Why we are specializing in landmarks?

Believe or not but most people can’t read or understand maps. For most people’ spatial understanding and orientation is based solely on local landmarks, especially so in Asia, Africa and Latin America or so called emerging countries.

Accurate geographical data is only available for 40% of all countries, which is one of the biggest obstacles for wider use of Location-Based Services (LBS) in most parts of the world. LBS are commercially used and successfully implemented in the developed countries that comprise less than 60% of the potential users for LBS. Growth is fastest in the emerging markets, and a new approach is badly needed in order to tap into this missing 60% of LBS business.

We, Gecko Landmarks, have developed an extremely accurate global landmark database, fully covering every country in the world, along with innovative landmark based navigation concept and development platform. These provide a technically feasible and cost-effective solution for Gecko Landmarks to provide the solution that can reach the remaining 60% of the potential LBS market.


History

The strategy and existence of Gecko Landmarks is based on landmarks, and a growing large-scale utilization of landmarks in the LBS industry. The company is specialized purely in the production of landmark data, not geographical data of any other formats.

The specialization in landmark data started over ten years ago, when the owners of the company started to produce a tracking device based on landmarks, and to systematically gather global landmark data. In the beginning the data was based on information gathered from the field with traditional methods and further processed into databases. 

As demand increased and as the team gained experience and know-how, it became clear that it was necessary to develop new technology specifically for this purpose. Such systems and special tools, purely for landmark data gathering, developing, and updating, were not available commercially and are still not.

Now this work has been completed; landmark creation has been optimized and is in full production use. Therefore Gecko Landmarks now possesses the best landmarks database in terms of quality and coverage, and the special tools to update it and develop it even further.

To convince LBS industry of the usefulness and the value of landmarks, Gecko Landmarks has also developed proof of concept applications and Landmark API for partner companies to utilize landmark data.

Landmarks enable text based location information empowering all the 6 billion mobile phones.

 

Characteristics of landmark database

Gecko Landmarks' database is selective by design; it purposely does not include all the possible points in the world. Other data producers make gazetteer, GIS, POI, or Yellow Page -style databases where every possible piece of information is stored and focus is on quantity of the collected information. 

Gecko Landmarks focuses solely on the quality of the data: Each landmark in the database is significant on its own, and in relation to the rest of the data. Instead of large amount of included points, focus is on quality and functionality of the whole.

Gecko Landmarks is not using external data development partners nor inaccurate general/public databases; every individual landmark database entry is carefully selected and checked by in-house landmark data development professionals.

Due to the dynamic and changing nature of landmark data, Gecko Landmarks is committed to update and verify every individual landmark within 6 months.

Every individual landmark in the database is selected to give the best spatial and local landmark value. They are the locally most known and understood geographical objects and features in their area or place, and it is always possible to define direction and distance to them, either absolutely or based on perception. This means that every landmark is locally recognized and can be used for navigation, orientation, location definition, and other basic needs of LBS, especially in the areas where people do not understand maps or any other forms of geographical data.

Thus, landmark approach provides the most effective mass-market solution for location-based services for the majority of the world population. Our challenge is to make it happen and taking the right steps enabling Location-Based Services with broad consumer appeal.

Where is the center of a landmark?

There is a one very important issue related to adoption of landmarks which is good to understand when utilizing landmarks in map services, visualization, navigation or defining locations: How the center point of a landmark (exact coordinates) is determined and presented in a single point, and what are the most appropriate selection criteria’s and principles to select this point.

If you compare available map services (Google Maps, Yahoo Maps, Google Earth, Bing Maps, etc.), you will realize that location of the landmarks and such are not identical at all. Everyone has their own version of where the center points of landmarks are located. Cities, towns and villages are more or less “somewhere there”, POI (Point of Interest) type of landmarks are usually close to, but not exactly where the "real position" is.

This is one of the core issues with landmarks – How to determine and place the center point of the single point which represents city, village or another man-made landmark? Should the selection be based on functional, geographical, administrative principles or just on one person's perception? In geography, mathematics and especially in cartography, this issue/problem have been analyzed extensively, but no straightforward and generally accepted solution has been presented... And never will.

Since the theories and principles never provide the correct and absolute answer, the correct answer depends on the primary use of landmark. In this case, all the criteria’s and principles can affect the location separately or all together with different degree. If we ignore all the mathematical models, scales and map projections, the center of the landmark can be set through four general principles:

Functional

On this basis, the landmark locates in the functional focal point of a city or a village, in the center of the area where the most traffic flows and commercial activities are concentrated. In the case of POI type of landmark, center point locates where people mostly move within the area of landmark, usually in main entrance of the building/premise/area.

Functional location of Juba and Juba Teaching Hospital

Geographical

On this basis, the center of a city or a village is placed into mathematical center of their geographical borderline polygon that determines the operational area (built up area). The center of POI type of landmark is also defined by the center of a polygon that usually is based on a building outline or something similar.

Geographical location of Juba and Juba Teaching Hospital

Administrative

On this basis, the location of the landmark is relatively easy as it is placed in the mathematical center of an administrative city/village limit polygon. This polygon may be the same as the geographical, but often it is not. In case of POI type of landmarks, center point is located according to mathematical center of a property or site, according to the compound boundary polygon.

 

Administrative location of Juba and Juba Teaching Hospital

Personal Perception

This is “the principle” that confuses and messes up all the other criteria and principles, but is the most important of them all. How can one person define where the center point of a city, village, or a single building should be? There are a lot of studies and tests about this: Approx 90% of the people place the center of the city within one kilometer radius from the functional center. For POI-type of landmark, they place center point as follows: 40% in the middle of the building, 40% in the main entrance and 10% elsewhere.

My location for Juba and Juba Teaching Hospital

So, where is the center of a landmark? If none of these four principles work directly for a particular landmark, it is useful to make an appropriate synthesis of these four. This kind of generalization usually works well and provides good and generally accepted answer.

 

However this is not a totally definitive response to the question where the center point of a landmark should be located, but it provides the basis for how the center point can be determined.

 

Textor is now the prettiest SMS in town

Textor started as a proof-of-concept for a very common use case for landmarks - simple sharing of location through SMS. Since then we have been adding new features and streamlining the existing ones. A while ago we finally got to the todo-item “give it a great look and feel”. Making the app look great also makes the application easier to use through more consistent use of colors and other visual clues. And many of the changes that first seem purely visual actually make a big difference in usability.

Here’s how Textor now looks, in version 1.5.0:

The new look of Textor

The most important usability improvement is in the text editor and message list. When you are composing a message, you often want to check back on the previous discussion in the thread. With the new Textor, when you scroll through the thread, the editor scrolls with the message list: You have the full screen available for skimming through earlier messages. This makes a huge difference, especially so if you are writing a long message.

Scrolling in the editor and message list

Delivery reports in Textor also have great usability: They are indicated by a symbol to the right of the sent message, and the symbol changes immediately when the message is sent to the network, and once again when it is received.

Delivery report states for a message being sent


In the Inbox view, or thread list, we used to have a full sized “New message” list item, which took up the space of one thread. This has been replaced with a smaller compose button in the upper right corner, allowing for one more thread to be shown. One may think that such a small button is hard to press, but this is not the case: The clickable area for this button is much larger than the button itself, making it very hard to miss.

Compose button hot area

The combination of many small excellent details like these make the new version of Textor feel very good - to the level that the users mood also improves :). And of course it still has all the good old features:
  • Schedule messaging - also with location updates
  • Automatically location to messages
  • Cool voice announcement when receiving SMS
  • Easily add contacts to messages
  • Start calls directly from Inbox or compose view

You can download your copy from Android Market Google Play, or update your already installed Textor via Play Store on your phone to enjoy the best and prettiest SMS editor in the world.

Update April 25, 2012: We just released version 1.5.1 which fixes problems with contact names and images on devices with Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0).

Landmarks sweetening social networks in emerging markets

Emerging markets are not going to utilize the same location based services as developed world for many years to come. There are many reasons for this: E.g. maps are not used in education, maps are inaccurate in many parts of the world, and not conveniently available. This needs to be taken into account in social networks.

 

Limited handset capabilities

One reason for the unavailability of maps is the very marginal penetration of smartphones. Less than 20% of the population in emerging markets have smartphones available based on VisionMobile:

Smartphone and feature phone penetration by region in 2011

Source: VisionMobile, Mobile Platforms: Clash of Ecosystems, November 2011

 

Smartphone sales is increasing in emerging markets but feature phone sales significantly outpaced smartphone sales in 2011 suggesting that the installed base of feature phones will remain strong for quite a number of years:

Smartphone and feature phone sales in millions by region in 2011

Source: VisionMobile, Mobile Platforms: Clash of Ecosystems, November 2011


Locating users

Landmarks have been proven to overcome the significant limitations in “the map approach” in emerging markets. Landmarks have been very successfully used in tracking applications and recently they have been deployed in mobile social networks that are purely focused on emerging markets. 

In social networks context, landmarks are close enough to each other so that one can express one's location fairly accurately, but far enough to “hide” exact location. Location will always be in a format that is relevant for the others but simultaneously provides enough privacy and social space if needed. The benefit is that they are known places (e.g. near Plaza de Concordia, Caracas, Venezuela) so one doesn´t need to be accustomed to maps and can instantly understand the location. Location is expressed in text format that is suitable to any type of mobile phone, not just smartphones. One of the concerns when sharing location is privacy. Landmarks alleviate many of these concerns as it is not exactly where one resides but a place that is nearby. 

Providing approximation of the location is one of the reasons why Eskimi chose the landmarks approach for its mobile dating service. Eskimi has over 5 million users in emerging markets and is adding 30,000 new users every day. It is the most popular dating service in Africa and South East Asia. Landmark approach protects the user from expressing one´s location too accurately but enables to be in contact with other users nearby. 

Landmarks will facilitate all social networks to offer relevant location services to the majority of the world population that resides in emerging markets. Landmarks approach mimics how the majority of the world already communicates about location.

Scheduled messaging and a new name: Textor 1.4.0

Today we released a new version of Textor, the app formerly known as Gecko SMS. It is available now for Android phones on Google Play.

There's two major changes in this release:
  1. Send later, with location updates and repeat
  2. New name and icon for the application

Send later, or scheduled messaging, means that you can write a message and enter a day and time you want it delivered.

Ever came up with something to send in the middle of the night, and did not want to wake up the recipient? Send later saves the day.

With repeat and location update Send later becomes a simpler tracking tool: Setup a repeated message when you start a trip, and the recipient can follow your location without you touching your phone.

The cool user-interface for time and day selection is built on the very nice android-wheel open source widget. With some tweaks we were able to create a much nicer looking, and more useful, time/day picker than the usual Android version.

We think that the new name better explains what the application does: Texting. Textor is the best and most exiting SMS application!

The new icon builds on the symbol we have selected to use for "a landmark". Some things that can be seen in this symbol is a compass rose, representing location, and the letters x and o, from the new name. With a bit of imagination you can also see something expanding, meaning the global coverage of our data.

We hope you like these changes!

Add number -feature, Search fixed: Gecko SMS 1.3.1

Time for an update: Gecko SMS version 1.3.1 is now available from Android Market and other sources. It contains a few improvements:

  1. Add number -feature
  2. Search fix
  3. Other small UI fixes
Add Number is a simple but much missed feature: Have you ever been writing a message and wanted to add the number of a contact? There is not simple way to do that in the standard Android Messaging.

Now in Gecko SMS, one can press Menu > Add Number, select a contact from the list, and the name and number gets added to the message text. Simple and effective!

Note: When the contacts list is showing, the Search-button can be used to search by name instead of scrolling through the list.

The main menu of Gecko SMS has a Search item, which allows for searching for a word in the text of all messages. Due to a configuration issue, this functionality was not working in all devices. This has now been fixed. The same functionality is available though the Search-button if your phone has one. So go ahead and dig into your messaging history!

Besides these two bigger changes, there is three smaller improvements:

  1. When working on Search I found a bug in the Android system code that causes search suggestions to fail in message containing "odd" characters such as ä or ö. This was corrected to Gecko SMS, and reported to Android bug database.
  2. When composing a message: The menu items have been reordered to a more optimal settings. For example: Add subject was moved to the end of the menu.
  3. New message: When entering a contact name, the "alphabets to numbers" item was moved to the end of the list, after matching actual contacts. Assumption is that the contacts are more useful than an "GOOGLE = 466432"-item.

Stay tuned for more improvements, join our Facebook group! If you missed our previous release, here's a video demonstrating the new "Say sender's name"-feature:

And one more thing: If you came here from r/android: Hopefully some of the discussed changes will be in the next release, however I am hoping to still get some more ideas and comments out of that community to get some more perspective.

The baby has started talking - Gecko SMS 1.3.0

A new Gecko SMS version, 1.3.0, is available now from Android Market and other sources.

The most visible (or audible, actually) new feature is Say sender's name: Gecko SMS can now use the built-in Android text-to-speech engine to tell you who has sent the message, so that you can know the sender without looking at the phone, or taking it out of your pocket.

But there are lot's of other changes as well: Landmark view got a new button for "Own Location", that takes you back after panning to faraway locations. This functionality used to be available through a double tap. Now double tap works as zoom in, like in other mapping applications.

 

Much development time was also spent on speed: optimizing the way we handle landmarks and other data in various situations. The tangible improvement is that landmark panning and zooming feel very snappy and changing between screens is fast. Even in lower-end Android devices. Trust me: I am using Gecko SMS on a 79€ Huawei X1. That is 79 euros for an Android phone, without any contracts, not bad! More about that experience in a later blog post.

Other improvements affect forwarding and editing messages, and how subject texts in multimedia messages (MMS) are handled:

 

  1. When forwarding a message, landmark is now disabled by default to keep the original message intact.
  2. When editing a long message, the text field can now be scrolled normally
  3. In New message, the To:-field now shows all contacts regardless of phone number type (Home/Mobile/etc.)
  4. When forwarding a multimedia message without a subject, Gecko SMS no longer creates an "Fwd: "-subject. MMS is not used like email and most users do not want a subject to come up like this.
  5. Viewing an MMS with a subject had the subject surrounded with ugly <Subject: > -tags, now subject is shown in plain bold text.

If you are wondering how the last two problems got there in the first place. This is because Gecko SMS is built on the native Android messaging, which serves as a great starting point for Gecko. Builging on a native platform component is possible due to the Open Source licensing of the Android platform. But one has to wonder a bit: Who has specified the Android user interface for these exact cases?

 

What do you think of these improvements? If there some functionality you are missing in Gecko SMS? If you are not using Gecko SMS yet: What would be the feature that would make you want to use it? Let us know in the comments below, through email or through our Facebook group!

Gecko SMS fix release 1.2.1 is out, Thank You users!

Last Friday, we released a new version of Gecko SMS with a lot of major improvements. Unfortunately there was a bug in this version, which caused a Force Close -situation for a few of our users. This has now been analyzed and fixed, and a new version is available in the Android Market.

Most of the time, bugs in Android applications are easy to fix as the system has a built in mechanism for reporting the exact situation of the crash. This was the case now as well: Even when the problem only occurred with the user in certain locations, and thus was not caught in our testing rounds, the reports pinpointed it easily.

So I would like to give a big Thank You to all of our users that have reported this problem. And for everyone using and Android phone: When you get the "Force Close Screen of Death", please consider pressing Report and Send. A developer somewhere thanks you for that.

By the way, there is also two landmark related improvements in this new release:

  1. "Landmark disabled" state is now stored, which means that if you are not in the mood for using location in the messages, it is enough to press "Disable" once.
  2. Landmark adjuncts (At/Near/Going to) are also stored, per landmark, so when you select that you are "¤ At Home", it is enough to do this once and the At-adjunct is automatically used whenever you use the Home -landmark.

New Gecko SMS version, v1.2.0, now with over 2 times* more focus!

A new version of Gecko SMS is finally ready and available in the Android Market. If you already have Gecko SMS installed in your phone, you can update it easily - see My Apps screen under the Market -application.

This version includes three major improvements:

  1. Redesigned layouts with better focus on messaging
  2. Improved usability without Internet, improved landmark data caching
  3. Global panning: zoom out and use landmarks from anywhere

Redesigned layouts

Before, landmarks were shown visually in both the conversation list and the message composition view. Touching this area made the landmarks show up in full screen. When composing a message, there was a separate landmark menu.

In the new version (1.2.0), the messaging views only show the landmark text, and a button which gives access to the landmark view and landmark options (Disable, ¤ At/Near etc.). This makes the user interface cleaner, and gives better focus on the task at hand - messaging.

Below is screen shots from both versions, highlighting the changes:

*These images also explain the "2 times more" -claim: Earlier version used in average about 29 % of the messaging screens for landmarks, the new version uses only about 12%, 29/12 ≈ 2,36. As an engineer, I just could not post the number without this explanation.

Improved data caching and transfer, global panning

Changes 2. and 3. are both part of a rewrite on how landmark data is handled in Gecko SMS. The old versions gave access just to the 50 closest landmarks, which is a simple approach and worked pretty good for most use cases.

In the new version however, one can pan and zoom to anywhere in the world. All downloaded landmark data is stored locally in the phone, which means that after one use it is instantly available without an Internet connection.

If you pan and zoom around in Gecko SMS, you may notice green or cyan rectangles shown. These mean that Gecko SMS is downloading more detailed landmark data for that particular area. Below is an example of zooming into Buenos Aires, when landmarks are only partially loaded.

 

So go a head, check it out. And when you do try the new version, please don't hesitate to send us comments at geckosms@geckolandmarks.com, or using the blog comment form below!

Friday's Favorite Landmark: Phillip's Sanctuary

This is the third part of our Friday's Favorire Landmark series.


Riders: (1/3) Ryan Solinap, (2/3) Michael Solinap, both from Pangasinan, Philippines

 

Phillip's Sanctuary, Antipolo, National Capital Region, Philippines
Coordinates: 14.66123 °N, 121.19719 °E (Google Maps)
Favorited by: Albert / Datadev Team

Tucked in the mountains of Antipolo, is Phillip's Sanctuary, a 13 hectare property owned by the Pestano family. It's a haven that offers an escape from the confines of city life. With 7 bike trails crisscrossing each other, you will experience the adrenalin rush you’re longing for. We built this Dirt Jump with friends, and riding in Phillip’s Sanctuary has never been the same. We also got free entrance fee for 6 months!

Phillip's Sanctuary in Gecko SMS

 

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