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Mp3car’s Founder, Robert Wray, interviewed Mathieu Monney, creator of iphone navigation application XGPS. We talk about his turn by turn navigation application which has been downloaded almost 589,000+ times in the two months since it left beta. Don’t get out your calculator, that is about 10,000 times per day!
We expect the interview to be transcribed within the next couple of days.
Robert Wray: Hi. My name is Rob Wray, with Mp3car. We're talking today with Mathieu Monney in Switzerland. Mathieu is the creator and lead developer of the wildly successful turn by turn iPhone navigation application called XGPS. I call it wildly successful, because according to Cedia, the application has been downloaded about a half a million times in just the several months that it's been out.
A lot of the industry analysts all want to know how big the market is, and I think this is an amazing indicator that there's a lot of pent-up demand for XGPS and applications similar to this that do navigation and turn by turn directions. So Mathieu, thanks a lot for taking the time to talk with us today.
Mathieu Monney: Hi, Rob. Your welcome.
Robert Wray: As of iPhone OS 3.0, Apple is allowing developers to use the core location; meaning turn by turn map creators now have the access to the combination of GPS, WiFi, cell towers, and all those utilities to do routing.
Mathieu Monney: Yes.
Robert Wray: So I guess the key is that you have to bring your own maps. How far do you think you can go with the free Google map solution that you're using right now?
Mathieu Monney: So right now, it will not be possible to use the current position to publish it on the app store, because it's completely forbidden by the Google terms and conditions and by Apple.
Robert Wray: Okay. Clearly the free thing has probably been one of the things that's driven the 500,000 number.
Mathieu Monney: Yes. That's true.
Robert Wray: So I guess right now you're using the Google maps. What do you use for your routing algorithms? Do you have your own routing algorithms, or are you using Google's routing algorithms?
Mathieu Monney: No. We are using Google's routing services, because the maps that we get from Google are only pictures or images. So when you display a map on your iPhone, you can't use GPS. It's only a picture, an image. And you can’t have any information about where roads are, or anything like that. So you cannot do any routing algorithm on it.
That's why we are thinking and we are trying to develop another solution based on other third party sources to use vectorial maps to be able to do outlier routings and vectorial routings, and stuff like that, to overcome this Google map problem.
Robert Wray: So that kind of leads me into my next question. There's a lot of really interesting free applications and free data sources that are out there, like OpenStreetMap. How much will XGPS contribute and be able to utilize OpenStreetMap or other data collection efforts?
Mathieu Monney: Actually, it's a go for the next version of XGPS to use OpenStreetMap.
Robert Wray: So that's great. That allows you to keep this application really low cost. So would you imagine that you would still license a routing algorithm? Or do you plan to develop your own routing algorithm?
Mathieu Monney: Yes. Sure. The long term goal is to be able to use your iPhone as a normal GPS, like TomTom. You enter a start location and end location, and the routing is done by itself offline, without any WiFi or GSM connection or whatever. So yes.
Robert Wray: I was looking at your website, and it looks like you're funding XGPS off of donations. How do you plan to fund the development of XGPS in the future?
Mathieu Monney: For now, for the current version, we will remain free and we'll be funded with donations. But for the next version, which will use vectorial map and so on, we haven't decided now what we will do. But maybe we will make some kind of licensing, or it will still be free, I can't really tell you now, because it will really depend on how the new GPS software will come up on the app store. I mean, with the new OS 3.0.
Robert Wray: So do you expect to release your application on the app store as soon as the OS 3.0 is available?
Mathieu Monney: I will not say as soon as, but we'll try to release it as soon as I get something working with OpenStreetMap and so on, because it will then be a legal application in terms of Apple’s point of view.
Robert Wray: It looks like you were able to keep a lot of your costs down by doing things like crowd sourcing the language translation into 25 languages.
Mathieu Monney: Yeah.
Robert Wray: How else are you planning to use the community in the future for your application?
Mathieu Monney: Yeah. That's definitely a good option. The problem with releasing your beta application or free application is that you get more people from it, and it's really easy to build a community, which helps the project growing.
On the other hand, with the pay application, there is less involved people, and people say, "Okay. I want this feature. Why is this feature not here, and why is this feature not in my language" or so on.
Robert Wray: Do you have any other ways in which you plan to use your forums? You have lots of active people in the community that are contributing in your forums, as far as feature suggestions. Do you plan to do any of your development with input from the community? Or do you plan to keep it a closed project, aside from the language translation and things like that?
Mathieu Monney: Again, it's an open question. For sure it will speed up the development of XGPS if we put it in an open source way. But the thing I don't want is that if the first project falls, all the projects are created on the basis of XGPS, and that will be a terribly bad thing for me.
And the other thing is that you cannot control, really control, how the development will go with the totally open source solution. So that's the two major problems. That's why I'm still debating if I will keep the project closed source or put it in open source.
Robert Wray: So I noticed that there was a competing navigation application that came out. It's about $40.00 on the app store, made by XRoads, called G-Maps. It's interesting that it came out and then really quickly was pulled off the iPhone store, on March 18th. Why do you think Apple is still being so aggressive, even with their 3.0 announcement?
Mathieu Monney: I don't know. This G-Maps application is not so – actually, it was not so good. I mean, at first, it was providing features with a lot of good functionality, like voice navigation, and offline routing, and turn by turn directions, and so on. But I think I've heard that they proposed G-Maps software to Apple one time, and Apple refused to put it on the app store, because it was not following their agreement rules.
So they removed some unwanted features, like turn by turn direction, and so on. So with the final release there were no more interesting features, like turn by turn direction. So G-Maps was only like the map applications on the iPhone, but without the need to download the maps over WiFi or GSM connection.
Robert Wray: So basically, it looked really interesting, and the app slowly got watered down and watered down until it was finally allowed to go on the store, and then it was pulled?
Mathieu Monney: Yeah. I don't like the way Apple is acting with all this software, because I think there can be really good software nowadays without all these Apple restrictions. But unfortunately Apple is placing so many restrictions that since there is no really good application which has come up on the app store, I think Apple is really handling it in a bad way.
However, it's still successful, and the app store is a good thing, but Apple could be a little less aggressive on their agreements.
Robert Wray: So I wanted to get back to the question before. We were talking about OpenStreetMaps. How much do you think XGPS will be able to contribute to OpenStreetMaps?
Mathieu Monney: XGPS could bring many users to OpenStreetMap, but the main problem is that you cannot build the software which can upload data automatically to OpenStreetMap, and automatically improve the map itself. There is always the need of a human to draw roads and so on on the map, on the basis of data given by GPS.
Robert Wray: Do you think that there will be algorithms that are eventually developed to translate the GPS trails into accurate road information?
Mathieu Monney: Yeah. You can already make simple software to take GPS position, GPS tracker, and so on, to automatically build the maps. But the main problem is still in naming the roads. The crossing of the road, you sometimes cannot turn right, or can't turn left, or sometimes there is a one-way road, or so on.
All this stuff makes automatically creating the maps a big problem, because if you develop an algorithm to create the maps automatically on the basis of a GPS track, maybe you can get a map that looks beautiful to the eye, but for the routing algorithm, it will be really, really difficult to create a route from a point A to a point B without going down a one-way street. That's the main problem.
And still, with humans there is a lot of errors now in OpenStreetMap, especially in Europe countries.
Robert Wray: So basically, the collected data is unroutable, but we have this situation where there's a bit of a chicken and egg scenario here. You have to have a certain mass of tracks and data that's collected in order for algorithms to be applied to them. Again, this chicken or egg type of scenario.
Why not collect the data now, since you have 500,000 users that are out there? Why not collect the data so that when algorithms are developed to process this data, and as more users are willing to properly label roads, and make them routable, why not collect this data, so that as users get more passionate about it, the data is there for people to work on?
Mathieu Monney: Sure. It will be an option. For now, the current version of XGPS already allows you to do this. Manually. But to do it automatically, the first problem is the privacy issue. I mean, not everybody wants to share where they go.
It will be an option. We are thinking about it for next version.
Robert Wray: Surely there has to be a way to anonymize the data, so that people don't have to worry about tracking issues, and they can still help contribute to the maps that they're getting for free, that they would otherwise have to pay $50.00 US or more for – even at the cheapest solutions, you have to pay $50.00 for map data.
Mathieu Monney: Sure. For you or me guys like us, it will be okay, but for the people who cannot imagine to have their position on the net, and to be anonymized by that. Not all the people are really interested in the iPhone and so on.
But a software like XGPS could allow them to use their iPhone as a GPS. And if we tell them, okay, you can use XGPS, but your position will be logged and sent over the internet, even if we say, okay, it's totally – it's totally anonymized, – I don't know. They will have some fears about it, I think.
Robert Wray: Yeah. You will always have skeptics, and I think that's a really important thing to be aware of. Do you have any plans to implement some of the more advanced location-based services, like petroleum prices, or traffic, speed cameras, and things like that?
Mathieu Monney: For traffic things, for now, it's as usual, the main problem with all of that GPS stuff software is data source. I mean, for maps, it's where the roads are, what are the road names, and so on. For traffic, you have to access some information given by the government or cities to know where the traffic density is, and etcetera. So it's always a problem of data sources.
But as long as we could get reliable data sources to show places with traffic on the map, we could do it. But I think for now, it's a little too advanced to think about it.
Robert Wray: I'd imagine, with 500,000 users, you certainly have enough volume to get data suppliers interested in buying the data. Maybe there's an option where you could have your core free products, and allow paid upgrades for premium services like speed cameras and traffic, and other things that have made some of the other connected navigation devices wildly successful.
Mathieu Monney: Yeah. Sure. It will be an option. We haven't thought about that yet, but it could definitely be an option. It will be able to create some kind of community around these data sources, as OpenStreetMap did. When you are on a road where there are too many cars and you cannot go on, you tap into iPhone, okay, I’m stuck on the road. And this information will be propagated on all the connected iPhones, and you will get some kind of peer to peer network with information about the current traffic.
You can do the same for speed cameras.
Robert Wray: There's been some commercial companies that have tried to do that. I mean, Dash was the big one here in the United States which had a little bit less success. They made a device that's all in one unit, they got more accurate as the number of users grew, because they were all committing to the amount of data. So the big win here with an application like that would be allowing lots and lots of users, even users other than XGPS, to be able to contribute to those data pools.
Would you see collecting this data and making it open for GPS applications of all types, maybe even PC type applications, or PND applications? Or would you see XGPS being the controller of this community-collected data?
Mathieu Monney: Yeah. I mean, it would be better if more products can be developed like this, because I think there is only the new XGPS that can act like that. It will be good for there to be some kind of constraint.
And I think if there is more products and more software, the more GPS products are involved and the bigger the community is, the more accurate it can be.
Robert Wray: Well, we're at a very exciting time in navigation and mobile computing, and it's great you're being a part of it, and developing apps to help it grow. So thanks a lot for taking the time to talk with us today out of your busy schedule. We appreciate it.
Mathieu Monney: Yeah. Your welcome.
Updated 09-17-2009 at 03:18 PM by optikalefx