Mobile Maps in our Future?

Oct 28, 2010

I think I'm about to ask a loaded question. It stems from a presentation I attended a couple of weeks ago at the NACIS Annual Meeting (North American Cartographic Information Society). It's about maps and mobile devices. Are you ready? (Am I ready for your answers?) Here goes:

What kind of features would you like to see in a map that would live on your mobile device while on a bicycle tour?

Other questions that flow logically after this one:

  • First and foremost, do you want this kind of map/application for the road?
  • What device would you want it to be on? Your phone? (Android or iPhone?) Your GPS unit? (Garmin?) An iPad? Your ebook reader? (Kindle? Nook?) Something else?
  • Do you want it to be a live application that knows where you are in that moment?
  • Would a static digital map be helpful on the road? Or only for planning purposes?
  • Would you enter feedback about the contents of the map if you could?

While we believe that paper maps are a long way from falling entirely out of fashion, and we're not alone in that belief according to this article, "Don't Throw Away Your Paper Maps Just Yet," we know that eventually our maps will be available electronically. The road to getting there is unclear and not on the immediate agenda but it is time to start thinking seriously about what you -- the users of our maps -- want and what it would take for us to make it available to you. Let us know what you are thinking and we'll begin compiling your input for this future development.

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GEOPOINTS BULLETIN is written by Jennifer 'Jenn' Milyko, an Adventure Cycling cartographer, and appears weekly, highlighting curious facts, figures, and persons from the Adventure Cycling Route Network with tips and hints for personal route creation thrown in for good measure. She also wants to remind you that map corrections and comments are always welcome via the online Map Correction Form.

Comments

Kent Peterson

First and foremost, do you want this kind of map/application for the road?

Yes, but please keep doing the paper maps. They are wonderful!

What device would you want it to be on? Your phone? (Android or iPhone?) Your GPS unit? (Garmin?) An iPad? Your ebook reader? (Kindle? Nook?) Something else?

Right now, the market would be i-devices and Android. Do the data as an open GPS standard and you'll get the ability to go to various GPS units & other devices as they come out. The Nook is already Android based. I'd love to have an ap on my Kindle, it's the lowest power drawing device out there and it is about the only thing out there with free 3G.

Do you want it to be a live application that knows where you are in that moment?

Yes but have it elegantly deal with not having GPS or 3g location info. For example trees & canyons can block GPS signals, you can be out of cell range, etc.

Would a static digital map be helpful on the road? Or only for planning purposes?

Yes. Planning doesn't stop once you are rolling. Weather, fatigue, mechanical failures, and other things all can make you want to (or need to) modify plans on the fly.

Would you enter feedback about the contents of the map if you could?

Yes. This would be great for getting up-to-date info on thing like the hours of the Pie Town Cafe.

Thanks for the great maps (keep doing them!) and asking these questions.

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson

Issaquah WA USA

http://kentsbike.blogspot.com/

October 28, 2010, 1:53 PM
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lieb

Work with Google. They are light years ahead of everyone else in this regard.

October 28, 2010, 2:32 PM
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Steve

I can see using digital maps for planning, but once I'm on the road I would not want my maps dependent on an electronic device and its battery. Nope, primarily paper maps for me.

Any digital version should be as flexible as possible so it can work with whatever devices folks have.

October 28, 2010, 6:43 PM
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Jenn, Cartographer

Thanks for the feedback and input Kent, Lieb and Steve! We'll be compiling these bits so we can start to take a look at next steps.

October 28, 2010, 7:00 PM
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Jenn, Cartographer

PS Glad to hear you still think, in the face of new technology, that our paper maps rock!

October 28, 2010, 7:00 PM
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Corey Porter

- First and foremost, do you want this kind of map/application for the road?

Sure! I'm not giving up paper maps any time soon -- no batteries to run out or screens to crack -- but having a digital version that maybe integrates well with Yelp or similar (for burrito-finding purposes) would be handy.

- What device would you want it to be on? Your phone? (Android or iPhone?) Your GPS unit? (Garmin?) An iPad? Your ebook reader? (Kindle? Nook?) Something else?

iPhone/iPad or Android, definitely. Something mobile and general purpose.

- Do you want it to be a live application that knows where you are in that moment?

Absolutely. A live application would be great for those "wait, did I miss a turn a couple of miles back?" moments.

Would a static digital map be helpful on the road? Or only for planning purposes?

A static map that runs in the browser -- and ties in to Google local search or similar -- would be handy. Less so on a mobile device.

October 29, 2010, 1:03 PM
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Lisa

I'd like to put in a vote for map data for Kindle. It's a great bike touring device: low-cost (free 3-G!), lightweight, and with battery life measured in weeks rather than hours. The 3rd generation Kindle has a decent web browser and can handle PDF files.

Garmin GPS would also be of interest. I appreciate the GPS data you are already posting for your maps. Having waypoints for amenities such as food and lodging near the route would be very useful.

Although I'm an Apple fan, I wouldn't take the iPhone or iPad on tour because of their limited battery life.

October 29, 2010, 1:47 PM
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David Lewis

I just spent the whole afternoon with my iPad mounted on an "xMount", originally intended to attach to the headrest supports of a car, but instead mounted to a Racktime "TopIt" rack.

I was a little afraid the iPad would jump out of its mounting, so I took it a little easy at first, but then I went on some trails and I encountered a lot of rocks hidden under the layer of leaves. It's still not rock-solid, but I would do it again. It's secure.

So I can report that an iPad mounted to a bike is physically possible with existing components, but power is another thing altogether! With GPS on and tracking active with the screen at full brightness, I used no more than 50% of the battery in the three and a half hours of riding. Do the math, and it's a pretty short tour before the iPad becomes dead weight.

There are devices which take advantage of the hub dynamo during the day when the lights aren't being used, and convert it to USB power for electronic devices. This seems to me like the solution for using an iPad on the road, whether for navigation or just for casual use off the bike.

I would personally want active maps that I can follow like a Tom Tom, or waypoints like on the Trails app. I would pay for just the waypoints alone, except that in areas where there's no cell service it would be useless. So if your application also included maps in its database, I would be sold.

October 30, 2010, 4:32 PM
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adamrice

I recently finished the Southern Tier and in addition to using the printed maps, I logged my progress on my iPhone using an app called Cyclemeter. In general, I liked being able to track my progress and see where I am on the map (not that I ever missed a turn, of course). The experience brought to light some problems and opportunities if ACA ever published an iPhone app.

- The iPhone's GPS system occasionally flakes out. Sometimes severely. Cyclemeter will report the total amount of flake-out time per ride, and I don't think I had a single day where there weren't at least a few minutes of flake-out.

- One of Cyclemeter's great features is spoken updates, so that you don't run down the battery by keeping the screen lit, or distract yourself by looking at it. An ACA navigation app that could speak upcoming cues would be fantastic.

- I can envision something a little like Google Street View, where photos of the surroundings at a cue are available (perhaps indicated by a special tone accompanying the spoken cue).

- It would be a shame not to take advantage of the bidirectional communications ability of a smartphone, by allowing riders to put landmarks on the map indicating new services, or remove landmarks when services have become unavailable, which could be vetted and pushed out as live updates to other users. I'd definitely update landmarks.

- Battery life is an issue, but not as much as most people might imagine. I kept Cycelemeter running during all my rides (including stopped time), occasionally breaking into other apps like Maps, Mail, Twitter, etc, and there were only a couple of especially long days (10+ hours door-to-door) when I needed to recharge en route, which I did with a tiny charger than takes a couple of AA batteries. An app that keeps the screen on at all times would be another matter.

- Lack of cellular data need not be an issue if the ACA is providing their own map tiles or using Open Street Maps tiles. The GPS doesn't need cellular data to locate you or show landmarks. Riding off of the provided map tiles would, obviously, require map tiles to be downloadable from somewhere.

- One way I used Cyclemeter was to send periodic e-mail updates to my wife, showing my location. Something like that seems like a no-brainer.

I can't see much point in a static map except as a last-ditch backup to a lost printed map.

October 30, 2010, 11:36 PM
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mustshirleyb

I did the trans am in 2006, and took the hours required beforehand to reformat and load all the GPS route data for the route into my Magellan GPS. So I had turn by turn directions the whole way. Sometimes things got confusing or batteries died, and we had to get out the paper maps, but for the most part it gave us a great freedom.

I've always imagined a wiki for a particular route, where people on the route could send in updated info for things they discover, much like what happens when an east bounder meets a west bounder on a route, critical information is exchanged about the road ahead, amenities, places to eat, camp, things to see and do etc. If users could contribute this info to a database it would be available for anyone on the trail or still in the planning stage. Combining this with a digital map on a smart phone or other device with GPS would be even greater.

November 10, 2010, 4:20 PM
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Jenn, Cartographer

Thanks for the continuing feedback!

mustshirleyb: Though it's not a wiki, we do promote the use of twitter hashtags (see them at: http://blog.adventurecycling.org/2010/06/routes-mapping-now-on-twitter.html) for communication between riders on the same route.

November 10, 2010, 6:45 PM
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Bike Maps for my Garmin nuvi 2360LT

While I think it'd be a good idea to offer mobile maps for cycling on a variety of platforms depending on people's preferences, I'd prefer to have mobile maps loaded onto my current GPS unit: a Garmin nuvi 2360LT. I use it way more often than my phone for GPS and love everything about it. Is there any plan to eventually make GPS units wi-fi friendly so we could download apps and easily upload our progress from a GPS unit we carry with us?

April 5, 2011, 7:45 PM
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