Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Mapy.cz, best online/offline map app+server

Update: The superb maps app released as "Windy Maps" for Android and iOS.
LIGO-VIRGO: The European 3/4-size, LIGO-like detector, VIRGO, has finally joined its two larger American siblings and they collect the data together.
Seznam.cz was and probably still is Czechia's most visited web page – and the company behind it, a formidable, locally stronger competitor of Google's.

I am proud to have spent an hour chatting to Ivo Lukačovič, its founder and owner, in the early 1990s. We participated at the Liane BBS Session – a real-world gathering of folks who would otherwise only chat through the telnet-based Bulletin Board Service. We were talking shortly before he founded the company, during our walk to the summit of Ještěd, a Northern Bohemian hill (Sudetenland) with a famous hyperboloid structure at the top.

"Seznam" means a "list" or a "directory" and the company began as a Yahoo-style "list of all Czech websites". You can imagine that this approach to the Internet has been somewhat obsolete for quite some time. So Seznam.cz gradually embraced a full search engine and – usually with some delay – most of the other services that non-Czechs mostly associate with Google. The map server and application, Mapy.cz ("mapy" is "maps", the plural from "mapa" i.e. "a map"), is one of the most successful projects of this big Czech company.

I recommend you to
try Mapy.cz website, download Android app, iOS app, WM app.
This blog post is being written right now because the Android map was just upgraded to version 5.0 which contains offline maps of the whole world. That new version will come to iOS soon, too.

For example, after you tap the three-dots (other commands) and "offline mapy" (the web exists in Czech and English, the apps only in Czech so far, as far as I know), you may download the whole U.S. to your Android phone – it is some 22 gigabytes – or you may download each of the 142 U.S. maps separately (states but also various districts, groups islands etc.). In all these applications, you will face the language barrier. The first thing the American readers should know is that "Spojené státy americké" is the phrase for "The United States of America". The U.K. starts with "Spojené", too. But you will see flags and it's not hard to use the functions even if you don't understand the Czech.

First, let me start with the server, Mapy.cz. I chose the map to start at the Harvard Square. You may try to search for places next to the magnifying glass. English isn't a problem – except that you shouldn't use the two-letter abbreviations of the states.

The website offers you to change the map type ("change the map"). In Czechia, you may pick one of the 14 map types - basic, tourist's, winter, bird view from 5 different years, geographic, transportation, 19th century, haptic, and a text map. Outside Czechia, the options are a bit limited. On top of that, there is the 3D view which you may rotate, even automatically – see 3D view of Harvard Square, try the buttons at the bottom.

Through the right-click, you may get the 3D view – here you have the 3D model of the Prague Castle etc. And then there's the Panorama mode, i.e. the Czech Street View which was created and is being updated by Czech competitors of the Google vans. Here you have the Old Town Square's Panorama.

Both the website and the smartphone apps allow you to navigate from one place to another – there are special routes optimized for cars, bikes, skis, walk, and boats – and save your optimized navigation path or the path recorded by GPS to your "backpack".

The backpack and other sharing and similar functions are best used if you create your own Seznam.cz account (and e-mail address). Note that on this page, you can switch to the English language (flags at the top).

Almost every Czech with a smartphone is using Mapy.cz – which also exists on Windows Phone/Mobile. I think it's an example of the very bad Czech P.R. that this good server and application hasn't been marketed in the world yet. Maybe I should have made this point to Ivo before I posted this blog post. But I guess that he's satisfied with being an approximate Crown Billionaire – are there advantages of being a Dollar Billionaire? ;-) (The original version of this text suggested that the website Mapy.cz is only in Czech as well – it's in both languages and I have updated it after they corrected me.)

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