tag:blog.geckolandmarks.com,2013:/posts Gecko Landmarks Blog 2016-06-21T14:33:38Z Gecko Landmarks tag:blog.geckolandmarks.com,2013:Post/1061874 2016-06-10T07:26:32Z 2016-06-10T07:26:48Z Instant understanding of the location

Local landmarks as new type of geo data have attracted plenty of interest among application developers during the recent years. Also, messenger services are noticing how powerful and useful instant textual location sharing could be in their services in practise.

It is more and more evident that the fast paced nature of mobile-only features require new type of geo information that provide instant understanding of the location in mobile usage. It is once again time to review the basics; What are the local landmarks.

What is the main difference between Local landmarks and POI data?

Local landmarks are well-defined point data (name, regional hierarchy & coordinate) that give local people instant understanding of the location. Local landmarks can be used to determine the location and share it textually or in voice format.
 
Local landmarks are very different from POI data. Local landmarks cannot be assessed or compared to other geodata because they convey the location textually, not visually on a map, and are determined by this feature from a large amount of traditional geodata.
 
POI data determines where something locates (name and coordinates) and what information it includes (attribute information). POI data provides only seldom the name/text that instantly provide idea of the location for local people, thus POI data is not suitable for textual location determination as well as local landmarks.

Local landmarks serve as location reference points for locals.

Why other geodata producers do not have as extensive local landmark database?

Production of the local landmarks data is more complicated than the production of other geodata types and elements.  The determination and identification of the applicable local landmarks require a lot of specialized knowledge, experience and background work.
 
During the last 15 years we have developed our own specialised in-house methods and technologies that focus solely on industrial production of the local landmarks. Other geodata producers do not have such specialized expertise and technology yet.

Our local landmark database covers the whole world: more than 2 million accurately defined local landmarks from every country and major city. We update our local landmark database continuously. Each day we add hundreds of local landmarks into our database and regularly check that all landmarks correspond to reality. 

What local landmarks do?

All over the world, people navigate and determine locations by means of local landmarks. Our local landmarks enable the same principle used in mobile phone and internet services and applications. For local people, the name of the local landmark instantly evokes the idea of the location in relation to their own location.
 
In addition, the local landmarks can complete maps and addresses, or substitute in some application and services. Local landmarks provide substantial value, especially in areas where the map literacy is not widespread, addresses and maps are incomplete or missing altogether.
 
  

Where Local landmarks provide best possible value?

Our local landmarks are an ideal alternative or complementary location determiner for various applications and services, in which it is important to share the textual location messages quickly and generally understood format. These include in particular the following services and applications:
 
• Instant Messengers
• Location notifications and bots
• SMS messages

 .... plus, in various future mobile applications that takes mobile location for hundreds of millions of new users who are not able to read a maps and do not understand addresses.
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Gecko Landmarks
tag:blog.geckolandmarks.com,2013:Post/197808 2016-02-02T10:55:00Z 2016-06-21T14:33:38Z Landmarks versus Point of Interest (POI)

A very common problem with landmarks is the fact that they are often confused with POI data. Landmarks, however, are very different from POI data that is commonly used in Location-Based Services (LBS) and geographic data business. 

Since our business is fundamentally based on landmarks and their diverse and innovative use, it is good to clarify the major differences between landmarks and POI. I also list some other terms that might be confused with landmarks as well.


What is a landmark?

  • Natural way of understanding location
  • Prominent identifying feature of an area 
  • Spatial reference point for locals
  • Prominent identifying feature of a landscape with outstanding historical, aesthetic, or cultural importance
  • Prominent or conspicuous object that serves as a guide in particular location
  • Distinguishing landscape feature marking a site or location

Technically landmarks are “points” with name and accurate x- and y-coordinates though they may also include additional attribute information such as administrative hierarchy, class, sub-class, country etc.. Landmarks can also be used to represent areas, such as cities, towns and villages (a relative “centerpoint”). Landmarks are traditionally used for personal navigation, spatial recognition, orientation and bearing.


What is POI?

POI is also a specific geo-coded point that someone may find useful or interesting. The term is used in cartography, especially in digital data forms, including Geographic Information System (GIS) and Location-Based Services (LBS) applications.

A name or description for the POI is usually included, and other attribute information such as address, contact information, category, reviews, administrative hierarchy etc..

Generally POI can be used in one or more of the following purposes:

  • Finding locations: Using a set of coordinates you can find which Points of Interest within a certain category or type are nearby.
  • Querying features: Using Points of Interest you could look for something very specific, such as a restaurant along a certain road or more general, such as all secondary schools within a larger area. You can link your own information about the feature using the unique references, and also run queries and visualize your own data. You could also query the Points of Interest features against other types of geographic information, such as administrative boundaries to see, for example, how many tourist attractions a particular region has within a specified radius.


Major differences 

Landmarks are collected selectively. In certain area, only one well selected landmark could represent and identify the entire area with a relative radius, for example, Eiffel Tower identifies much larger area than tower itself. There is no need to include any other features from the same area for landmarks. Only one feature gets the job done and provides unique and accurate location value for the area. 

Entire nature of POI data is totally different. All relevant data of the area is collected. In a POI data set, every individual feature around Eiffel Tower must be collected and recorded in order to provide useful POI data. All POI features are identically important and no selection is needed.

Landmarks are also more relative than POI data. POI data has its own exact information value that exists in specific location and/or area. POI data is there or it is not. Landmark, however, can be identified only by personal preferences. One can “feel” that Eiffel Tower is not the most prominent and locally known feature in the area, for example, it could also be the nearby but universally less known Emile Anthoine Stadium. However, most people can’t identify the area into this feature. Therefore it is much more difficult to select good and useful landmarks than to collect POI data.

Quantity wise, POI data set are usually the better the more POI data entries are included. Landmarks data sets are so much more selective in nature that fewer landmarks are usually better and provide more functional value.

This is POI data

This is a landmark - Aegis Building

 

Other similar terms than could be mixed with landmarks and POI:

Point 

“Point” is a feature representing a real world object. In LBS and GIS industry, “point” feature is a single point with coordinates.

 

Waypoint

Waypoint is a point between major points on a route or a track. A waypoint is a geo-coded “point” on the route to your destination, and can also include the destination itself. Waypoints have become widespread for navigational use since the wider use of GPS devices.


Checkpoint

Checkpoints refer to the point of reference or waypoints that help people trace their way back from a starting point or make navigational turns.


Trackpoint

The trackpoint defines a track formed by connecting the points with lines.  The trackpoints represent the recorded road, trail, path, etc.. The purpose of trackpoints are to define lines for forming linear features. Usually trackpoints do not have any individual names, just coordinates (elevation) and date/time stamp.

 

Place of Interest

Places that is interesting to visit and/or to see. Usually term Place of Interest is used in a context of tourism and city maps and guides.


Place

The term “Place“ is used to refer to a point, a location, POI or a meaningful combination thereof. Places are typically larger scale administrative areas, either informally or formally defined: Countries, states, districts, municipalities, neighbourhoods and such.

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Gecko Landmarks
tag:blog.geckolandmarks.com,2013:Post/197807 2015-10-06T06:56:00Z 2016-06-21T14:33:17Z Lost with a map

It is expected that a significant market growth in LBS (Location Based Services) business is just a matter of time. But it is still a big open question which concepts and technologies can turn this into significant cash flow in large scale.

The majority of the consumers in emerging markets do not know, instinctively do not want, or are not able to use the existing LBS technologies and concepts for their everyday needs. The existing concepts and technologies are not perceived as “natural” and human oriented solutions. Something is still fundamentally wrong with the alliance of technology, commercialism and LBS solutions.

The majority of world population does not understand traditional maps, coordinates, or complicated digital maps. Their spatial understanding and orientation is based solely on local landmarks, especially so in emerging markets!

A new approach and new solutions are badly needed for this market in order to reach the consumers. The biggest amounts of potential LBS users are in developing countries. The future of the LBS business lays on the consumers in emerging markets, their every day needs and technology expectations.

Personally, I believe that the single biggest reason is the "missing link" between the development of technologies and traditional map concept. Computers and mobile phones have evolved very quickly to their own technical, commercial and ergonomic conditions. Simultaneously LBS technologies tried to meet these conditions with same technology-driven evolution, not so much trough the evolution that is based on user experience and their natural capabilities and understanding of locations. Engineers and GIS professionals develop LBS technologies in developed countries but average consumers of emerging markets do not have the same level of understanding of the functional principles and concepts in order to get the best out of the location services and products.

What an average consumer understands and senses on locations, orientation, navigation, and positioning, has developed through the evolution over millions of years. LBS technologies and concepts has been developed during the last 15 years, and everything have been based on almost entirely on traditional maps and their digital visualization and related technologies.

LBS business is trying to get this mapping tradition and its principles into computers and mobile phones by force. This bond is not natural but rather the result of hard rush and commercial and technological pressures led by the missed investments and unmet expectations. LBS business should, in principle, basically go with a "clean slate" with these relatively new technologies and go into principles and concepts that are based on something that consumers all over the world naturally and intuitively understand.

Sure, there have been some success stories which are based on the good old map tradition and technology symbiosis: Garmin, TomTom, Magellan... These companies grew rapidly into global giants, but almost as quickly melted into ordinary mortals, to ordinary companies that operate only in a niche markets. Consumers, after all hype and excitement, did not see that much value at the end of the day in the offerings of these LBS concepts. Consumers want and need something entirely new LBS concepts that sits better in their natural spatial understanding.

LBS business is still looking for “the killer solution” that works globally and provides concept that meet consumers in more human and natural way in order to hit the home run also in significant value creation. However this "missing link" between the human capacity and the technology will be found sooner or later, since LBS business is still sufficiently charged the commercial and technological pressures and its renewal and development pace go faster every year.

Five years from now - a long time in the computer and mobile phone business - we may have only a few global money making LBS-concepts, which may be based on sound, direction, visible environment or landmarks. I am pretty sure that these future LBS concepts are not based on traditional map concept and technologies that rely on it.

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Gecko Landmarks
tag:blog.geckolandmarks.com,2013:Post/197813 2014-05-20T12:52:00Z 2016-06-21T14:32:52Z Let there be landmarks

The mankind has used maps for more than 4000 years... But still majority of the world's population does not understand or can’t read maps. Their spatial understanding, navigation and orientation is based solely on local landmarks, especially so in emerging markets.

Every human being on their own territory can instantly identify the most known and biggest landmarks, such as schools, stations, department stores, big buildings, major junctions, and locate themselves and navigate within the area accordingly. This is happening automatically as people's regional understanding and memory is based on the landmarks for which can be seen, named and logically deduced from the surroundings.

Let’s take a couple of simple examples. 

“Where are you”: I am in Barmoi Hotel, it is close to Casino Leone. Every person in Sierra Leone in Freetown instantly understands this.

Or 

“How to go there”: First pass Casino Leone, turn left at Cape Community School and then go straight until you see Hotel Barmoi.

Locals know these landmarks and all necessary information has been successfully delivered and understood. There is no need for a traditional map or more complex coordinates that most of the locals can’t understand and require plenty of education and special knowledge.

Modern navigation and location technologies are based on maps and coordinates. They are still far too difficult for most people and they can’t deliver the information as they understand it without additional interpretation.

The image above illustrates well why the majority of the world's population still does not understand maps and coordinates – these concepts are not based on what they see and what is real in their own surroundings. Coordinates do not turn automatically into Hotel Barmoi - the basic information to be delivered and understood.

If same information will be delivered by using only landmarks, there is no need for complicated technology to get the point immediately and without additional interpretation:

  • Pass Casino Leone (OK, I know where it is)
  • Turn left on Cape Community School (OK, I know where it is and how to go there)
  • Then go straight until you see Hotel Barmoi (I can’t miss it)

In the image below where one can see that landmarks are not too far apart, nor too close. They form a complete basis for personal navigation and orientation.

Of course, landmarks are not an alternative for maps and coordinates, but an additional new form of delivering location and navigation information that really bring location services to where they should be: Everyone’s everyday-tool everywhere!

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Gecko Landmarks
tag:blog.geckolandmarks.com,2013:Post/610353 2013-10-18T12:47:52Z 2013-10-18T12:47:52Z Peace of mind in crisis situations

The whole world was in complete shock when the news broke out about the massive terrorist attack in Westgate shopping mall in Kenya on 21 September. Instant reaction for most people was to find out where the loved ones, relatives and friends were and to check if they were safe. If you didn’t get a hold of the person, you tried until you got a response. The ones who were at the Westgate mall tried to call and send SMS messages to alert people to help them and inform about the situation without exposing themselves to terrorists in the mall. People who used Airtel mLocator to got the answer more effectively than others and gained quick information about the safety of their loved ones.


mLocator allows Airtel Kenya subscribers to prepare better for this kind of unexpected and terrified situations:

1) Instantly locate family members, friends and employees

By just sending SMS command “FIND” followed by a nickname one receives the location of the other person. This way the users will be able to find out the location instantly and without any interruption to the other persons. One can have instant peace of mind and can react quickly if something needs to be done urgently.

To activate mLocator service one needs to receive locating rights beforehand. To do that one needs to send SMS command “FIND”, followed by the phone number and nickname, to 30100 e.g. FIND 073xxxxx Lisa. After Lisa gives the locating rights by replying “YES” to a message from the service, one will receive her location.  Afterwards one only needs to send FIND Lisa, nothing else, to receive her location at any time. 

2) Help me - alert with subscriber’s location can be sent conveniently to pre-selected people instantly

In the event that one is in danger, there might be extremely little time to call or send SMS messages. Simply by sending SOS to 30100 one alerts pre-selected people, that help is needed at this location. Instead of calling and sending several SMS messages, only a single SMS is needed and several people can receive the information where you are in trouble. All pre-selected persons get these alert messages immediately and can react quickly so that help can be delivered as soon as possible. To have this service ready the user should give locating rights to pre-selected people who they think can assist in case of distressful or alarming situation. These people should send FIND followed by the users’ phone number to 30100, after which the user needs to respond YES to give them permission to locate.

mLocator service features assist subscribers in everyday life situations where help is needed or if a subscriber just needs to find out the location of the other person for peace of mind. Service is made affordable in order to enable every person to be able to benefit of this service when needed the most. Significant portion of the subscribers could use this service when thinking about how to prepare for crisis situations when a subscriber needs to request for help or help others. 

Airtel mLocator can save lives in crisis situation.

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Gecko Landmarks
tag:blog.geckolandmarks.com,2013:Post/576926 2013-05-02T11:59:18Z 2013-10-08T17:24:56Z No address available – so where is it?

In emerging markets very marginal portion of the population is using location based services. But according to Mobile Life Research the highest latent demand for these services is in emerging countries. 

What are the location related applications that people would like to use in emerging countries? TNS Global's research ranks the following location service applications based on demand:

Source: TNS Global, Mobile Life Research, May 2012 (Sample 48,000 people in 58 countries)

It is pretty clear that above interest levels represent more the point of view of developed markets. However, above applications could also be greatly enhanced for emerging countries by assimilating how people think about the location or how locations are currently communicated by local people. Billions navigate based on landmarks, that would greatly enhance user experience across different location based applications.

In navigation applications, one traditionally uses a specific address as a destination. This is unlikely to work in emerging markets, as large majority is not willing or able to use exact addresses. Therefore landmark based guidance is needed for the destination and on the way to find the best route. A combination of street view and landmarks are likely to provide the optimal approach for the part of the population that can afford devices that are needed for precise navigation. But landmarks can also support navigation on more basic phones.

Similarly finding a restaurant or other point of interest becomes much more understandable if it is communicated with the closest landmark. This logic also applies to Friend Finder, special offers, transportation service applications etc. that can all offer understandable landmark location so that location applications become relevant in emerging markets. 

Device capability limitations and people’s ability and interest to use more advanced applications limit the usage of turn-by-turn guidance based on street names. Landmark based guidance is available in text format supporting any device that has capability for messaging. It is only a matter of finding the right logic that provides sufficient user experience to meet the needs to the mass market.

Landmark based guidance and location could be the most practical solution, for example for the following location based services and applications in emerging markets:

  • Various chat and messaging services
  • Mobile social networks
  • Asset and personal tracking services and devices
  • SMS with location in text messaging
  • Complementing existing forms of geographical data sets and applications that are used now for maps and address based location references 

Landmarks present a more adaptive and humane approach. They do not require that the user can interpret insufficient and complicated maps. Landmarks do not include unnecessary information and are available even for the places where no traditional maps are available. And due to the conceptual simplicity, landmarks work well even on very small screens, even a plain text display is enough.

This is what customers in emerging markets need and want – now!

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Gecko Landmarks
tag:blog.geckolandmarks.com,2013:Post/361987 2013-04-09T07:01:00Z 2013-10-08T16:39:33Z NYUAD hackathon project uses Landmark API to help people find their way

In a recent hackathon at New York University Abu Dhabi, 16 teams of students and mentors (for example from Google, Microsoft Research and NASA) competed for fame and prizes. Full title of the event was “2013 NYUAD International Hackathon for Social Good in the Arab World”, and the goal was to design, implement and release a product in just three days.

The team than tied for third place created a product called Landmarkr, which is “a website providing landmark cues for navigation”. Oleg Grishin from the Landmarkr team describes the project: "The idea behind Landmarkr is that in the Middle East there is a big issue with navigation within cities: the address systems are usually terrible (almost non-existent). In addition, the taxi drivers do not usually know the city they work in and in order to get somewhere you need to explain nearest landmarks to the drivers and only then they can find your destination. That is one of the possible implications of the project."

The team used our Landmark API to get high-quality geo data for this task. They were able to get started with the free example key from our Landmark API documentation, but also contacted us and received their personal key to handle more traffic. The team also used Google's Places API, but for a different purpose. As Oleg puts it: "[Gecko’s Landmark API] suited us more due to its nature of being a purely landmarks-oriented API, while Google Places focuses more on aggregating more general places' geodata."

Landmarkr team in action. From left: Morgante Pell (NYUAD), Susannah Raub (mentor from Google: Software Engineer, expert on Google Maps), Dmytro Krashnostan (Masdar Institute of Technology, Abu Dhabi, UAE), Oleg Grishin (NYUAD), on the bottom from left to right: Moiri Gamboni (NYUAD) and Rawan Alharbi (mentor, teaching assistant from King Saud University, Saudi Arabia).

(Photo from NYUAD hackathon Facebook page)

The Landmarkr project has not yet launched publicly, but Oleg says that the team is hoping to do that soon. (Update 2013-04-22) A prototype or the Landmarkr service is available at landmarkr.morgante.net/.

More information about the hackathon is available at the NYUAD hackathon site and the NUYAD news release about the results.

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Gecko Landmarks
tag:blog.geckolandmarks.com,2013:Post/355892 2013-04-05T09:04:00Z 2013-10-08T16:37:53Z Destination: a landmark

If you've ever taken a taxi in a developing country and given a street address as your destination, you are already aware of how well precise street addresses work there: They just do not!

The world is divided into two camps based on the use and the general knowledge of street addresses: 

1) In one camp, accurate and precise street addresses are a part of general knowledge and their role in everyday life is so great that governments are using considerable resources for maintaining and promoting the concept of street addresses.

2) The other camp has only been able to partly copy the address concept, but not been able to create a tradition for the general use of street addresses. In particular, Africa, Arab world, South-East Asia, most of South and Central Americas and Central Asia are the regions where the exact street addresses do not work the same way or with the same logic as in other parts of the world.

Residential building in Nairobi, Kenya. There is no street number as the majority of the world population lives without one.

The root causes of this division can be found in differences in history of urban planning. In countries where exact street addresses are an essential part of urban navigation and everyday life, the concept of precise street addresses has been actively supported and developed for centuries. Street addresses have for so long been an essential part of city functions and urban planning that they have eventually replaced the original, landmark based spatial human perception by a more artificial logic that modern urban living patterns and performances impose.

In cities where the concept of urban planning has been imported, usually as part of the foreign colonial administration, this kind of long tradition lacks. Local residents have never grown to understand and use street addresses, and governments have not consolidated a systematical use of street addresses (because local government is always comprised of local people). Moreover, these major cities are the fastest growing in the world, and creating solid tradition of using street addresses is not the priority in comparison with other challenges that require more immediate reforms and improvements.

However in such cities, local residents need to navigate, goods need to find their ways to consumption and taxis need to take customers to their destinations. Local residents still have ability to understand landmarks, the evolutionary evolved understanding of the environment and navigation. In modern metropolitan environment, natural landmarks have been replaced by buildings, bridges, functional centers, recreational areas, etc., but this is not a problem, the same good old logic works.

 Local taxis know that street addresses come and go, but landmarks stay.

Taxi drivers are also local residents. In many developing countries, the job as a taxi driver is often temporary and just for earning extra money with no any formal training or qualifications. In the beginning, taxi drivers know a few main addresses, but the city landmarks and routes between become soon familiar while driving around the city. 

In addition, the city road networks are in a constant state of change. But landmarks do not change as frequently as the street addresses because their significance is more symbolic than practical. For example in many Latin countries electing a new president means new street addresses...

How does one guide a taxi in cities of developing countries? Tell the driver the nearest major landmark close to your destination. If driver knows it, he probably knows the best and the fastest route to it. When you are close to the landmark, advice a driver to ask further instructions from the locals who might know nearby street addresses. If you know yourself what is the best route to the destination, you can guide the driver landmark by landmark basis. In most cases, Taxi drivers navigate only by landmarks and names of the major streets, and if you're talking "the same language" with him, you will be at your destination faster and more conveniently.

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Gecko Landmarks
tag:blog.geckolandmarks.com,2013:Post/197805 2013-03-13T04:18:00Z 2013-10-08T16:03:32Z Market making for Finder services

No Finder service has reached the mass market anywhere. We would define mass market level to be reached when a service reaches 15% subscriber penetration within one operator. So why is this, as most people have the need to follow-up and find out location of other people; be it family members, company employees or just friends? As a demonstration of how common this need is, start counting how many times a day somebody asks about your whereabouts during a phone call conversation.

Finder application can respond to that need without having to call the other person, instantly providing the correct location. These are the needs that Finder application can address among the different market segments:
Extended families
  • Peace of mind about safety
  • Proactive safety action enabled
  • Ability to find other family members and join-in an activity
  • SOS alarms in case of emergency
Youth
  • Cool tool to see where close friends are as a nice to know information and to communicate on
  • Ability to join-in best friends in their activities
SMEs
  • Ability to optimize mobile workforce task allocation and customer service levels
  • Asset management by tracking employee phones
Occasional users
  • When traveling
  • Couples providing safety to each other
  • Any group of friends needing to get together
  • High value asset logistics
  • Etc.

 

Finder services in emerging countries have proven that extended families and youth drive the initial demand. These two early adopter market segments create word of mouth buzz, driving demand to the main stream across all market segments. Within 18-24 months it is expected there is also significant demand among small and medium sized companies and occasional consumer users who have a variety of reasons to locate other people. SMEs can use cost-effective Finder service to optimize supply chain effectiveness.

Marketing of Finder services needs to follow common marketing approach. Initially certain amount of general awareness is needed to create viral effects of the service. In emerging countries this needs to be reached by above the line market communication. Call for action is also important when offering new type of service to the market. Customers will build the habit of using the Finder service over time. Powerful call for action in emerging markets is created with “special offer” that is free or near-free trial offer for a limited time period.

Once customers have decided to use the Finder service, it is of paramount importance that the service is easy to start using and key features don’t require a manual.

Continuation of use is mainly influenced by the value provided to users and affordability. Key features providing value to the mass market as an on-going basis:
  • Universally understood location – currently only landmark location offers this in every country
  • Ease of use – simple and brief commands and messages. No need to read a service manual
  • Affordability – premium SMS price but at an affordable level so that typical mass market user doesn’t have to think twice if he or she will FIND daughter’s location
  • Local languages supported – mass market is usually only comfortable with the main local languages

Our Gecko Finder is optimized with the above features and is on its way to reach the mass market penetration levels in several countries.

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Gecko Landmarks
tag:blog.geckolandmarks.com,2013:Post/197806 2013-02-26T10:45:00Z 2013-10-08T16:03:32Z Landmarks in Finder Services

Today, some telecom operators offer a Family and Friend finder type of service where mobile phones may be located by text message. For operators, Finder Services are generating attractive revenue growth that can be easily boosted by marketing. For customers, Finder Services have become practical and functional part of ordinary safety management.

In emerging countries, where the numbers of mobile phone users are growing the fastest, Finder Services do not serve the operators very well as they must meet local needs more precisely and be customized in a way that masses get real value experience. The services have three important elements that determine whether the client's user experience will be good or bad: price, ease of use and location data quality. Ultimately the quality of location data determines how well such a service works for the end-user: It works just as good as the reference location data is.

Normally Finder Services use GIS-data (Geographical Information System, geographical database) provided by the operator or a local GIS data company. Finder Services and GIS data reconciliation has proven to have number of problems which limit Finder service quality and user experience in emerging countries.

GIS data provides a variety of elements that can be used for referencing the location in Finder services: POI data (Point-on-Interest type of information), addresses or map visualization. 

  1. No one has used POI data successfully in Finder services. The main problem with POI data is the choice of an appropriate data from huge quantity on data: You need to choose just the right POI element to define a wide area, and this requires a lot of local knowledge and understanding of the POI data theories and capture methodologies. Another problem is availability of reliable and updated POI data in emerging countries.
  2. Local addresses work reasonably well in “developed countries” where well-defined and harmonized address databases are available and people understand and use exact addresses. In emerging markets, addresses do not work at all in Finder services. Addresses of GIS data are not completed (if there is any) and harmonized, and customers do not have any tradition to use or even understand addresses.
  3. In some Finder services, location is also visualized in a digital map, especially in Internet use. This works quite well, but location accuracy is never good and highly generalized. This method requires plenty of understanding, knowledge and interpretation of the maps that customers usually are lack of in emerging countries. Ease of use is also compromised with maps as one needs to zoom in and out to read the map. Only some of the phones support traditional map visualization.

In addition, there are a Finder services that do not use any external location database references, but simply gives name to each cell coverage area or cell-id. The cell-id itself provide a location reference for the mobile phone. This method is simple but if location names are not systematically well developed, end-user will not understand location.  This system also doesn’t support more accurate location technologies beyond plain cell-id and the bigger the network the more complex it becomes to maintain and make sure that the location names work for the end-users. There are plenty of cases where this has failed and are not aware of any successes with this method.

Therefore GIS-data and cell-id naming does not provide sufficient technical solution for the location referencing of Finder services - But Landmarks do - the best and the most natural solution. Finder services and landmarks are a good example of how the two things can be combined to a workable solution that is more than the sum of its parts.

A single carefully selected landmark can almost perfectly define the area of one cell-id

Landmarks are accurate, their designation and selection is made in a way that the locals understand and recognize them. Landmarks define spatially suitable sized areas, which correlate well with the areas that operators’ cell sites cover. Furthermore, if there is a lot of human activity, there is also a high cell site and landmark density, in rural areas sparser but in the same proportion.

Landmarks as a location reference are also a scalable solution. Operator's network have a more precise location determining technology, landmarks may be still the same as they have already been selected to define the specific area, no matter how accurately operator network technology determines the location. There are always more landmarks than sell sites. 

Finder services need to provide up-to-data location references. Since landmarks are carefully selected and justified, updating is much easier and faster than for GIS data references; In GIS data updating, all elements are usually updated simultaneously for the one area. Gecko Landmarks is committed to update all global landmarks every 6 months.

Finder services are based on the principles that the location of every mobile phone will be determined as accurately as possible, and the location is provided in a way that everyone locally understands and has real every day value. These principles can be met only with landmarks as a location reference – Landmarks enables Finder services for masses in emerging markets.

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Gecko Landmarks
tag:blog.geckolandmarks.com,2013:Post/197809 2012-06-26T15:55:19Z 2013-10-08T16:03:32Z 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.

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Gecko Landmarks
tag:blog.geckolandmarks.com,2013:Post/197810 2012-05-11T09:39:00Z 2013-10-08T16:03:32Z 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.

 

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Gecko Landmarks
tag:blog.geckolandmarks.com,2013:Post/197811 2012-03-30T12:30:00Z 2013-10-08T16:03:32Z 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).

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Gecko Landmarks
tag:blog.geckolandmarks.com,2013:Post/197812 2012-03-23T10:12:52Z 2013-10-08T16:03:32Z 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.

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Gecko Landmarks
tag:blog.geckolandmarks.com,2013:Post/197814 2012-03-07T07:23:00Z 2013-10-08T16:03:32Z 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!
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Gecko Landmarks
tag:blog.geckolandmarks.com,2013:Post/197815 2011-12-02T15:30:00Z 2013-10-08T16:03:32Z 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.

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Gecko Landmarks
tag:blog.geckolandmarks.com,2013:Post/197816 2011-11-18T08:31:22Z 2013-10-08T16:03:32Z 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!

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Gecko Landmarks
tag:blog.geckolandmarks.com,2013:Post/197817 2011-10-12T09:46:00Z 2013-10-08T16:03:32Z 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.
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Gecko Landmarks
tag:blog.geckolandmarks.com,2013:Post/197818 2011-10-07T08:50:07Z 2013-10-08T16:03:32Z 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!

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Gecko Landmarks
tag:blog.geckolandmarks.com,2013:Post/197819 2011-07-29T15:30:00Z 2013-10-08T16:03:32Z 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

 

Check out our Facebook-group to get these blog updates via Facebook!

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Gecko Landmarks
tag:blog.geckolandmarks.com,2013:Post/197820 2011-07-15T15:00:00Z 2013-10-08T16:03:32Z Friday's Favorite Landmark: Anawangin Beach

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


(Photo source: http://yabagmc.wordpress.com/zambales-beaches/)

Anawangin Beach, Pundakit, Zambales, Philippines
Coordinates: 14.87985 °N, 120.07011 °E (Google Maps)
Favorited by: Gilmer Bianzon / Datadev Team

This beach is situated in a cove off the coast of Zambales. I’ve spent most of my vacation in this lovely place. There’s no electricity or cellphone signal, accommodation is by tents only. It’s a perfect place to relax and get drunk all day.

 

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Gecko Landmarks
tag:blog.geckolandmarks.com,2013:Post/197821 2011-07-01T09:08:00Z 2013-10-18T09:59:15Z Friday's Favorite Landmark: Kaitaisten Silta

This if the first part in a series of weekly posts where we show some of our landmarks that are interesting, fun, or just personal favorites.


 Kaitaisten Silta (Kaitainen Bridge), Taivassalo, Southwest Finland
Coordinates: 60.54869 °N, 21.51578 °E (Google Maps)
Favorited by: the undersigned

This is the last and longest bridge when driving to the island of Kustavi. For me it's a special landmark, because my family has a cottage really close to it.

The bridge has a really nice view, and going to the cottage this is the perfect place to check the weather and water conditions to see if it is going to be a good day for wakeboarding, kiteboarding, or what.

There is a separate platform for walking below the surface, and when I was a kid, we would be anventurous and walk across under the bridge. I think they have built fences and locked doors so one does not get to go there anymore.

Kaitaisten Silta in Gecko SMS

By the way, if you want to get our blog updates via Facebook, you should like our Facebook-group!

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Gecko Landmarks
tag:blog.geckolandmarks.com,2013:Post/197822 2011-06-28T16:00:00Z 2013-10-08T16:03:32Z Without GPS, how does Google and Android know where I am

Simplified diagram of the messages passed during a network location lookup
in Gecko SMS. The messages are usually passed purely inside the phone
with cached data, sometimes over the Internet

Gecko SMS and many other applications are dependent on knowing the location of the phone they are running on. The usual way for a device to get its location is using GPS, Global Positioning System, but this can be slow, use a lot of battery, and is sometimes totally unavailable; especially indoors.

But Gecko SMS for Android phones works really well even when GPS is turned off or not available. How is this possible?

The answer is "network location", which is a method based on either the mobile or WLAN networks that the phone can detect. Basically each cell (i.e. tower, base station) in a network has a unique ID*, so it is possible to build a list of all the IDs and their coordinates. Mobile phones are always connected to some network cell**, so to get the location or the phone, one can look it up from this list based on the current cell ID.

The tricky part is getting a list of all the mobile network and WLAN cells in the world, with their coordinates. Mobile operators do not usually publish the locations of their towers, and there is no central list for wireless network routers either. This means that someone must physically go to all possible places and record the IDs using some kind of a device. This is where big companies have great advantage, and for example Google has two major ways for doing this. The first one is by crowd sourcing: Everyone that uses Google Maps on a mobile phone with GPS enabled is also feeding back network data to Google. This is quite brilliant and works well: the phone needs to contact Google servers to get the maps, so there is little overhead for also gathering the network data. It also means that for Google Maps, network location is really reliable in all the areas where they have active users. The second method that Google uses is data collection by their Street View cars that drive around many countries. In Europe, there was some controversy about this as the cars accidentally collected a bit more data from the WLAN networks than just network IDs.

Such a list of ids and locations for each cell in the world is too big to be stored in a phone, and needs to be constantly updated, so the full data is stored on servers. The phone uses normal mobile internet connection to get the relevant locations from the server when it needs them, and stores these for later use.

This whole solution from Google is built into the Android platform, so all Gecko SMS needs to do is use the provided APIs and it can almost always get a location to work with. Pretty neat!

Also other new smartphone platforms have similar functionality built-in, but this has not always been the case. Last year when we built a prototype of Gecko SMS for the older S60 Symbian platform, we had to deal with the cell ID lookups and related database queries in our own code. Simple HTTP requests, but nevertheless tedious to get right especially when network connections and location tables are not 100% reliable.

Network cell IDs are not a foolproof way of getting a location. As networks change, there is a chance that the list of locations for the cells is outdated. I noticed this first hand a few months ago when I moved house: my WLAN router had physically moved, but still had the same ID as before. Thus at my new place, all my test phones were giving the location to my old place. This continued until I renamed the WLAN, so Google picked up the change. These kinds of incidents however are rare enough that it basically "just works".

Another limitation is that especially for GSM networks, a single network cell covers a wide area, so the location defined by it is quite inexact. GSM cell location is accurate to about 200-3000 meters, whereas WLAN and WCDMA (3G) cells can provide an accuracy of 50 meters or even less. This inaccuracy is something that has to be handled on the application level. In the case of Gecko SMS, the application learns the users choices and can automatically single out the exactly correct landmark even from inexact location information.

 

Google Maps and Gecko SMS show current position with a large circle to indicate that the location is inexact, in these examples detected from a mobile network cell ID.

 

 

*) That was a bit simplified: For GSM/3G networks this ID contains Mobile Country Code, Mobile Network Code, Location Area Code, and Cell ID. For CDMA it is System Identification number, Network Identification number, and Base Station ID (SID, NID & BID). For WLAN networks it is the MAC address and network identifier (SSID).

**) If the phone is not not in airplane/offline mode
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Gecko Landmarks
tag:blog.geckolandmarks.com,2013:Post/197823 2011-06-22T08:56:00Z 2013-10-08T16:03:32Z Hello world, what is a landmark?

Hello world, this is the blog for Gecko SMS.

We just released Gecko SMS for Android in the Android Market, and there was some brief discussion about the concept on Hacker News and on reddit.com. This chance to discuss the idea with people outside our little circle of geo-nerds made me see some weaknesses in our message. This blog is one of our ways to improve on that.

As the first post, I'd like to share our thoughts on what a landmark is. This is a fundamental thing for us, that's what we do: develop and maintain global landmark data and applications that utilize it.

But what does the word landmark really mean?

The Wikipedia-page on landmarks, makes a distinction between American and British English usage of the word: In American English the word is usually "used to designate places that might be of interest to tourists due to notable physical features or historical significance" where as "landmarks in the British English sense are often used for casual navigation, such as giving directions".

Without taking any sides on the language of choice, we definitely go with the latter understanding: landmarks are not just places for tourists. They are anything that can be used to define a location in an widely understandable way, for example schools, shopping malls, buildings, corners of main streets, museums. Anything that helps you locate yourself and everybody locally knows.

Here is an example of a landmark that is highly useful for giving directions in Makati, but definitely not a "must see" for tourists visiting Manila:
 

McDonald's H.V. dela Costa, Makati, NCR, Philippines
 Coordinates: 14.56070 °N, 121.01790 °E (Google Maps)

(BTW, today they had very cute girl behind the counter, and the 25 PHP Sundae tasted extra good because of that!)

So that is how we define a landmark.

Check back later on this blog for other examples of cool landmarks, and more information about what we are doing with this data.]]>
Gecko Landmarks