I was surprised that these apps haven’t been more useful for our Explorers. I’d love to hear of different stories. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and share!
Location tracking has been a big win for our Explorers. To my surprise the map and transit apps we’ve tried have been less valuable … so far! I’ll try to explain why.
First, a little background. There are exactly two 1 map and navigation apps for the iPhone, Apple Maps.app and Google Maps.app. They are both very good at managing auto navigation, but most Explorer’s don’t drive cars 2. Aside from auto navigation they can be used for walking, transit (bus, light rail, etc), bicycling, and sharing a location. I’ll discuss each of these — and my guess on why we’ve seen limited use over the past 5 years.
Our Explorers walk of course, but they don’t walk alone to unfamiliar places. When they walk in familiar locations their needs vary. One Explorer is exceptionally good at navigating a location after even one visit — so he has no need of walking directions. Another could benefit from walking directions, but smartphone pedestrian navigation is not a great experience. Google Maps.app walking navigation is particularly weak, 3 but both Apple maps.app and Google Maps.app are limited by today’s location tracking technology. It’s just not well suited to a slow moving person. I think walking directions will be more important in the future. Today I’d suggest using Apple Maps.app for walking rather than Google Maps.app
Transit (bus, light rail, etc) directions have also been less useful than I’d once expected. In practice transit directions are complex to plan and follow; they require careful attention to time. One Explorer regularly uses public transit, but he uses only a few routes he knows well. If an Explorer needs a Transit app I’d recommend Apple Maps.app if it covers your region, otherwise consider either Google Map.app or Transit.app 4.
Some Explorers ride bicycles in urban areas, but our bicycling Explorer doesn’t use Google Maps. He only travels routes he knows from prior rides. In my own bicycle riding I have found Google Maps better for route planning than for turn-by-turn directions, and even then I’ve gotten some ill-advise route directions. This is another area where there’s room for improvement.
Lastly there’s the option of an Explorer using Apple or Google maps to identify their current location and share it by text message or a phone call. In practice however we’ve never needed that, we know where our Explorers are using location tracking.
Map and Transit apps turned out to be less useful than I’d expected. It’s an area we’re continuing to work on.
1 There used to be more but most have been abandoned. These two are both excellent.
2 Our Explorer #1 does watch my Google Maps.app when I drive. He warns me when it looks like I’m going to ignore a map prompt.
3 When I use Google Maps walking directions I lock the map so the compass icon doesn’t rotate, then I lock the phone screen so the phone doesn’t rotate, then I find North using Compass.app and orient the Map arrow to point north. Then it’s useable. I really wonder what Google was thinking.
4 I’m not sure how this app stays in business though.