With 2013 soon to be over, many people look back blasé or with admiration at the new technological developments of the past year; I prefer instead to think of new ideas, things I’m currently missing and would like to see incorporated into future products. So here is my current, albeit rather short, list:
Just a month ago, the world was gearing up to watch comet ISON in its full glory – which unfortunately ended up pretty badly for the comet after being burned and shredded by the encounter with the Sun. I was also trying to find the comet in the morning sky before the perihelion passage, but the weather was not on my side. Each morning when I woke up it was cloudy outside, with no chance to see anything on the sky. So you see my problem: rather than having to wake up every time and go outside to check the weather only to discover it’s overcast, wouldn’t it be better if the alarm would only ring if it’s clear outside? Current smartphones certainly have the information required, but as far as I know there is no app connecting the two – feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. Maybe IFTTT or Google Now could build something like that. It would be useful outside the circle of amateur astronomers: imagine your alarm waking you up earlier when it snowed outside or when it’s freezing to give you enough time to make it to work or to your appointments!
And apparently someone already built an app like that, for iOS at least! I should try it out at some point.
After the battle between Google and Apple over maps on the iPhone, the offline support in the current apps is poor to say the least and I have struggled with it in my travels this year. Google Maps can preload the vector data, but that option is not available everywhere, as I found out the hard way in Budapest; and even with offline maps you still lose your saved places without a working Internet connection, because they are tied to your Google account. Apple Maps… what can I say? I tried preloading once only to discover at my destination that the data was discarded for some reason. What I would like to see is a dedicated map device, maybe a foldable e-ink display with a GPS chip loaded with the maps for the current city, including public transportation. You could rent them at the hotel, leave a warranty in case you lose or damage it – or you could buy your own and load new maps before travelling. They would be more practical to carry around, almost like a paper map, but with the added convenience of constantly knowing where you are thanks to the GPS positioning, being able to zoom around the map and possible get directions if the e-map has enough local processing power.
Interactive Street View
Another maps-related idea, this time for devices with full Internet access. It’s something like reverse street-view: as you walk around in a city you could point the camera at the buildings around you and the smartphone would recognize them based on the online database. This would be both a secondary method of finding your location next to GPS and would help improve the maps for remote locations, because the system could learn from your reported location and uploaded images and update its database constantly. A form of automatic crowd-sourced maps if you like. The system could also use optical character recognition and automatic translation to recognize street and place names, although I’m pretty sure Google already offers that in one of their apps – or maybe in Google Glass?