A mapping service allows users to see street maps, topographical maps, and with some, the view from space. Many mapping services have gone online and are browser based, allowing anyone with Internet access to use their services free of charge. Some of the popular online mapping services include Google maps, Yahoo maps, Mapquest.com.
There are also desktop applications, such as Microsoft Map Point®, which obtains map data from an web service run by Microsoft®. The desktop mapping applications allow data to be imported from an Excel spreadsheet and placed on a map. This feature can be very useful in conjunction with customer based software for creating route maps for sales travel and other purposes. Since these applications also use a web based mapping service for their updates, road construction and other changes to map data will be pulled into the software.
Recently, Global Positioning Systems (GPS) have become exceedingly popular. A GPS unit uses satellite signals to determine the position of the receiver. Then internal map software is used to display the current position and route to the user. These devices also obtain updates from mapping services, but the updates are typically not free to the user after the first update. Some of the popular GPS devices can accept maps and or routes prepared by an online mapping service. This allows a user to create the route they need on a PC and send the map to the GPS device.
Mapping services are also becoming available for use on mobile phones that are web enabled. This will allow a user of the phone to access a map service to get directions or locate an address. Some wireless providers include their own mapping application to handle these requests while others use existing mapping services either directly through the phones browser or through a downloadable application that connects to a particular mapping service via the web.
Google® has taken their mapping service to another level by creating an Application Programming Interface (API), which allows users to create their own map driven applications based on the Google mapping service. Many applications, from real estate company websites to event maps, are being built on the map application from Google. Another feature that has been added to their mapping service is street level views for some cities. This allows a maps user to look at a photo of the street they have entered into the application. The street view service is only available in some markets.
The capabilities of online mapping services have come a long way since being introduced. It remains to be seen just how far the giant companies of the web take these extremely useful applications.