The Next Four Years at CloudMade

Four years ago in February 2009 we launched CloudMade’s developer program. Fast forward to February 2013 and we’re launching the platform that kickstarts the next four years for CloudMade and our customers. What’s happened in the last four years and what do the next four have in store for CloudMade and the thousands of developers, OEMs and enterprises that build on our platform?

The First Four Years

Four years ago we set out to build a platform that would let developers of all types all around the world build exciting location aware apps, websites and experiences.  We focused on three areas to make a difference in:

1. Create Something Different

We created the Style Editor – the first tool of its kind to let developers create beautiful custom map styles. We innovated ontop of, and improved, open source tools like Mapnik to create a unique tool chain. For the first time, developers and designers could come to a website and use a point and click interface to create a custom map style. When they were done, the style they had created was instantly available through an HTTP API that could be accessed from any platform. Since we launched the Style Editor over 15,000 map styles have been created and we’ve served up billions of custom map tiles. Developers like Red Robot Labs have created experiences in which the map seamlessly blends with the game design. Transport Agencies like Transport for London have created finessed styles that help their users navigate with ease. Map visualization pioneers like Movity (since acquired by Trulia) created styles that let their data take prominence. Whatever the use case, the Style Editor provided a way for thousands of developers to express themselves through their websites and apps.

2. Build for Developers

Most of you reading this are developers. You’re one of the most sought after players in the mobile ecosystem today. Google, Apple, Facebook court you and spend millions of dollars to get you to build apps on their platforms.  Over the years we’ve invested in CloudMade’s developer program and now over 25,000 developers on web and mobile build projects and businesses on our platform.  That investment is set to continue.

3. The Best Maps

In 2009 OpenStreetMap was the source of map data for CloudMade. OSM and the incredible community of volunteers around the world who spend their free time building a free map of the world has become the inevitable de-facto choice for mapping. Apple, Twitter, Foursquare and countless other business rely on OSM to deliver the best maps in the world.

Over the last four years there’s been an explosion of accessible, exciting geo-data and a large focus of the new CloudMade platform we’re launching today is accessing, organizing and making sense of the huge amount of map data out there today.

This post talks about how we’re building out the original CloudMade APIs for Map Tiles, Routing, Geocoding – making them faster, keeping them rock solid stable, making them cheaper and passing on the savings to you.

Starting The Next Four Years

As we listened to our customers and looked at the market over the years after we launched CloudMade, we noticed some key trends that shaped the platform we’re launching today:

1. An explosion of geo content and the tools to create it

The kind of crowd sourcing that OpenStreetMap pioneered combined with the explosion of smartphones and cheap data plans has lead to an explosion of geo content. From Yelp to Foursquare to Facebook Places to Food Spotting to real time traffic to weather to movie times and restaurant reservations. Where 4 years ago there was only OpenStreetMap and a smattering of other pioneers, now we’re flooded with content. Now the problems aren’t “where do I find a map” they’re “how do I make sense of it all?”, “how do know this place is the same across all of these different sources?”, “how do I manage this much data?”, “how do I analyze this much data?”, “how do I route across this much data?”, “how do I manage to access so many different APIs?”, “how do I give my user the results they’re looking for”. We are certain that there is going to be more and more geodata being created over the next few years. We have little idea what kind of new geo content is going to emerge over the next 4 years.  The platform we’re building on is designed for this.

2. Pervasive location. Intermittent internet.

To add to the complication, our customers from large OEMs to independent developers told us that whilst geo-location (the raw latitude and longitude of the device) was pervasive, available through all major mobile OSs, increasingly available to web apps and available to OEMs through low cost GPS or WiFi positioning, access to the internet was far from pervasive. App developers told us about the inevitable network lags whilst accessing services over mobile networks. OEMs told us about new categories of devices they planned that would be intermittently connected to the internet through WiFi or Bluetooth. Tablets, on-dash GPS navigators, in-dash automotive systems, watches and other wearables all share this dilemma – pervasive location but intermittent internet.

3. Apps, Apps, Apps

The app phenomena has deeply impacted us and our customers. For developers it created a market place and a business model that let their businesses grow and thrive. For OEMs, apps have not only driven the smartphone explosion, they’ve elevated consumers’ expectations when it comes to the quality and content of the user experience. GPS navigators that used to be about getting from A-B find it hard to compete with Google Maps. Your TV is not just a screen for the cable companies, its an interface through which you interact with the world. Consumers are demanding the kind of slick experiences that iOS and Android developers craft across all of their devices and screens – from their car to their home and their office.

4. More Devices. Not Less.

Convergence is all very well. Sure, I don’t have a camera in my pocket any more. Now I have a Nike Fuel Band on my wrist, a Kindle Fire in my jacket, an iPad Mini in my bag. There are more connected devices distributed more evenly throughout the the world than ever before. This poses a problem for developers and experience creators who must now master the art of creating apps that span multiple devices with many different use cases, use modes, screen sizes and platforms. Cisco estimates that there will be more connected devices than people in the world by 2017. How is your app, your business going to capitalize on this reality?

Three New Products from CloudMade

To address these major trends in our industry, today we’re launching a new range of products: the “Mapsafe” family and the “Hybrid Data” family and a new range of CloudMade SDKs, starting with Android. Each of these new products has been built from the ground up over the last 18 months to address the trends we and our customers have seen. Each of them use a cloud-device architecture that distributes computation between the cloud and the device, making the most of the abilities of both. Let’s take a brief look at what they can do.

Hybrid: Always Up To Data Geo Content

“Hybrid” made it possible for GPS OEM Magellan to create “SmartGPS” – the world’s first WiFi enabled personal navigation device (PND). CloudMade’s Hybrid technology does a number of things for SmartGPS:

- Enables the uniquely colorful, information rich user interface that is SmartGPS’ design signature
- Facilitates lightening fast search through a vast database of location content from a single interface
- Provides a single server-side database and API for content from a vast number of data providers including Yelp, Foursquare, OPIS (gas prices), PhantomALERT (speed cams), weather, Factual, OpenStreetMap, TomTom and more.
- Keeps an up-to-date copy of this data available on the SmartGPS device at all times, trickle syncing the local database via WiFi, a Bluetooth tether or a USB connection whenever available.
- Minimizes the use of local disk space on the device by profiling the user and selectively syncing only the content that the user requires
- Provides a singe on-device search API that delivers a single entity across multiple data providers. So when you search for a your favorite coffee shop on SmartGPS, you get a result that can include data from Yelp, Foursquare, Factual, OpenStreetMap and other sources
-Facilities on-device commerce, letting users upgrade to premium versions of datasets like PhantomALERT’s road safety dataset.

The Hybrid technology opens up a vast world of geo content that exists today, making it available to OEMs and developers building cross device experiences. But most importantly Hybrid is future proof. We cannot even imagine the type of geo data that’s going to be created over the next four years – no-one knows what will follow Foursquare, Yelp, Food Spotting. Whatever does follow, Hybrid will access, store, curate and make it available to your apps, devices and services.

Mapsafe: A Personal Location Cloud

Mapsafe” is to your places what Evernote is to your notes. Use the Mapsafe API to save a favorite place, route, appointment, geo-tagged photo or any other location content on one device and it is automatically synced across all of the user’s devices. Using an intermittently connected device? No problem! Mapsafe’s intelligent synchronization let’s your users create, read, update and delete in offline mode and have the changes made next time the device is online. Want to share a location with friends? Mapsafe makes it easy. Want to capture user feedback and edits? We have that base covered too. Mapsafe uses the Hybrid layer to keep all of the changes in sync across a multitude of devices, screens and apps.

SmartGPS sports a number of very cool features that are enabled by Mapsafe:

SmartGPS is part of an ecosystem of apps, websites and devices that all interact with each other. A Magellan user planning a trip can research the best hotels on their tablet from the comfort of their sofa and quickly save the places they find to their Wishlist on the Magellan “Via” web portal. Powered by Mapsafe, their Wishlist is automatically synced with their SmartGPS. Throw away the pen and paper!

The Magellan Active group have taken their product even further with the help of Mapsafe. The Magellan Active website and developer API, let users store their runs, walks, cycles and associated GPS trace, heart rate, cadence and other fitness data in a Mapsafe powered cloud from where they can grant access to third party apps and services to access the data. For example, you could let a snowboarding website access your snowboarding data, let a marathon coaching services access your runs and let your personal trainer have access to the whole lot.

Cross Platform SDKs: A Developer’s Best Friend

The third new product we’re announcing today is a completely reworked cross platform SDK that provides a comprehensive set of tools for developers building location aware applications. To scratch the surface, here are a few of the features:
- Bitmap map tile handling
- Vector map rendering
- Hybrid and Mapsafe integration
- Sophisticated map matching
- Fast on device search
- Fast on device routing
- Turn by Turn Navigation with spoken route guidance

We built all of this in a portable C/C++ core and have native APIs for iOS (Objective-C), Android (Java and NDK) and Windows (C++) devices. Where you need to access data directly from a web service, we have HTTP APIs that are all accessible from the popular Leaflet HTML5 maps API.

From Here On

Whether you are a large OEM or new startup building On-Dash or In-Dash navigation, Fitness and Outdoors devices, a website planning your new maps portal, a logistics company planning your new truck and fleet solution, or an app developer building the next Foursquare, the kind of innovation you’ve seen from us over the last 4 years is only a taste of things to come. We’re can’t wait to build the future with you. If you share our excitement, get in touch. Leave a comment, drop us an email. We’d love to talk and we’d love even more to do business with you.

February 25th, 2013 - Posted by Nick Black in api, customers, for developers, for OEMs |