Homebrew Google Maps updated with 45° imagery, indoor Street View, and OpenStreetMap 17
One of our favorite homebrew apps has received another update, enabling yet more functionality. The app is Google Maps, an unofficial homebrew replacement for the Bing Maps app that brings far more functionality that the old Google Maps app could ever dream of. In the months since it first debuted, 72ka's Google Maps has steadily improved, but it was the latest update that really impressed us.
By utilizing the 3.10 version of the Google Maps API, 72ka's been able to implement a swatch of new features. We'll go through it one, by one, starting with 45° imagery. This "bird's eye" view has been a work-in-progress for Google, mostly in reaction to the positive reactions people have had to Bing Maps' similar feature. As useful as the directly overhead Satellite/Aerial views can be, when it comes to seeing if that house is really the red one or which building is the local electronics store and which is the local bowling alley, the angled aerial view that shows you the faces of buildings as well as the roofs really rocks. Both the TouchPad and webOS smartphone versions of Bing Maps supported viewing Bing's bird's eye maps, but the smartphone version frustratingly didn't support rotation to view things from another direction.
So Google's been rolling out 45° imagery as quickly as they can. The 0.2.7 version of Jan Herman's (that's 72ka, by the way) Google Maps has implemented support for Google's birds eye view imagery, and it works pretty well. Google still hasn't rolled out the 45° imagery for all, or even most locations, but where it is, it works. The homebrew Google Maps implementation is quite simple and straight forward - once you zoom in close enough in aerial view, the map switches to a north-facing 45° view and a rotate button is placed in the bottom toolbar. Tap it to rotate the map one turn. There's no dealing with finicky rotate gestures like with the TouchPad's Bing Maps app - two fingers are wisely reserved exclusively for zooming in and out.
Google Maps homebrew also has gained support for Google's sweet indoor Street Maps project. Google's Street View feature has continued to be pioneering and mind-blowing as far as mapping innovation is concerned - while 45° imagery gives you a good overview, Street View by-and-large lets you see what you're going to see from, well, the street. But Google's also taken the cameras off of the cars and carried them around the globe, taking them into museums and historic landmarks (check out the inside of Rome's Colosseum from the comfort of your couch, for example), as well as visiting places not frequented by cars - like the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia or the South Pole. The homebrew webOS Google Maps app doesn't yet seem to support checking out the person-perspective you can get underwater or on the bottom of the planet as you can with Google's Street View, but the indoor locations like the Colosseum and the inside of NASA's Kenned Space Center in Florida are definitely available.
The final part of this update comes in the form of the maps itself. While Google Maps is the default mapping source for the homebrew Google Maps (yeah, we know, "duh".), 72ka saw fit to implement support for the open source OpenStreetMap project. If you're not familiar with OpenStreetMap, it's a project that aims to create an entirely community-derived map of the world. The benefit is that you know the streets and paths of community better than Google ever will, and can update the map to reflect the changes made to your community's reality as they happen. The downside of this model is that the benefits come first in urban areas where there are going to be more people contributing to updating the map, versus rural areas where by virtue of the ruralness there are fewer people.
Activating OpenStreetMap maps in the homebrew Google Maps is relatively easy, but tucked away such that it's not something you can turn on by accident. Tap on the map layers icon, select More, and then OSM map. Boom, open source maps, with less Google. And the best part is, the selection of OpenStreetMap doesn't preclude you from using Google's aerial and street view services in conjunction (though Google's current traffic feature is clearly out of the question, with the map).
All told, the updates to 72ka's homebrew Google Maps are welcome and solid. It's a pity that Palm and HP didn't put this kind of love into their maps app efforts. The homebrew Google Maps app isn't perfect and can be slow and laggy in comparison to its other platform counterparts, but Jan Herman is just one man. With that in mind, we're even more impressed.