We Need a New Maps App

I believe there should exist a better navigation and maps app, and I’m going to spend the next five to ten minutes trying to convince you of this. Once I’m done, I’d love your feedback—is this something that should be done, what matters about it, and how should it be done?

I started thinking this after I installed Brella on my phone. Previously, I was using AccuWeather, but I was becoming increasingly concerned about my privacy, especially considered that they use my location data to advertise and make revenues, and tracked me even when I was not using the app.


Existing options

There’s a ton of existing map apps out there, so let’s go through them and figure out if they solve the problem.

Google Maps

Don’t get me wrong, Google Maps is great. It’s been my go to for years. I love how accurate the traffic predictions are—on trips less than half an hour or so, I’m confident I’ll be there within a few minutes.

Pros

Cons

Apple Maps

Apple Maps does alright for me, I use it occasionally. I find it a little lighter on the battery than Google Maps, and the accuracy lower, somewhat substantially so, especially when it comes to traffic data.

Pros

Cons

Waze

Waze is pretty much a driving instructions only app, and handles navigating around traffic jams exceedingly well. Otherwise, the main plus is giving heads up about speed traps. It’s excellent, but only serves one thing.

Pros

Cons


Maps as community

Maps make a huge impact in terms of how we view the world around us. There’s a case to be made that the traditional world map, the Mercator Projection, reinforces racism. On a more local level, The Guardian published a piece in 2014, asking if modern maps are causing us to lose sense of our cities. I know that for me, digital maps feel as if they’ve lost something.

We have an opportunity to shape maps into something better. maps not driven necessarily by big businesses, but focused on the city and on the user. Maps that support local businesses, and focus on making transportation as a whole easier. We can make cities easier to get around, and hopefully accidents less likely.

My goal in building a maps app would be to build it city-by-city. Get the traffic data from official sources when available. Build upon OpenStreetMap, and work closely with residents to build the map that reflects their city. I’m not sure if this means different navigation algorithms, recommendations for parking in some places, highlighting certain destinations, or a different color scheme.

Building the maps in this way lets us create something terrific. Something that reshapes the way we see and get around our cities.

Features it needs

An app’s nothing without its features. To make this app different in good ways, and as functional as it needs, here’s some of the features I’d start out with:

Revenues

Generally speaking, an app needs some form of revenues to keep it viable. I think that there’s two ways of tackling this well, especially since I’m vehemently opposed to selling location data. Offering both is probably the best approach.

Charging an upfront fee for the app can be used to cover server expenses, development costs, etc. In this case, the bonus of paying for it is the lack of advertisements.

What the exact fee is would be something for debate. Considering the nature of the app as truly customized and focused city-by-city, and much more hands on, a $4.99 price point might not be out of the question.

Advertisements are tricky to do well from a privacy and user experience standpoint. I think one way to do this well would be adopt a standard advertisement design, that doesn’t scream at the user. Plus, I’d like to actually do the advertisement location tracking locally on the phone, so that there’s no way of us or the advertiser getting the user’s location for those purposes.

It’d be nice to make this available to local business. For example, a business could for $0.05 have a coupon delivered to an active users walking within three blocks of the business, with an offer to direct the user there. Focusing this on local businesses and small chains, as well as a focus on keeping the ads polite, relevant, and tasteful would go a long way.

Privacy & Security

User privacy has to be a focus here, especially considering the strengths and weaknesses of the other apps. First, advertisements should ideally be computed locally.

User trips shouldn’t be stored, and I’m not sure a user account is even required. Secure links can be generated and then thrown away when sharing a user’s eta.

Sharing traffic data anonymously, and caching address searches are probably the most challenging things when it comes to this. Anonymizing data as much as is possible is crucial here, and making this privacy-sensitive code open source would probably be beneficial to the community and the trust of the app.

Who I’d love to work with

There’s some pretty awesome things happening out there when it comes to transportation. Collaborating with companies doing great work, and helping to shape the future of transportation would be a great way of applying this app.

Whim

Whim’s not in North America yet, but what they’re doing in Helsinki is pretty cool. Transportation is a subscription model when using Whim. Cars, busses, bikes, all are included for a monthly rate. This would be excellent to integrate with a great mapping app.

Transit App

Having lived in Montréal for three years, I heartily appreciate Transit App, the live bus times and being able to plan based off that is a delight.

A good carbon offset provider

I’m not sure who the go-to provider would be here, but a good carbon offset provider would be excellent. Allowing people to offset the carbon impact by automatically purchasing it for distance driven would be a nice feature to offer.

Your Thoughts

So, what do you think? Any feedback, suggestions, or general comments are most appreciated. Drop me an email or let me know on anywhere I’ve posted it online.