Mapping is becoming more relevant to the average person’s every day activities than ever before. From fitness trackers like Fitbit to the Apple Watch and the activity and workout apps available for iOS to cycling and running apps like Strava and Map my Run, people are using maps to visualize their fitness, and share those visualizations with others. Since 2014, Strava has slowly made the move from Google Maps to OpenStreetMap (OSM) for route tracking. The exception is on iOS apps, which continue to use Apple Maps. What does that mean to users and GIS professionals alike?
One of the reasons for this move is that Open Source GIS is much more useful to cyclists, mountain bikers, and hikers. Google Maps and other navigation mapping is motor vehicle and roadway focused, areas these groups are often not interested in.
Support for open source GIS is broad, and OpenStreetMap is popular worldwide. It is fairly easy to add data like local trails (and their names), the safest cycling or running routes, and other landmarks that can be useful to someone unfamiliar with an area.
Open Source Support
ESRI and other GIS companies offer support to the open source GIS community. ESRI even offers an ArcGIS Editor for OpenStreetMap. Maptitude also supports OpenStreetMap and other open source formats, and can import and export data into most GIS software.
The result of this is that Open Source mapping has made its way into the mainstream. You still need some knowledge and training to use these programs: the average user finds them very confusing. However, many offer the option to leave a note in the software where you think there should be changes (via a drag and drop feature) so that other users can investigate and add appropriate data.
Users like the familiarity of Google Maps, especially when driving. The Google street view was a favorite of many Strava users who used it to determine if a road had a bike lane, or if the surface was appropriate for a road, cyclecross, or mountain bike. Runners used it to see what the area looked like, and even to find landmarks they might otherwise miss.
However, the trade off with open source mapping is accuracy. Names and notes about landmarks and other important information can be added, including many “off the beaten path” descriptions. These can include trail difficulty, potential foot or cycling traffic, and specific cautions.
Due to the often unreliability of Apple Maps or Google Maps in outlying areas and on trails, users would often run other mapping programs in parallel to Strava or other trackers just in case they needed more detail.
This is one reason for the Strava switch: the use of open source software on their website aids the creation of segments, routes, and personal heat maps that are more meaningful.
There have been mixed reactions to changes in mapping software. Some think the change was the one of the best Strava ever made, some moan the loss of Google Maps and are even more disappointed by the continued use of Apple Maps in iOS applications. “This is the reason I will never switch to an iPhone,” one user says. “In rural areas, Apple maps shows nothing but a big field of green. No map at all.”
The only way Apple lets users currently edit their maps is that a business can edit their listing: location, name, phone number, and more. This information is linked to Apple Maps Connect. It’s wouldn’t bet on Apple moving to an open source mapping program, largely due to security concerns.