Archive for February, 2011

GMZD: Google Maps Zoom-out Distance

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Here’s a fun and simple measure of distance between any two locations, A and B. First, find A using Google maps and zoom in (centered) as far as you can go, though don’t go into street view as lots of places still don’t have that. Now, if you can already see B on the map, it has a Google Maps Zoom-out Distance (GMZD) of zero because you don’t need to zoom out at all to see B. If you have to zoom out once, then A and B are at distance 1 according to GMZD, etc.

For example, let’s start with Union Square in New York. Fully zoomed in we can see Coffee Shop, so that’s at distance 0. Those things are about a minute’s walk from the center of Union Square. Zooming out one click, we pick up Bowlmor Lanes on University Place and the Whole Foods Market at the South of Union Square. Those things are at GMZD-1. The outer edge of distance 1 is about a few minute’s walk from Union Square. Continuing outwards, Betaworks is at GMZD-4, Central Park at distance 6, Boston and Niagara Falls at distance 12, Florida, Winnipeg, and St John’s, Newfoundland at 14, San Francisco at 15, Barcelona at 16, and Sydney at 17. (Although you can zoom out 18 levels, GMZD-17 seems to be as many as you practically need to see anything.)

You can also think of GMZD as half the number of clicks you’d need to do on Google maps to go from being fully zoomed in on A to being fully zoomed in on B (with some panning in between). When you look at Google maps you can count the number of notches on the little slider (see image on left) above your current zoom level to see the GMZD from the center of the visible map to its outer edges.

Update: I meant to mention that GMZD is not a formal distance metric. It is non-negative (GMZD(A, B) >= 0) and symmetric (GMZD(A, B) = GMZD(B, A)) for all points A and B, but distinct points can be at distance zero and (as a result) the triangle inequality also does not hold (e.g., Union Square is distance zero from Coffee Shop, and Coffee Shop is distance zero from Union Square Cafe, but the distance from Union Square to Union Square Cafe is one. Not being a metric space is what makes it interesting, though :-)

Apple channeling Microsoft?

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Image by Lara64

Apple’s behavior, as described today in the New York Times and in Ars Technica reminds me of Microsoft building MSIE into Windows. When that happened, other browser manufacturers cried foul. They argued that this was bundling, that few people would want to use a non-native browser, and that Microsoft was using its platform monopoly to tilt the browser playing field.

Here again we have a vendor (Apple), with an operating system platform (iOS), with a piece of extremely valuable functionality (the App Store) built in by the vendor, who are now strong-arming others writing applications for the platform into always offering access through their functionality. That all reminds me of Microsoft.

While it might now be difficult to think of the iPhone without the App Store, the iPhone existed for 18 months before the App Store came along: the iPhone was released in January 2007, the App Store in July 2008. Windows and MSIE also started life as independent entities; it was about 2 years before they were fused and optimistically declared inseparable.

The two cases are obviously not the same in detail, but I find the similarities striking and thought-provoking.

Just for fun, imagine a court case aimed at forcing Apple to make their App Store separable from their operating system platform. To allow others to build their own app stores. To give the user the choice to install/uninstall whatever app stores they liked. Imagine Apple claiming that such a separation is technically impossible and that the App Store is fundamental to the iPhone experience.

Couldn’t possibly happen, right?