I got the idea of blogging about maps and apps a couple of weeks ago whilst reading Louise Brown’s fascinating first post for the #weeklyblogclub entitled: “How will I be using technology in 2012″. I’m interested in technology – not for the sake of it – but where it can be used to solve practical every day problems, or make life a little bit easier.
I’m not quite ready to blog about work as I don’t think I’ve relaxed in to my own style of writing yet. I’m fascinated by Phil Jewitt’s ‘Life Leak’ whereby: “Over time, the contents of a bloggers head gradually transfer into the pages and posts of their blog.” I’m convinced he’s right, and really look forward to reading more from him about that.
In the meantime, this week’s post from me is about walking, and maps, and iPhone apps.
Walking is one of my hobbies, particularly over long distances. Over the years I’ve backpacked in Australia, tramped in New Zealand, clambered up Kilimanjaro and trekked an Inca Trail.
Closer to home and less exotically, during spare weekends I like to catch a train to somewhere distant and then walk home again. In my really fit days I was doing over 30 miles in a day. I don’t do that very much nowadays – in 2011 my longest day walk was Salisbury to Winchester which is around 24 miles, but it’s still a pretty respectable distance.
It’s just as well walking’s a hobby, as I don’t use a car and travel everywhere by public transport. I catch the train every day for work, and walk the several miles to the station. When there’s time I walk back again, or otherwise catch the bus. It helps to keep the pounds from piling on as quickly as they otherwise would, and I use the “slow time” to plan the next day or reflect on the one just gone.
I carry Ordnance Survey Landranger maps when walking in the UK, particularly for longer distances. I’ve had some of my favourite maps for so long that they’re barely legible, and have been patched many times. What a wonderful invention Sellotape was for a world dependent on paper.
That said, however, in the last couple of years I’ve been using a bit of tech as well as paper: I frequently use my iPhone to find a destination, identify a route, measure distance and estimate time. If trains or buses are involved, I also use it to check timetables, locate bus stops and check departures. I’ve tried quite a few map and travel apps and in the remainder of this post I’ve listed some of the iPhone and iPad mapping and travel apps I’ve tried – viewed from a walker’s perspective.
Google Maps is probably the first app that most people think of for maps. It works well for roads and offers the usual choice of Standard, Satellite, Hybrid and List which will be familiar to desktop users. I tend to use it in urban areas, particularly for walking in London between two points, post codes or addresses.
It’s not very good at recognising footpaths, however, and usually directs you via roads.
I hardly ever use it in more rural areas and don’t use the public transport option at all – According to Google there never seem to be any buses, at least where I’m going.
You’ve got to really want an app for walking to stump up the £11.99 for this app. I did, and I don’t regret it (I partly justify the cost to myself on the basis that it runs on both iPhone and iPad, and I do use it frequently).
If you use printed maps from Ordnance Survey, then OS Maps 1:50k will look pretty familiar.
Across the UK there are around a dozen areas to pick from with a separate app for each one. I have the South East and South West of England.
I really like the fact that it doesn’t rely on the mobile network, with the maps residing on the ‘phone. As a result they are really quick to load, and remain visible even when the phone isn’t connected to a network.
There’s a gazetteer so you can search for a place name, grid ref or Lat Long, which is also extremely fast.
You can create tracks yourself by selecting points on the map and the app will calculate the distance. It’s a little fiddly plotting a route on the iPhone screen, but perfectly do-able with a bit of practice.
I’ve included Memory Map here as it has some features which I really like – such as recording a route as you walk it, and a comprehensive dashboard.It’s also really easy to plot a route, particularly on iPad. A mobile only license for for up to 25,000 sqkm from anywhere in GB is currently from £12.50, making it another pricey choice.
Unfortunately I found it more annoying than useful when out walking as it loads map panels piecemeal, and I kept having to activate or reactivate panels – really impractical unless there’s great network coverage.
In my opinion this app is best used on an iPad in a location with good wireless and broadband coverage. I ended up deleting it from my iphone to save space.
I’m only an occasional cyclist, but I really like Cycle Streets. What’s more, it’s free.
I use it to help select a route for walking on roads and will often use its rather neat facility to select quietest – versus fastest or balanced – route.
Whilst I prefer a public footpath any day, a quiet road route is sometimes a good substitute, particularly when it’s muddy. With Cyclestreets there’s an app but the browser version works really well as well – in fact, if anything, I prefer it. With even poor network coverage the browser version runs quickly. It also looks great.
At £4.99 this is a bit pricey but it’s simple to use, very reliable, and fast. Features include Live departures and arrivals for favourite stations, a friendly journey planner which remembers your recent journeys and – nice touch this – ‘next train home’ from wherever you are.
In my opinion this app is great value at 69p. It’s got a comprehensive journey planner – basically the same as it’s web cousin – which lets you select departure / arrival times, modes of transport, walking speed & maximum walking time .
Having set your preferences and clicked ‘Get Journey Plans’ you then see a list of options which lead to a detailed itinerary for each option.
It also ties in with NextBuses which is presented as an icon within the same app.
Footnote: What, No Open data?
If you’ve made it this far and you’re wondering why there’s no mention of apps which use open data, I do intend to blog about that separately once I’ve done a bit more research.
If you know of any open data travel apps that you like I’d really like to hear from you.