GPS Future on OSX – Options

Today, for the Nth time the topic in MacSlash has switched to GPS programs in OSX (or the lack thereof). For some weird reason I decided to reply to a post there and my comment ended up covering several things of the GPS status and future on the Mac. Not interesting, not groundbreak but hell, it’s not as if someone reads this anyway. You can find the actual post in MacSlash here and the original post is here and the MacSlash article sits here. The comment here is annotated and included URLs I was too lazy to include in the MacSlash post.

NOTE: This is one of the most exceptionally badly-written pieces I have made in a LONG time. It wanders between subjects, implies too much, leaves even more to the reader and has some run-on sentences in there that even Henry Miller would envy.

Text from Original post: GPSdrive works perfectly. you can fink it today.
“Perfect” is a little strong. “Acceptably” might be more accurate.

(Regarding GPSDrive)
In OSX there are conflicts with access to the GPS devices if you use Serial adapters, you have to know a little more than just the basics to set it up, runs under GTK under X11, so it doesn’t look or behave like a mac application (nor can it properly interact with other applications), has some problems with scaling of the maps downloaded, is a huge PITA to calibrate maps and they never are correct and buttons don’t work properly out-of-the-compile-box. It also doesn’t handle waypoints and routes adequately and doesn’t give any control to the user on zoom levels nor is it’s “moving map” feature worth a damn.

I use it and love it, by the way, but to each his own, and GPSDrive is no Street Atlas and while you will enjoy it if you download and use it without prejudice, you might not like it if you’re expecting a free Street Atlas.

Also, GPSDrive supports speech in Linux and Linux alone, in case that was a selling point. It’s Airport (WiFi, 802.11b, etc.) support (for wardriving) is pretty complicated and requires Kismet, which doesn’t work properly in OSX and doesn’t work with Airport Extreme at all.

Also, GPSDrive (and any other independent GPS program for that matter) only does basic GPS mapping, no street navigation of any sort. This is not a matter of, as some poster put it there, “just making it”; for as many OSX might there be that would use it you need to pay some HEFTY licenses to have a country’s navigation maps (street level with street numbers and street directions and UPDATED). So you get the possible public for such a program to the mac user in a specific country (that is, a fraction of the current 3% or so of computer users that currently run Macintosh OSes, of which 50% or less use OSX and of which less than 5% use or would pay to use GPS).

A GPS program is a great thing, but Apple needs to do something (and I say Apple because they are the ones with less to risk when releasing new functionality or programs for OSX) to revolutionize GPS usage in OSX. I have in the past considered (especially now that even the Woz is into GPS) that Apple should make an iMap or i’Mhere or iPlace or whatnot that gives OSX the support it requires for GPS programs to be easily developed. What would this be?

1.-GPSd-like daemon that supports NMEA and Garmin, that supports transfer of routes, waypoints, tracks, maps and anything else a modern GPS receiver might understand. Programs would be able to call this through the OS (something gpsd has, to some extent -although it hasn’t been updated in ages- done for Unix systems)

2.-A simple map program that connects and downloads maps (heck, use Sherlock and give it a much-needed boost with that, tie it up with the current search for movie theaters or addresses) by striking a deal with Mappoint or Mapblast or Mapquest (selecting a service that supports several countries would be a bonus, although Expedia’s support of satellite photos is COOL).

2.1.-Even better would be for Apple to purchase street-level maps of countries it has presence in (for example, those for which Web Apple Stores exist), but it’s even more unlikely than the rest of my already-too-long post.

3.-Number 2 could also include the ability for OSX to be able to pull driving information from said services and to pull maps freely without limitation (see my NOTE below). Such an agreement would allow a program in OSX to download maps freely (or up to a specific “X” amount based on the .mac account)

4.-If the connections were easy other developers would find it easier to make native programs for Map location and GPS support (instead of half-baked OSX programs, VPC solutions or Classic applications) in the same way that now lots of programs can take advantage of the addressbook or iCal or iTunes.

5.-This would bring Apple into a realm not yet touched by Windows (GPS support natively implemented into the OS) and would also make OSX inherently compatible with WOZ’s new venture (GPS tracking devices for people and things) where a Powerbook could work as a soft-client behaving in the same way their current chips are supposed to behave in the future (Airport/WiFi and GPS together) or as a sort of central-node for such a network.

As you can see I would REALLY want something like this to happen and have even thought on doing so myself, but the learning curve to Cocoa from scratch is a hard and unforgiving path, and my knees are already scrapped. The kind of application I would make and have envisioned would look like one of the iApps and would NOT be like MacGPSPro or GPSy, which with all the greatness they have and hard work put into them, are uncanningly difficult to use and understand and have a learning curve that is almost surreal. It would look like a simple program, yet provide a lot of behind-the-scenes functionality (like currently AddressBook does), and it would also meld naturally with .mac technologies and with the Digital Hub direction of Apple.

I will stop now. Thank you. Mod me down accordingly, so others don’t have to see all this drivel..:)


NOTE: A problem with most independant GPS programs is that they rely in Map Web Pages which are always trying to limit the access to them, as direct download of the maps means a possible loss of revenue when ads are skipped. This also means batch-downloading of maps (the only reasonable function of internet downloading of maps for on-the-road GPS machines, as you can’t easily connect when hiking to download a new map) has made several servers in the past change their formats and protocols (for them is a no-win situation, as they serve maps, waste tons of bandwidth and processor-cycles yet receive no input at all by use of ads or the connections for hotels and other amenities)

NOTE2: Obviously the main problem with GPS is that it doesn’t work indoors easily, which limits it’s usefulness when considering its integration with a desktop OS like OSX, although alternatives could exist (Create a hardware wireless antenna that connects through Airport or Bluetooth, create a PDA with GPS support, officially support a third-party PDA like Palm, etc.)

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