Short Take : Indians Can Now Read Maps!

Google-MapsI was recently trying to find a friend’s place in Kolkata.

The cabbie driving the endearing but rattly old Ambassador was new to the city and seemed nonplussed. He said – and I translate and paraphrase a much more colorful use of words – “You have internet on the phone, na? You can see the map on that – and we’ll get close enough and then ask someone.” As it turned out, that strategy had to be employed since Google had shown us a route right through a one way street in the opposite direction, so local information imposed on top of the map came in handy.

But hey, the big story was that the new-to-town-cabbie knew places could be found on a map on the Internet. And even peeked in to try and figure out when we came upon the unannounced one way!

A few months ago, I had a similar experience in Delhi, where taking an auto is usually a pain. I got off the Metro to take an auto to my final destination barely 4 kms away and very deliberately opened the map to checked the distance while starting a conversation with the auto guy. To my query about how much it would be – he responded with a smile – “You know anyway.” I happily paid the 50/- he then asked for. Another time a friend had reported an argument settled through the map with an auto guy in Bangalore. Yep, technology is being recognized and understood!

Olacabs recently introduced the Android app and with it, map based navigation inside the cab! Other cab companies are following suit. GPS based systems are appearing in passenger car fleets, trucks and buses as well.

And thanks to cheap Android phones, everyone has a GPS enabled device now. As data plans get cheaper, many will experiment with apps, and maps as well. Runners, cyclists and a few travelers are already plotting routes – expect many more to join in for a varied, and yet unimagined set of reasons.

A while ago, I’d argued with a close pal working with maps for a major internet company in India that Indians cannot read maps like they can read cities and streets on the ground, and interpret directions from people around. From what I have seen recently, this is surely changing. RouteGuru was early in the game, but today the opportunity to reintroduce map based services might well be ripe.

India – across economic segments and geographies – is starting to get comfortable with digital maps!

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