A couple of weeks ago I took our new Tracks4Africa Guide app out for some field testing. I was driving back from George in the Southern Cape and decided to ditch the national highway in favour of some back roads. I specifically wanted to drive in an area that I do not know very well and I also did not want to use the normal GPS for the task of finding my way.
The general idea was to drive gravel roads from just outside George across the Langeberg Mountains to Barrydale and then from there along the R62 back home.
Apart from the normal technical testing I wanted to establish if the app can be used for basic navigation. When you use your normal GPS for navigation it will calculate the fastest or shortest route from George to Barrydale. That would have meant a trip down the N2 highway, crossing the Langeberg mountain range via the Tradouws Pass, which in itself is a beautiful drive.
In contract to the GPS, using a paper map you would be able to trace a route of your own via the back roads making sure you take in as many passes as possible. The problem with the paper map though is that you cannot zoom in and out and on top of this orientating your current position on the map can take some time and you can get it wrong quite easily.
The guide app has the same, familiar cartography as a paper map, but it currently supports nine zoom levels making it easy to get an overview or zoom into the detail. It also displays your current position on the map, so orientation is taken care of.
Here is an example of being able to zoom in.
Now zoom out and see where you need to go after the passes.
All you need to do, is decide where you want to go and when there is a turnoff approaching, glance over to the map and see if that is indeed the route you wanted to follow.
As you expected I would say, the app does a wonderful job at providing this information and if you are looking for a coffee shop you hit the point of interest buttons to show places around you. But I am being brutally honest, the fact that you can see where you are and the map has a familiar look and feel makes it really easy to set a course and you always know where you are.
This, in my opinion, is taking us back to the ‘old’ way of navigation. The days when we only had paper maps we were forced to keep our mental map intact. With the GPS we became spoiled by Sally giving us instructions where to turn. But as they say, magic comes at a price. The price for this magic is that your mental map is not kept up to date and you do not actively take part in the navigation process. For city navigation a GPS is truly convenient, but then I recall the evening I had to drive from O.R. Thambo airport to Sandton in a rental. The GPS took me straight through Alexandria late at night and I felt really uncomfortable with this choice that I did not make. But it was my own mistake for not taking part in the navigation process.
For this reason I am very optimistic about our new guide app. It brings back the familiar feel of a paper map combined with the technology that makes it easy to know where you are. It combines this with very comprehensive travel information in the form of points of interest and to top it all, everything is available without the need for an internet connection.
We are constantly adding functionality to the app and we still have to develop it for the Android platform. We will keep you updated on this progress throughout.