The popularity of location aware devices and software has been on the rise for the last five years, since Google Maps and Microsoft Virtual Earth (now Bing Maps) were initially released. Surprisingly, however, the utilization and adoption of geo-location and mapping haven’t been as rapid as I had speculated back in 2005. Today there are all kinds of location based applications and services popping up.

Paper Maps and Expensive Software

Prior to 2005 the existence of maps were mostly on paper. You kept them in your cars glove box and pinned them to you office wall. I remember having a paper map of the world tacked to my bedroom wall as a kid. Mapping software did exist (ex: vehicle and asset tracking, military use, etc.), but it was prohibitively expensive for most businesses. Sure, there were less expensive mapping applications, like Microsoft MapPoint, but…* (I know I could discuss this in plenty of detail, but let’s just get on to the point of this post.) *

Google Maps and Microsoft Virtual Earth

In 2005, both Google and Microsoft launched there own mapping services that utilized the latest web technologies and standards. This was a time when Web 2.0, Ajax, and plenty of other buzz words collided with maps. While the consumer facing websites for these services were (and still are) really nice, they don’t bridge the gap between users, devices, data and location. Luckily for everyone, both Google and Microsoft have had a publish API to there mapping services since the beginning. This API allows software developers to utilize these mapping services within their own applications.

Mashups and Real Estate

Using the published API’s from both Google and Microsoft, many web programmers created mashups displaying all kinds of data plotted on a map. These mashups generated a ton of buzz online, but the excitement of them pretty much stopped there.

At the same time these mashups were being created, many software developers were working on integrating these maps into other industry. One in particular was consumer facing real estate websites. Back in about September 2005, I was one of those developers innovating the traditional real estate search by integrating mapping and location-based user interfaces. In fact, I came up with the idea on my own without seeing other implementations first, but that story is for another time.

Since then, there have been a ton real estate websites retro-fitted with mapping functionality. Although, keep in mind that many of them fail to meet my original vision of how consumer facing real estate mapping should be implemented.

Here’s a list of some of the sites that exist today:

Location Aware Mobile Devices

With the release of the iPhone, in 2007, location aware mobile devices finally hit the mainstream. The ability to build location aware mobile apps has brought with it some rather interesting consumer facing services that utilize location and mapping.

Here’s a list of some that exist today:

The Future of Location

While location and mapping are being utilized in consumer facing applications and services, there still hasn’t been much innovation for bussinesses except for the marketing advantages that these services provide. There are a ton of innovations in this space that no one has even seen yet, so if you think Mapping / GIS is old and not fresh; think again!

The fact that location aware smart phones have finally hit main stream use, and Mapping / GIS software is not quite as expensive as it used to be are two enablers that will be driving some real innovation over the next few years.

I’ve been working on some really awesome innovations in the Mapping / GIS space for a little over a year now. Believe me, I would really like to explain some sample implementations of what I’ve been working on, but I can’t publicly announce anything just yet.