Monday, October 11, 2010

Finding Your Way Through the Mall or the Airport, With a Cellphone Map

Mobile phone maps have guided people through streets and alleys around the globe. But when those people step into a sprawling building, they can get lost.

Inside, people have to ask strangers for directions or search for a directory or wall map. A number of start-up companies are charting the interiors of shopping malls, convention centers and airports to keep mobile phone users from getting lost as they walk from the food court to the restroom. Some of their maps might even be able to locate cans of sardines in a sprawling grocery store.

“It was my wife’s idea — she was six months’ pregnant and she couldn’t find a restroom,” said Sam G. Feuer, chief executive of MindSmack, the New York company behind FastMall, one of the indoor mapping services. “It’s the same thing for people in wheelchairs or with strollers who need an elevator.”

Users see a floor plan of a shopping mall, for example, with stores indicated by name. Escalators, exits, restrooms and elevators are also marked.

FastMall has a search engine to help users find stores on its maps. Enter “Banana Republic” and the service places a pin on the map to show the store’s location. Tap the “take me there” button and the service plots a route to the destination. To find the nearest restroom, all users have to do is shake their phone.

Most of the indoor mapping apps are free, like PointInside, FastMall and Micello, which work on the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. PointInside is also available for many Android phones.

Because mobile Internet connections are sometimes difficult to make indoors, some of the services download their maps onto users’ phones when they first check in on the service. If the connection later fails, the user still has access to the map.

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Source photo: Laura Pedrick for The New York Times /

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