Navigation in 2007: It’s Much More Than Maps

By David Sym-Smith

As the sales returns come in from the 2006 holiday shopping season, it's inescapably apparent that navigation as a consumer electronics category continues to gain momentum. In addition to traditional in-vehicle navigation systems, we're seeing very strong pick up in personal navigation units and now, wireless navigation applications in mobile phones as well.

Beyond this explosive adoption, our industry is undergoing tremendous cycles of innovation - a trend that shows no signs of slowdown over the next 12 months. In many ways, navigation is following the success stories we've seen in other pioneering consumer electronics segments such as portable music players (e.g. iPods) and wireless phones: early adoption followed by aggressive growth in the mass market as devices become smaller, less expensive, more powerful and more portable.

Over the past several years, mapping companies have been anticipating this adoption wave by steadily and diligently creating extensive map coverage - for tens of millions of miles in dozens of countries. These maps are delivering tremendous value to consumers seeking destinations. Now, however, our industry is embracing the next wave of innovation and extending the value proposition of maps even further. Today, it's about much more than "just maps."

In 2007, the technology, the applications, and the market itself will continue their steady integration into the fabric of everyday life by addressing an increasing number of higher-level needs: accuracy, efficiency, convenience, entertainment, safety and social connections. Today, navigation means so much more; it means everything from simply finding a destination, to finding friends and family across the country, or routing your fleet to multiple locations cost-effectively, to investigating real estate prices, or finding the best Italian restaurant in your vicinity. As 2007 unfolds, the following trends and innovations will propel navigation into this broader category and accelerate greater adoption.

The Natural Trend: Maps Go Mobile
Prior to mobile phones, the most common opener to a telephone conversation was "How are you?" Today, on a wireless phone, more conversations open with "Where are you?" The convergence of mapping technologies and the inherently mobile and personal cellular phone will accelerate in 2007, driven by a few key factors.

The demand for wireless services continues to explode, evidenced by recent growth figures released for Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), the most popular standard for mobile phones in the world. In June 2006, market watchers reported that after taking 12 years to hit the milestone of one billion GSM users globally in 2004, it took only two and a half years to hit the two billion mark. Between 2005 and 2006, growth rates for the Americas hit 97%, with the number of GSM users worldwide expected to hit three billion by 2010.
A Tele Atlas map displayed on a Nokia cell phone screen. (Click for larger image)

This rapid wireless market growth is leading to an explosion of services beyond traditional voice, and maps are now crossing into the wireless world where they must deliver superior detail and richness on small mobile phone screens.

The Prime Directive: Accuracy
For an in-vehicle application - although our industry has made and will continue to make strides in achieving greater pinpoint accuracy - the requirements for granular precision are well defined and reasonably well met in most instances. However, with the tremendous upsurge in wireless navigation on mobile phones (Qualcomm shipped 200 million handsets with GPS-enabled chips in the past few years [updated per the 1/16 comment below]), we will see many more pedestrians using navigation applications, creating interesting new challenges for map providers. First and foremost, we need to provide pinpoint locations tied to specific point addresses. While point addressing capabilities exist today, in 2007 we expect to see significant progress in implementation on this front.

We also need to calibrate navigation applications based on how they're being used. For instance, a driver requires instructions a few blocks before turning onto a new street. However, a pedestrian needs those directions only 50-100 feet before making the turn.

Our industry will be challenged to provide exceptional levels of clarity as well. It's no longer adequate to simply provide a route from point A to point B. You also need to factor in other attributes, such as the type of road. For instance, a pedestrian can't take a highway to reach a destination - but he can walk across a park or city plaza. These "form-of-way" classifications enable the user to find, distinguish and use or avoid roads, intersections, service roads, parking areas, parking entrances/exits and pedestrian zones, walkways and plazas. The result: greater comfort and safety for the pedestrian.

The Wisdom of Crowds: User-contributed Content
Web 2.0 and social-computing concepts - in which the technology puts the power in the hands of the users, not institutions - are rewriting the rules in so many areas, and navigation is no exception. There are numerous ways for users to participate in their navigation/media experience. For instance, in our experience, we've found that customers are passionate about map accuracy. They gladly become voluntary "geocoders" by using a wiki-style electronic "suggestion box" to offer location feedback and correct anomalies or provide changes to maps. They can even provide location information for assets not tied to a specific address (such as a public mailbox or ATM kiosk). Once these contributed updates are verified, manufacturers can accelerate their product release cycles to get the updated, accurate information out to customers more quickly.

Tele Atlas Map Insight allows users to report potential errors in the company's mapping database. (Click for larger image)

Keeping It Real: Dynamic Content

Leveraging the ability to communicate in real time, navigation devices and applications will reflect changeable, short-lived data that can be very useful to users. Increasingly, our maps will provide services that extend beyond purely navigational information. For example, it might be very useful to know that there are 10 spaces left in the nearest parking garage or where to find the lowest priced gasoline for your next fill-up. You might want to know that the "special of the day" at your favorite restaurant is poached salmon with a white wine and mustard sauce. Perhaps there's a seasonal fair, a game at the stadium, or pothole repairs taking place. The data are inherently transient, requiring constant updates to retain their value. It's worth noting that much of this dynamic content can come from users themselves.

Getting More Information: A Richer POI Experience
In 2007, we will see continued improvements in the Points of Interest (POI) "experience" for users. We'll see broader assortments of POIs, ranging from sports and entertainment venues to libraries, galleries, gas stations, hotels and restaurants. Even short-term POIs, such as an air show or a road race, can be presented.

To make the navigation experience richer, maps will display POI brand icons that a user can recognize at a glance. Instead of simply showing a generic fork/knife icon (that doesn't inherently contain much valuable information), we'll see more maps present specific icons of a restaurant chain, for instance. This is particularly important in urban settings where there are high concentrations of different eating establishments and a clustered display of identical fork/knife icons would not be valuable to the user. We can then supplement that with restaurant reviews or dynamic coupons and offers from merchants.

A 3D image of the Louvre museum, one of Paris's "points of interest." (Click for larger image)
We'll also see 3D mapping with photographs of the POIs giving the user more and better visual cues to locate those POIs.

Avoiding Traffic Tie-ups
For many consumers, traffic information can be a defining way to interact with the navigation system. Maps will integrate real-time information about accidents, construction and general congestion. The next step involves intelligent rerouting (with appropriate traffic intelligence built in to the reroutes as well).

Subsequently, we can expect to see even smarter, context-sensitive traffic information that weighs other factors. The choice of routes can depend on time of day (e.g. avoiding heavily traveled commuter routes), weather, long-term construction projects, weigh stations or reported accidents.

Greater Safety: Richer Road Attributes
To date, most of the road data presented by navigation systems have been fairly limited to two-dimensional data presented in two-dimensional graphics. However, moving forward, we can expect to see maps leveraging 3D displays present a much richer set of road attributes. Instead of merely the road and direction, we will see lane information (including lane drops), verbatim signpost displays, medians, lane dividers, curve warnings, grades, bridge heights and other details. These data will be useful not only to traditional consumers but also to commercial fleet managers and professional drivers seeking to streamline their last-mile deliveries.

Maps will also increase safety in other ways. For instance, by providing hands-free voice-activated operation and solaced "heads-up displays" projected through/onto the windshield, we can improve attention-to-task and increase safety.

In the coming year, our industry will see these milestones become reality. We will also see significant progress on other important industry achievements as navigation moves beyond "just maps." Ultimately, maps will become interactive portals that enable users to explore and find their way around their worlds, according to their preferences. These maps are more than maps or simple navigation tools - they are windows on the world that enable users to find every place they want and need; explore and plan ahead; get the most out of every trip; and know their destinations before they even get there.

Published Friday, January 12th, 2007

Written by David Sym-Smith

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