Apple and OSM – The Year of OpenStreetMap Continues

The year of OpenStreetMap continues.  You have probably heard by now that Apple is now using a mix of TIGER data and OSM tiles in their mapping application.  As I said a couple weeks ago, 2012 is the year of OpenStreetMap, and this change for Apple, who had been using Google’s mapping data, is the biggest switch to date.

As I have said before, when large, well established organizations switch to these open data sources it can have a major impact on the open data movement, and Apple is probably as big as it gets.   However, Apple could derail the momentum that is the Year of OpenStreetMap!

The rumor on the street (haha, get the pun!) is that Apple is using an older set of tiles and TIGER data (yes, that TIGER).  These older datasets aren’t perfect and anyone who has ever taken a GIS course knows that TIGER data should be used for reference purposes only, and not in a global application that will potentially have millions of users.  Now, why would Apple be using this older data?  Are we seeing a beta product while they get ready to push new tiles out soon?  Do they not have any well trained geographers or GIS pros working for them who know about data quality?  Are they not taking their mapping applications seriously?

If OpenStreetMap data is to be successfully integrated into an application the users of that application will need to trust the quality of the data.  If the most influential tech company in the world messes this up it could impact who joins the OSM movement next, and perhaps set the movement back.

For more details on the switch and the data issues check out what SlashGeo had to sayJames Fee’s comments, and this article from

A few motivated indivduals have created some really great mash-ups that display the new Apple tiles.  Check them out for yourself to compare what currently exists in OSM and what Apple has published:

And one last comment.  Apple’s map visualization scheme is horrible.  Of all the great basemaps out on the web and Apple designs a visualization scheme that just screams 2001.  Maybe it’s being optimized for mobile devices, but as a trained cartographer I think it looks bad.

Full disclosure.  I am not an Apple person.  I have a Dell laptop, a Samsung phone, and an old IPod.

The Year of OpenStreetMap Continues

On February 28th, 2012 I (yesterday), I posted a blog titled “2012 -The Year of OpenStreetMap”.

In the post I said that “the next “big” mapping application that hits the market will be have an OSM back-end.”  Well, well, well, talk about timing.  Today, FourSquare announced that they will be switching to OSM for their mapping back-end using MapBox.  Pretty cool.

If you get a minute take a gander at the comments in the FourSquare blog post.  There is a mixed reaction to the switch, which I can understand.  There are also a number of really good suggestions that FourSquare could take a look at too.  Just like when any social network incorporates a design change there will be some push back from the users.  But, with time the OSM footprint will improve, as the community will grow, mature, and produce better maps.  People seem to forget that early on Google Maps wasn’t perfect and had data gaps as well.  FourSquare would be smart to somehow encourage OSM mapping parties and promote what is now being called the OpenStreetMap movement!

February 28, 2012.  You heard it here first.  2012 – The Year of OpenStreetMap.  What will be next!

2012 – The Year of OpenStreetMap? Yes.

OpenStreetMap has been in the news a lot lately, and rightfully so.

Has the geospatial world reached the tipping point? Are users, developers, and society as a whole now more accepting of open-source spatial information? Are we now confident in the crowd sourced masterpiece that is OSM?

Yes, yes, and yes.

So, now two full months into 2012 I’m calling it.  2012 is the year of OpenStreetMap.  But why now?  I think it is due to a few reasons:

  • Quality and Coverage Improvements:  When OSM started many parts of the world were under-mapped, but once the community of users developed so did the maps.  Over time, and with great publicity during certain global events, the coverage and quality of the maps drastically improved.  In 2012 the data in OSM is now equal to, or better than well known web mapping tools.  For example, check out the coverage for North Korea.
  • Development of the Contributors Community: When I first learned of OSM several years ago I was skeptical of the random people creating this global street map, just like I was skeptical of Wikipedia.  Well, I was proven wrong (I’m still skeptical of Wikipedia…).  Even though there has been instances of tampering of OSM, its contributors have proven to be a consistent and reliable source of quality data.  I often spot check locations that I am familiar with to see if anything is amiss or needs to be updated, and thankfully I rarely have to make edits.  The growing and dedicated user community has really driven the quality, which is a great thing!
  • Credibility: Credibility is tough to earn, but through the efforts of users, developers, and the map using public, many reputable organizations trust the data available in OSM.  As OSM’s credibility grows a wider variety of well known organizations will start to use their data.  I’m guessing the next “big” mapping application that hits the market will be have an OSM back-end.
  • The Paywall: If you had a choice between spending something on a service or spending nothing on a very comparable (or perhaps better) service which would you select.  I would pick the equally as good free service.  You’ll see this with OSM.


So, there you have it.  I think you’ll hear a whole lot more out of OSM in 2012, whether it is about new and exciting applications built using their data, or companies switching their services from one of the major players to OSM.

There it is, my reason calling 2012, the Year of OpenStreetMap…two months late 🙂

Now, go host a mapping party!