Don’t Forget the Map

Around this time every year, a fierce competition takes place on the streets of my hometown of Chicago, and this year’s no different. (And while I’m a lifelong North Side girl, I’m not referring to the Cubs’ competition for the playoffs crown.) Each year, the folks from publishing behemoth Meredith Corp. host a scavenger hunt across the city. The evening typically involves solving clues from recently published articles, as well as limo rides around the city, a lot of swearing, and a few minor traffic violations.

Teams of seven comprise agency buyers and planners, and my team truly believes this is our year. Our confidence comes not from past performance but from a strong desire to avoid falling to the bottom of the pack again. To help us back up our boisterous words with action, we’ve expanded the check list of necessary items team members must bring with them.

What does this have to do with mobile?

As a team, we’ve concluded our past low showings are due largely to poor navigation choices. While we have a chauffeured limo, thus far we’ve had no luck bribing the driver to help us with directions or preferred routes. This year, we’re putting all our eggs in the proverbial basket of mobile-mapping applications.

An e-mail sent out last week directed each team member to bring a mobile phone accessible with local directory and mapping features. I got the asterisk next to my name with the notation of “mobile expert,” so I spent the weekend with several mobile devices to determine my strongest weapon for the hunt.

I started with the WAP (define) deck of my everyday phone. It seemed like a good time get up to speed on my carrier’s offerings. On my deck was a listing for “Shop, Travel & More.” This listing revealed a few featured companies and apps, as well as some listings within the broader category. In just a few minutes, I realized these listings wouldn’t supply us with the edge we were looking for; the screen clicks alone would kill us on time and momentum.

Next, I returned to my digital roots and searched “mobile location applications” on Google. The usual articles and press releases came back touting a few family-based location services. Others listed familiar company names, like Garmin and Telenav. But the obvious listing was staring directly at me: Google Maps.

While I’ve used the application before, I took a few minutes to read up on its latest feature set. Then I typed the WAP address into my mobile browser to begin the download process. A screen or two later, I accepted a notice from my carrier that it didn’t endorse or support the app and up popped a map of Chicago and its outlying suburbs.

It all looked familiar, but the satellite feature was new to me. I tested it out by keying in the location answer to a clue that tripped up my team last year. Sure enough, there was the four-block grid of the Gold Coast neighborhood that’s home to the Newberry Library. My hope for a respectable finish in this year’s hunt rose two-fold. I closed the app, ended my browser session — and panicked.

Where was the “My Applications” folder on my menu screen? Tried as I might to remember, I drew a blank. Several failed attempts later, I finally found the app again and saved it in “My Favorites.”

While I have no idea if our ability to successfully launch and use Google Maps during the scavenger hunt will actually help our odds of winning, navigation and search applications will be a huge factor in the continued growth of mobile data consumption. We, as an industry, must ensure consumers know the benefits of these features and can easily access them on a consistent basis. Otherwise, industry growth projections won’t be met.

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