Cartography comes of age with digital cellphone applications

Email a Friend
From New York Times , and
Anybody who knows anything about Harry Potter has drooled over the Marauder's Map — a handy little tool that shows Harry, in real time, the location of every person at Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (see below for details). Today, that fantastical map seems to be turning into reality: GPS applications on our cell phones, like Amigo Mapper, allow us to track our friends via their cell phones. But are there people, or companies, other than our friends who would be interested in knowing where we are? Yes, says John Markoff, technology reporter for the New York Times and author of an article on geographical cell phone technologies in today's Science Times. He joins The Takeaway to talk about the implications around the rise of GPS technologies in handheld devices.

For more, read John Markoff's article, The Cellphone, Navigating Our Lives in today's New York Times.

Producer's Notes:

I'll admit it, I don't have an iPhone. In fact, my cellphone is nearing two years old; the screen cover is peeling off and there's sand caked in the corners. But just because my neolithic mobile wouldn't know the meaning of GPS (Global Positioning System) if it kicked it in the pound sign, that doesn't mean my knowledge of today's newest cellphone technologies should lag. Just before The Takeaway's segment on this very subject, New York Times technology reporter John Markoff and I put our heads together to come up with a list of geographic applications ("apps") everyone should know about. Some track you via your phone, others track things, such as ships, and still more are simply wicked cool mapping systems. Welcome, cartography, to the digital age!

Amigo Mapper Let your friends know where you are in real time! Tracks friends and family (as we did) down to the building they are in. It works online or with an iPhone.

Vlingo It's a speech recognition app that uses Google Maps to show the user a location. For example, to find The Takeaway, say: "160 Varick Street, New York, New York" and it pinpoints the spot on the map.

Google Maps Need to know how to get from point A to point B? Load up Google Maps on your iPhone and track the blue dot that is you, as you drive, walk, or bike in city or country.

Ship Tracker Interested in the whereabouts of the mighty shipping vessel the Pequot? Or looking for the coordinates of the Carnival cruise your sister is on? Check out Ship Tracker, a program that shows the latitude and longitude of most every sailing vessel in the world — private yachts excluded.

Citysense This application uses the GPS units located in San Francisco taxi cabs to find out what sections of the city are hoppin'. Want to make an appearance at Saturday night's hippest scene? Load up Citysense to find out three "hot zones" nearest you.

Open Table Never again find yourself snackless while traveling. Open Table provides a map view of all of the restaurants around you.

MapMyRide Bicyclists can view their training rides on a three-dimensional map. This app shows you mileage, elevation and topography, among other things.

Ocarina Smule's Ocarina is being billed as the first "instrument for the iPhone." This application for 3G phones lets users play an ocarina, a flute-like wind instrument, by blowing into the microphone. Each musician's geographic location is projected out over the social network — as is their medley.

HopStop While still limited to a few major cities, the direction-savvy swear by this program, which identifies both the quickest, and easiest, routes to your destination of choice in metropolitan areas like Washington, D.C., and Boston.

??? Tell us which geographic app you use. Leave a comment below.