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— urbantick

Historic Earth – Old Maps Georeferenced for the iPhone

Former old map app has transformed and teamed up with a large library and is now Historic Earth. The old map app featured earlier this year on the bog with a review and now we want to look back, previous post HERE.
The really big change is the data, the app now has in the background. It draws the data from Historic Map Works a huge database of maps, containing some 1’000’000 maps including United States Property Atlases, Antiquarian Maps, Nautical Charts, Birdseye Views, Special Collections (Celestial Maps, Portraits, and other historical images), Directories and other text documents. Their main business is to provide high quality images of old maps to researchers and map enthusiasts. The main focus is North America, but they stock and increasing number of world maps and others. This means for now that the iPhone app also only covers North America. But this is changing, they have a visual counter on their web page to demonstrate how they are making progress both, increasing the service for the iPhone and geocoding maps in general. The aim is to offer some 130’000 maps in the next month. You can follow them on twitter to check on the status. For facebook lovers here is the fan page.

Image by urbanTick – Screenshot, looking at the Los Angeles Bay area over different times.

The iPhone app is probably aiming at map enthusiasts mainly really. As for research one probably wants’ more specific access to the data. However the app serves a fascination and is very addictive. It is developed by Emergence Studios as was the old map app. It is introduced as “Historic Earth allows you to map the history of cities, times, buildings and landmarks. View historic maps showing property owners, see buildings constructed and replaced, and watch the landscape change over time.”
The app is using OSM for the background to reference the layers to the modern map of the location. The overlay, the base can be adjusted in its transparency with a slider, normal gestures as known from Google maps are used to navigate the map. Once in the actual map window it is great you flip between times with the arrows provided and watch the area change. The trouble really is to get into, as the menu is not intuitive and there is for example no link between the map showing the covered area and the actual historic map.
However once figured out that in the settings the “lock frame when switching maps” switch is set to on it is a real pleasure to browse.
Not only the area changes, but also the representation techniques and focus of the maps. In this respect it is also a documentation of a changing space perception.
It is a bit slow to load here in London, I suppose this is down to all the 32’000 maps have to squeeze into the tube to get across the big blue : ) But the frustrating thing is not that it is slow (I don’t mind waiting for interesting content), but there is no indicator that something is actually happening. Usually while loading the screen only displays the, sort of, old paper background, but no progress bar or indicator of any sort. It is also one of the very few apps to choose not to display any information of the usual top bar with basic iPhone stats, like quality/type of connection, time and battery life. So there is no way you can tell the device is actually doing something and this has, at least for me, been very irritating I have to admit.
But sure enough, this is the first release of the app (if you don’t count the previous one) and as usual there are some things that just had to be done quickly in the end, but can easily be solved and improved in a following update. The main thing is the quality of the interface and the value of the data available. For both of these points the app scores very high!
You can get it for some £3.49 from iTunes.

Image by urbanTick – Screenshot, settings, coverage and menus