Tracks, Maps, and Apps

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.

Tracks

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.

Maps

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.

Apps

Google Maps & Compass

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.

Google Maps - not so great in the countryside

Google – not so great in the countryside

Google Maps - great for the city

Google – great for walking in the city

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.

Road Tour South East England OS Maps 1:50k

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).

Ordnance Survey iPhone Map

Ordnance Survey iPhone Map

Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger Map for iPhone

OS 1:50k Landranger Map for iPhone

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.

Ordnance Survey Landranger Mapping app iPhone Create a Track

Create a Track

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.

Memory-Map

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.

Memory-Map for iPad

Memory-Map for iPad

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.

Cycle Streets

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.

Cyclestreets - a great app which runs in a browser

Cyclestreets – a great app which runs in a browser

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.

UK Train Times by Agant Ltd

UK Train Times - Live Departures screen shot

UK Train Times – Live Departures screen shot

UK Train Times - Live Departures screen shot

UK Train Times – Live Departures screen shot

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.

traveline south & east By Malcolm Barclay

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 .

traveline south & east screenshot

traveline south & east screenshot

traveline south & east screenshot

traveline south & east screenshot

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.

I’m interested in lots of things, in no particular order: society, politics, public services, open data, technology (and what you can do with it), wildlife, photography, the countryside, and long distance walking.

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Posted in apps, iPad, iPhone, Technology, travel
6 comments on “Tracks, Maps, and Apps
  1. Interesting blog. Not a great walker myself, well not since I gave up geocaching.

  2. Louise says:

    What a useful collection of apps. I live in a place where the reception isn’t great so Road Tour SE sounds perfect.

    As Peter mentioned I’ve also fancied geocaching and there is an app you can get but I think you need network which is usually my issue.

    I’m looking forward to the “open” version of this post.

    • markbraggins says:

      Hi Louise. I’m going to have to look in to geocaching – a couple of people at work have mentioned it as well.

      Might take me a few weeks on the open version as I haven’t got my act together sufficiently yet and want to do justice to the topic. Really appreciate you taking the trouble to read and comment on the post – thanks very much. Mark

  3. Graham Simpson says:

    Hi Mark,
    Thought your review of memory map was a little unfair. You can download the maps to your PDA so you don’t have to wait for them to stream. The other great thing is site’s like walkingworld you can pick walks and download straight to memory map for ready made trail.
    Good article though,
    GSi

    • markbraggins says:

      Hi Graham, thanks for commenting. I certainly didn’t mean to be unfair. Sounds like I need to have another go at downloading maps for memory map. Happy to correct if it was ‘user error’. I will have a look at walkingworld, which I haven’t used before. Cheers, mark

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  3. [...] GPS makes journey planning really easy (where am I now, how do I get to where I want to go etc). I blogged about some of that a few weeks [...]

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