB every time, which is also the same data used to find a restaurant on Google Maps.

Now imagine searching for directions to a location using Google Maps. Your location takes 1MB of data, and your destination takes 1MB of data.

For the mapping application to give you directions to a location, means that as you move, the application is constantly downloading data en-route to your location. Hence, the more distance from your location to the destination, more data is used, which could be around 10MB.

This is the reason why your mapping application, today actually consumes more bandwidth and battery power.

Now, on the N8, since Nokia has their own maps after acquiring Navteq, you can actually download the entire map for your country, in my case India, in one shot, of around 200MB, over Wifi, which typically is free for most users in India today.

After you make the initial download, then you go to your settings, and change the Internet setting to Offline.

From now on, you can get directions without connecting to the internet at all, except maybe after six months, when you might want to upgrade all this data for free, from Nokia.

You can choose various voices for navigation, including a Surfer Dude, who can get irritating by saying “Turn left, not my left dude!”

But overall, the accuracy of the maps within city limits is pretty good, as with most mapping data, they would cover more national highways, and provide more data only when you reach populated areas.

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