Inside cards are becoming more common. But they need a blue dot before they become ubiquitous. In this blog, Connected crowd CEO James Cobb explains where the blue dot came from and why it’s here to stay.
Outdoors, the transition from paper maps to digital maps is almost complete
Only 5% of 18-24 year olds have ever used a paper card in the car. Nowadays, they grab their smartphone. But Google Maps and Apple Maps weren’t invented overnight. It took 40 years to go from the first on-board navigation systems to the announced death of the road atlas.
How did we get there ?
The first car navigation system was introduced in 1981, the Honda Electro Gyrocator.
This early technology had some of the characteristics of modern moving cards. There was a map display and a circle on the screen to show the current location. But the Gyrocator had two key pieces of functionality missing, and it never caught on.
Distributing and updating maps
First, he used transparent cards that scrolled across the screen. Maps were too clunky to install. And it was too difficult to keep them up to date.
A leap forward was taken a few years later when, in 1985, Etak released its computerized navigator for the car. They digitized the maps and displayed them on a CRT screen.
But scanning the map wasn’t the only problem. Updating maps was even more difficult than updating a road atlas. The Etak used magnetic tape cartridges. In 1987, CD-ROMs were used. But it wasn’t until the advent of the internet that digital maps could be updated and distributed quite easily.
You need to know where you are to use it
The second problem was the lack of positioning.
Early pioneers recognized that without the equivalent of a blue dot, a digital map in a car was no better (and in many ways, worse) than a paper road atlas. So even the very first products showed the current position on the map.
The Gyrocator relied solely on esteem. Etak increased esteem with card matching. Importantly, both only worked if you knew your starting point.
It might be fine for a planned trip from A to B. But it’s not much use if you turn it on while you’re on the go, or turn to the navigation system when you realize you’re lost.
Without this key feature, the Gyrocator and Etak were destined to remain niche products. Many people preferred to stick to paper maps and the road atlas.
Just when, in the early 1990s, the Internet made it easy to distribute updated maps, GPS solved the blue dot problem. In 1990, Mazda launched the Eunos Cosmos, and the new era of navigation was born. Digital maps, in the car, easily updated, and with a blue dot that could tell you where you were at all times.
Portable devices were still not possible until miniaturized electronics, smaller screens and better battery technology became available.
In 1998, the Garmin Street driver was launched. In 2004, the TomTom was launched. 2005 brought Google Maps, and in 2007 the iPhone.
26 years after the first in-car navigation system, we have reached the point where paper road maps could become a real niche product. A perfectly up-to-date digital map, displayed clearly on your smartphone, with an accurate blue dot at around 5 meters. Technology superior to paper charts in almost every way.*
Fast forward to 2021, and for young people, a smartphone mapping app, with GPS positioning powering a blue dot, has become the only way to navigate the modern world.
Why indoor positioning is so important
GPS does not work indoors. And that’s a big problem.
97% of 18-14 year olds would feel stressed if their sat nav or map app stopped working. A generation of young people brings this expectation within.
And that’s not an expectation of a digital card. It’s the combination of an up-to-date digital map and a blue dot they can’t live without.
The same story begins to play out in interior mapping
There is a young and rapidly growing industry tackling the problem of creating digital maps of interior spaces. And internet and cellular data connections mean there’s no problem keeping them constantly up to date. The smartphone is the perfect and ubiquitous device for displaying maps.
But the GPS does not work indoors which creates a problem for indoor maps. No blue dot.
Without a blue dot, magic doesn’t happen. A digital map of a hospital or mall on your smartphone has a few advantages over using the large map at the entrance or a paper map in your pocket. But it also has some drawbacks. That’s half the solution.
Much like dead reckoning attempts in the pre-GPS 1980s to put a blue dot on a road atlas in cars, a number of different, but largely unsuccessful, technologies have been tried indoors.
But fortunately, good solutions are now available. And even better are just around the corner. The next five years could therefore be the golden age of inland navigation.
An explosion in the supply of indoor maps and indoor positioning. And then – will AR replace the blue dot? Some predict it.
In cars, that makes sense. Head-up displays are as useful for motorists as they are for fighter pilots. But in a mall, maybe not quite yet. We’re a long way from wearing next-gen Google Glass when we’re on the go. Until then, we have good years of using the smartphone as a navigation platform.
We’re all very used to looking at our phone and seeing a blue dot move across a map. It’s really become a generic user experience. Maybe I’m just old fashioned. But I don’t think holding my phone in front of me and seeing arrows overlaid on a camera view is any better. I guess time will tell…
The paper map
Smartphone navigation is superior technology to paper maps in almost every way. But not at all…
Digital navigation is ideal for solving immediate problems. Take me to work by the quickest route. Find the nearest gas station.
But there are things that paper maps do even better. Getting an idea of the layout of a new neighborhood and remembering it is one. The smartphone screen just isn’t big enough for that.
And research has suggested that the sight, feel and sound of paper maps may actually help the parts of our brains that interpret spatial information. So maybe the paper map isn’t dead yet…