Legal programmer creates iPhone app that’s sweeping the globe

Computer programmer Dan Charrois displays his application Mapster on his iPad. The Apple app allows people to download detailed topographical maps from anywhere in the world. – Stephen Dafoe Photo
By Stephen Dafoe

Legal – A Legal computer programmer has recently invented an application that has made the world seem like a smaller and more accessible place. Dan Charrois released Mapster in early-May, an application that allows users to see detailed views of any part of the world. The application has already been downloaded more than 40,000 times in its first six weeks of existence.

Like so many applications, necessity was the mother of invention. For Charrois, Mapster was the type of application program he wanted to see available.

“We do a lot of travelling and I like hiking and things like that in places where we don’t always have cell network coverage,” Charrois said. “We’ve went travelling in Europe where you have to pay a lot extra to get data coverage on your cell plan.”
The program inventor said Google Maps are available on many portable electronic devices, but require an internet connection. Additionally, Google maps are limited in their delivery of topographical information, important information to hikers and backpackers.

“I kind of made my own version of Google Maps, but more along the lines of addressing those shortcomings,” Charrois said, adding no Internet connection is needed once maps have been downloaded to the iPhone or iPad. “You download them ahead of time and then it stores them on the device.”

The inventor explained the maps have detailed topography with hiking and ski trails outlined, allowing travellers to see where creeks, ravines and other elevation changes are along the way. Sun position simulation casts digital shadows on the topography, enhancing the 3D appearance of the terrain.

For Charrois, creating the program was simply what he does. The professional computer programmer said his first project out of university was creating an astronomical simulator to map the sky. “I mapped the universe, now this is kind of going the other way and mapping the earth,” he said.

The raw data for the world maps came from a website similar to Wikipedia but edited by cartographers from around the world who edit their own regions, plotting trails and roads. Charrois then merged that information with elevation data collected by the space shuttle to provide the topographical details. “I kind of married the two together so I have the maps with the topography,” Charrois said.

Apple Bound

Once Charrois had Mapster developed for iPhone and iPad use, he applied to Apple to have the program recognized as an official application. “Apple reviews it,” he said. “They don’t have to like it, but they have to make sure that it doesn’t break anything, and all that sort of stuff. Then they put it up in the App Store.”

From that point, it is largely word of mouth as Apple product users discover the program and spread the word to other users. And that word has spread. More than 40,000 Apple users have downloaded the application since it became available May 4. Charrois couldn’t be happier, as an inventor and as a map enthusiast.

“Being that it’s a mapping app, I get to find out where they’re all at, too, because that’s the whole point,” he said. “It’s interesting because it’s literally everywhere in the world. All over the place you get little dots of people using it. When I did a stat, it was something like 110 countries.”

The application is particularly popular in Europe; however, since its release Mapster has been in the top 40 applications for 80 countries, even achieving the number one position in the navigation category in the US for a few weeks. The application has held a top 10 position in Canada since being released.

Downloading the application is free; however, users are limited to how many maps can be downloaded in any given day. Unlimited use of the application can be obtained for $1.99 per month or $9.99 per year.

Now that Mapster is spanning the globe, Charrois said he has other projects in mind for the iPhone and iPad, some even more ambitious than Mapster.

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