More than maps

Maps aren’t particularly exciting things, but when you combine them with other systems then they start becoming much more useful. So the (US-only) Google Maps is mildly interesting, and more so when you switch to the satellite photo view; but when you combine it with the CraigsList classified ad site then it becomes very useful.

Other services use mapping in a different way, so for example Amazon’s A9 search engine has a Yellow Pages view that enables you to stroll up and down the street to see a place’s exact location. Again, it’s US-only.

And of course, there are the in-car satellite navigation systems that provide a 3D, wireframe view of where you’re going.

If all these different systems were somehow combined, the results would be stunning. Let’s say you were thinking of buying a house. From the comfort of your chair you could check out an aerial view of the location, have a virtual wander up and down the street, access a site such as or knowhere to find out more about the area, and check that your potential purchase isn’t right next door to something unpleasant. If you decided you wanted to visit it, you could download the mapping data to your PDA, cellphone or sat-nav system, which would display actual landmarks rather than wireframe data.

Or we could build on the GPS/mapping systems in current 3G phones, which enable you to quickly find your nearest cash machine, restaurant, internet cafe and so on. Again, it’s when systems are combined that things become useful: so in addition to finding your nearest restaurant, you’d be able to access data from a site such as to see the menu and discover if there are any special offers on at the moment; if there were, you’d then be able to access data from a site such as The List to read what their restaurant critic thought of the place.

What’s significant about all of these things is that in most cases, the technology is already here: it just hasn’t been joined up yet. The inimitable Ian Pearson, BT Futurologist, reckons that such joined-up thinking is the Next Big Thing; the last time I interviewed him, he talked about “augmented reality”. Pearson believes that in the not too distant future, we’ll have heads-up displays in our sunglasses or specs that can show us additional information, whether that’s visual indicators showing where the nearest cash machine is or a big flashing “unclean! unclean!” when we glance at a dodgy kebab shop.

Best of all, by the time such technology is widely available we’ll also have technology that takes care of other things, such as walking. The HAL robotic suit costs around $19,000 (about £11,000) and could help severely disabled people to walk – but it can also make a difference to non-disabled people. For example, it enables the wearer to lift twice the weight they can normally lift, and it apparently comes in very handy in fist-fights with alien monsters.

We’re living in the future! :-)

Updated, 9.15am

Scoble’s interested in maps too. He writes:

Now, what’s possibly next from Google (or MSN or Yahoo)? Use your imagination. What would you like to put on top of that map? Er, image? I got a few things. How about a sushi icon? Huh? Click the sushi icon and it takes you to all the nearest sushi restaurants. How about a camera icon? Click on that and it takes you to all the nearby photo opportunities. How about a Hospital icon? Click that and it takes you to the closest hospital. How about a blog icon?

How about a Flickr icon? A McDonalds icon? A Starbucks icon? A Sears icon? A Scobleizer icon?

Now do you see how Google (and MSN and Yahoo) will make money with maps?