Once upon a time, if you wanted to get someplace you weren't familiar with, you needed a map. That required skill. You had to be able to read a map, which meant you needed to know where you were, then where you wanted to go (the street, the location on that street), then you had to plot a route between the two places, keeping in mind major roads, traffic, and the like.
Now route-planning can be complex. It may require taking notes, and if you're new to the location, you're simply guessing. You have no local domain knowledge.
This was the state of things for years, until the Internet came out, and maps could be put on webpages. Thus, places like Google Maps and Mapquest gave you the two locations (the start and the end), and it figures out a path. Of course, if you wanted to avoid toll roads, and sometimes I do, it wouldn't help out. Google Maps now lets you adjust routes.
This works fine if you get the map before you leave. What happens if you want to figure stuff out on the fly?
How do you get a computer in your car?
You use GPS.
And that's a completely different technology. It requires rather cheap (preferably free) accurate locations and quick.
The great news with GPS is that it can find you mostly whereever you are. The bad news is that it's terribly local, and the reason for that is because a GPS screen is tiny. It's a little bigger than a cell phone, but it's not a laptop screen. That means you can't see the level of detail of Google Maps which means although you know, to within a street, where you are, you have no idea how to re-navigate at a macro view.
Yeah, some GPS's are pretty good and give you a big map, but it's not as good as Google Maps, so you can't do planning the way you want it to.
So here I was, trying to go to a place to eat, and found my way to a Silver Diner. I had already paid a toll to get Reston, but no toll to get to the diner. On the return trip, the GPS insists I go back on the main road, and back to the toll. It took quite a few contortions to avoid this, and mostly by accident. I had no way to tell the GPS to avoid the toll. The best it does is to re-route to avoid traffic, and even then, it's completely guessing because it has no idea where the traffic is.
Clearly, the next step, and most expensive GPS have some support for this, is to use live traffic data, and let you know that this is what's happening.
And the step after that? Let the user tell the folks where things are happening. It's social networking on the road. This would allow auto-correction of wrong directions, which are typically wrong at the very last step (I was told to make a U-turn where one wasn't needed) or on new streets that aren't in the GPS.
I'm sure that's coming along too.
It's just amazing how a navigation method that hasn't changed in years, has now undergone a revolution in a matter of ten years.
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