Home Articles MacauMap: Tourism-Oriented Mobile GIS Application

MacauMap: Tourism-Oriented Mobile GIS Application

Robert P. Biuk-Aghai
Faculty of Science and Technology
University of Macau, P.O. Box 3001
Macau S. A. R., China
Tel: (+853) 3974365, Fax: (+853) 838314
Email: [email protected]

It is a well-established fact that Macau is a city of tourism. Ever since the Macau government’s declaration in 1961 of Macau as a ‘city of tourism’, the tourism industry in the territory has experienced a rapid and continuous growth. Today, tourism is the leading economic sector in Macau, having replaced previous eco-nomic strongholds of garments and textile. In 2001, around 10 million visitor arrivals to the territory were recorded, the majority of whom came to Macau for holiday purposes. Given this background, the continuous development of tourism is an important issue for the local economy.

When tourists visit a new place, they need to orient themselves in that place and for this purpose maps are used. In Macau, paper tourist maps are made available to visitors free of charge by the Macau Government Tourist Office, showing main areas of interest as well as main streets and thoroughfares. Paper maps such as these are useful for gaining an overview of a place and for finding places that are of interest to tourists. At the same time, such maps also have limitations:

  1. They are only able to show a limited amount of detail, determined mainly by the size of the map as well as the volume of data that is available for representation in the map.
  2. It is difficult to locate a street or place of interest being searched for.
  3. It is difficult to locate one’s own position in the map.

To overcome these shortcomings of paper maps, and to develop an alterna-tive for tourists visiting the Macau territory, we set out in Autumn of 2001 to create a tourism-oriented mobile GIS application. The selected target platform was PalmOS, meaning that personal digital assistants (PDAs) made by Palm Inc., Handspring, Sony, and others would be able to run the application. These make up about 50% of the current PDA market, with over 24 million units in use. Later, support for the Pocket PC platform was added, extending support to another 25% of the PDA market.

Following requirements were identified for the application to implement:

  1. Display of street layout and street names, coastal lines, green areas, and lakes.
  2. Map navigation: zooming, panning, navigation history.
  3. Ability to display text labels in the map in English or Chinese, and to switch between languages.
  4. Display of the user’s current location using a reading obtained from a con-nected GPS device.
  5. Public bus network and bus guide for calculating an optimal bus route from a starting bus stop to a destination bus stop.
  6. Sightseeing guide providing information about museums, churches, temples, and other places of interest, as well as their location on the map.
  7. Hotel and restaurant guide providing a choice of restaurants and hotels match-ing criteria of location, class and style, and displaying the location of selected hotels/restaurants on the map.

Development of the application, designated “MacauMap”, has in the meantime completed, and the application is currently available for free download from the Macau Government Tourist Office’s website. Some 10,000 copies of the software have been downloaded in the first month since its public release. Out of these, about 90% were for PalmOS and the remaining 10% were for Pocket PC.

Technical Challenges
As the MacauMap application was intended to operate on a wide range of hardware devices, from PDAs with 16 MHz processor speed to those with 400 MHz proces-sor speed, with memory from as little as 2 MB to those with 64 MB or more, and with screen resolutions from as little as 160 x 160 pixels to 320 x 320 pixels, de-sign and implementation of the application had to overcome a number of technical problems:

  1. Performance: The main challenge in implementing MacauMap was to achie-ve acceptable map drawing performance. All maps are drawn using vector graphics. A performance target of 1 second drawing speed was set for 90% of all maps, with no more than 2 seconds for the remaining 10% of maps. Initial prototypes achieved only about 8 seconds performance, and conse-quently much effort was devoted to improving map drawing performance. Eventually, the performance goals were achieved.
  2. Memory consumption: A further challenge was controlling memory con-sumption. As some PDAs only have a total of 2 MB memory, the application and all its data had to fit into this small space, and also leave enough memory for other applications. It was decided to use no more than a total of 500 KB of memory. This presented a challenge, given that source GIS data, provided in ArcView format by the Macau Government’s Cartography and Cadastre Bureau, took up close to 2 MB of storage. To meet the memory size target, an efficient data storage format was developed, as well as an application for converting from ESRI shapefiles into this format. The resulting GIS data now measures only about 250 KB, with another 250 KB being used for the application itself.
  3. Screen size: The screen size of PDAs is extremely small, when compared with desktop computers. Typical screens measure only about three inches diagonally, compared with 17 inches on a typical desktop computer. The small PDA screen also has a low resolution, as low as 160 x 160 pixels. Thus a challenge exists in presenting information on the screen in a way that avoids overloading the screen while at the same time providing suffi-cient information to be useful. A number of techniques were developed in order to selectively display information dependent on zoom level and device capability, achieving a readable display.

An example of the interface of MacauMap is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: MacauMap user interface
At the time of writing, the MacauMap application has been available for more than one month. Initial feedback from users suggest that it has been successful in meet-ing its objective of promoting tourism in the Macau territory. Comments posted on web discussion boards by MacauMap users from China and Hong Kong indicate that the availability of the MacauMap application provides a greater incentive for them to make a trip to Macau.

Moreover, MacauMap has proven to be useful for local residents too. Partic-ularly its ability to suggest bus routes from an origin to a destination bus stop, as well as its ability to switch the display language, making it possible for the user to see the name of a street in another language (Chinese vs. Portuguese), were found to be most useful.

Our current experience confirms to us that there is value in a GIS application oriented toward use by the public in Macau. The decision to make MacauMap available free of charge has contributed to its successful adoption, and early indi-cations are that the Macau tourism sector is benefiting from its availability.