Mobile

Tag Street: QR codes for estate agents

QR codeQR codes are becoming a common sight in the UK, used for all sorts of things, from innovative marketing campaigns to museum guides. The codes can be a great way for people to get more information about a topic right there and then.

In my day job at Inteeka we have been looking at ways of using QR codes in the estate agent industry, where it's important for potential customers to be able to get at property information with ease.

By scanning a QR code, potential tenants or buyers can be taken directly to the estate agent's mobile site, giving detailed information about that specific property; they can find out pricing information, photos of the interior and any other important information, as well as letting the customer register their interest while they are still thinking about it.

Tag Street board and stickerTo let estate agents try out QR codes for their own portfolio of properties, Inteeka is launching a service called Tag Street, allowing agents to order QR code stickers and signage boards they can attach to their existing property marketing signs. Both boards and stickers will be free (with the exception of postage) and estate agents will only pay if their customers are making use of the boards to view property information.

If you're interested, you can find out more over on the Tag Street site. If you have any feedback, please tweet us @tag_st or get in touch.

Logos and locations in QR codes

Custom design QR code for themap.imI have spent a bit of time this afternoon looking into QR codes, and how they can be customised to incorporate logos or other information. I think the first I saw of this trend was a BBC logo embedded into a QR code, but numerous people have tried it out, such as these ones from Japan, where the QR code has already been used much more widely than in the UK.

If you haven't come across QR codes before, they are much like barcodes, but have the ability to store much more information in them. Perhaps the most common use is to store a website address in them. When scanned with a mobile app like Bakodo or the Google app for the iPhone, the handset can load up the website it points to, and instantly give the user more information about the tag they have scanned.

These 2-dimensional barcodes have a tolerance for errors, meaning that bits of it can be missing or covered up, while still being able to be read and used. That's quite handy, if you want to make them look a little more interesting and include a logo or something to attract people's attention to them. Even better, it's as simple as generating a normal QR code from the Google Charts API (e.g. one for dankarran.com), downloading it, opening it in your favourite graphics editor, and inserting your logo. Check to make sure your scanner can still read it, tweak it if necessary, and you're set. Set the error correction level to the highest value possible (chld=H in the chart URL) and keep your URL as short as possible to give you most flexibility around your logo and less chance of it breaking barcode scanning applications.

Using QR codes to improve location-based information

Custom design QR code for OpenStreetMapQR codes could be quite useful for tourist information signs, to give people quick access to more information about the local area, a map of local amenities, or directions to whatever they are looking for. Most phones that have the ability to recognise a QR code probably also have a GPS or some other form of positioning built in, which could help them find their location on the standard Google Maps, but doesn't necessarily help them get at other detailed information, perhaps provided by the likes of OpenStreetMap or provided by local information sites or the local government. Using these codes to point to targeted local information could be of great use to visitors (as long as there's a note to tell them how to make use of the QR code).

A QR code like the one at the top of the post could be useful for someone standing at a tourist information point in the Sea Terminal in Douglas, Isle of Man, as it takes them to a map centred on that point. The site it points to doesn't do much more than providing maps of the Isle of Man at the moment, and doesn't work too well on a mobile yet, but could (and hopefully will, before too long) provide much more information that could be of use to visitors. Similarly, the one to the right points to a map of Douglas on the OpenStreetMap site.

I haven't seen many QR codes in use yet, but hopefully they could become much more widespread in coming years. Could you see yourself making use of codes you found out on the street?

iPhone guide to Isle of Man businesses

If you're on the Isle of Man (or thinking of visiting) and you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, you may be interested in the latest mobile guide to the Island that's been released for the iPhone.

I blogged last year about a couple of specialised iPhone apps that let you see offline maps of the Island - but not much more - and I also mentioned OffMaps which at the time was simply an offline map viewer that let you download maps of anywhere in the world. Having released their latest version though, OffMaps now provides much more functionality in the form of a local guide to businesses, services and attractions, and access to Wikipedia articles about the places around you.

Now, if you're looking for a bar, cafe, restaurant, museum, tourist attraction - or, in theory, anything else - you need look no further than the guide in OffMaps. It'll show you its location, give you their address and phone number (though there aren't many of these yet) and link you through to their website if they have one. Note that not everything is in there, and in particular it's lacking in the shops it covers, as well as in some other areas.

OffMaps guide for the Isle of ManPubs on the Isle of ManJava Lounge café

If you run a business or service - or know of one which isn't already covered - and you'd like to advertise yourself in this guide to the Island, you can be a part of it for free.

All of the information is based on the OpenStreetMap project and Wikipedia, so you can add your information yourself. The easiest way to edit is using the free Mapzen POI collector app for the iPhone, but if you're not comfortable, just drop me an email and I'll happily add your details in to OpenStreetMap for you, for free, and you should get into the guide the next time it gets refreshed.

Note: the app is currently only listing things in certain chosen categories, so if your business falls outside of those categories it may not show up in the guide. You're still free to add your listing to OpenStreetMap though, as it could be used in the future either in OffMaps or in any other application.

Edit OpenStreetMap data from your iPhone

There are a number of iPhone apps - such as OffMaps - which let you use OpenStreetMap data, and view the maps, on your iPhone and iPod touch, but there hadn't been any apps which let you edit the data, until now.

If you are a member of the OpenStreetMap community, you've probably been out and about at some point and looked at something and thought 'hmm, I wonder if that [insert interesting thing here] is already on the map?'. Well, now if you have an iPhone you can quickly check whether it is or not, and either add it or update its details directly in the OSM database.

The first iPhone editor to launch on Apple's App Store is Little OpenStreetMap Editor (iLOE), an app that allows you to add or edit OSM nodes wherever you are. While its user interface isn't very friendly at the moment, hopefully it will improve in the future and make it easier for users to edit the data around them. In the mean time, it does do the job, so if you're desperate to edit OSM on the move, give it a try.

Cloudmade are also working on an app - the Mapzen POI Collector - which aims to give a quick, user friendly way of editing OSM data. The app tries to make it as simple as possible to contribute to the project from your iPhone, whether you were an OpenStreetMap contributor before or not. The only thing you need to do is sign up for an account at openstreetmap.org, and the app will let you add all sorts of information without having to know anything about the tagging scheme used in the project.

Currently awaiting moderation to get into the App Store, the app should be available very soon, and is definitely worth trying out when it's available. If you're interested, you can sign up to be notified when it's out. I've tried out some pre-release versions which have been shaping up very well, as these screenshots in their tutorials show.

A number of apps are available on other mobile platforms which will let you view OpenStreetMap data, and a few of them also allow editing, including the Java-based TrackMyJourney app which I recently tried out on my Nokia N95 phone.

Update (26 November): Mapzen POI Collector is now available for the iPhone from the App Store

iPhone street maps for the Isle of Man

Isle of Man street maps on the iPhoneI was looking recently to see what applications were available for the iPhone (or iPod touch) relating to the Isle of Man, and was pleasantly surprised to see that a mapping application had been released.

The application, simply called 'Isle of Man', gives users a map of the Island for use on their iPhone while they are visiting. In addition to the map, it lets users find amenities and streetnames that have been added into the OpenStreetMap database. I decided this morning to pay the 59p to download the app and try it out, but beyond the initial excitement of seeing OpenStreetMap data being used for mobile maps of the Isle of Man, I haven't been so impressed with the execution of the idea for a number of reasons...

The Mobile-Streetmaps.com website promotes this app and hundreds of other similar ones from around the world, each just a download of OpenStreetMap data packaged into an application, for which they charge 59p. While it's not a large amount to pay, the company producing the applications is profiting off the generosity of the OpenStreetMap community (and in the case of the Isle of Man, Cloud Made as well, thanks to their donation of data) with little attribution, and no mention within the app itself of the license under which the data is available.

Hopefully the company will fix the attribution issue soon, by adding a mention to the pages in the iPhone app store that the data is from OpenStreetMap, and also by adding information about the license to at least the about page of each app, and to the side bar of the pages on their website.

The app itself could be quite useful if you're visiting the Island, but it has quite a few usability issues that hamper its use:

  • Zooming in to the map, you are not shown beyond a certain level, leaving many streets in the center of towns and villages left without names.
  • Navigation within the app could really be improved... there's not even a back button to get back to the map from various other screens.
  • After searching for items, you're taken to the map, but you are left looking at the place you were looking at before, with no obvious indication that pins have been added to the map outside of your current view.
  • There is no way of clearing the pins from previous searches from the map, leading to possible confusion when searching for other things.
  • Clicking on the pins for search results doesn't give any more information to the user. It would be nice to be able to get contact details where available, what the nearest street is, etc.

If you would like to access maps offline for more than just a single place, and be able to take advantage of recent updates to the maps, you will probably be better off downloading the OffMaps app which I have yet to try, but costs just a little more at £1.19 and lets you choose the area and level of detail you wish to download, and lets you do it for as many places as you wish.

While free and open geodata from OpenStreetMap gives a great boost to these applications, it also has its downfalls in that it's likely not (yet) complete for any given area. To give an example, searching for 'cafe' amenities in the Isle of Man resulted in just the Silverdale cafe being shown on the map, where in reality there are many more cafes that aren't (yet) listed.

To help improve the amount of data in the Isle of Man that's represented in OpenStreetmap, in particular relating to points of interest (POIs), I'm planning to hold another mapping party on Saturday 1st August. I'll post more information about this soon, but put the date in your diary if you're interested in helping put some of these amenities on the map. If you'd like more information in the mean time, please get in touch.

Update: having contacted the author of the apps, he's already been working with the OpenStreetMap community and has agreed to improve on the attribution, which is good. I also tried out OffMaps and liked it, but one thing it doesn't give you that the individual place-based apps do, is the access to find the location of POIs and streets while you're offline (though it does work when online).

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