Travelers can pack smart phones but shouldn’t count on them for directions
I recently read an online article about 6 technologies that would become redundant and disappear in the coming years . This theme was subsequently repeated almost verbatim on CNN, in daily newspapers around the world and eventually found its way, as they do to NZ newspapers and other local media.
Examples included printed newspapers, land-line phones aka POTS (i.e. a pair of copper wires carrying 50v of power that proved invaluable after the Christchurch earthquake when there was no electricity, something for Civil Defense people to think about) and one predicted the demise of portable navigation devices. I thought that was interesting because, smartphone navigation solutions have limited capability when there is no network connection. My maps of New Zealand, USA and Australia are well of a GB of data on my TomTom, which has served me admirably on my motoring travels, especially when I had no connection. I used my favorite smartphone apps as well, like Foursquare, but there were several times in rural USA where I had no mobile connection.
Some people say use printed maps as a back up, however, you may not have noticed, but the market for printed maps is drying up as very few people want them any more. In fact if you are into collecting items that will one day be relics, collect street maps.
One of the things the article that prompted me to write this blog, was niche areas such as hiking where mobile map apps often don’t have local information is very pertinent. Waze only recently caught up with local streets around where my 20 year old house is and when it comes to tracks and trails, often it is only specialist services and government who bother to track places of interest. There are many apps for these and I think the key here is not about mobile connectivity, but rather the commitment of an app or service to the specific field of interest or geographic market.
In New Zealand there is one mapping company devoted to driving every road in the country, maintaining every speed zone, school zone, road maintenance, traffic information, turn restrictions etc and that is TomTom, having purchased the NZ Automobile Subsidiary GeoSmart a year or so ago. They were the principle producer of cartographic maps, tourism maps, car navigation maps and specialist data for location based analysis, real time and historic traffic data and much more. Other brands associated with map data were very good when it comes to large urban centers (although not up to date as quickly) but not so good when it comes to smaller towns that are in fact changing and growing quickly as urban sprawl and a greying population looks for better lifestyle, which many people are finding when they buy cheap navigation products on price or rely on free apps.
In a city, many say near enough is good enough (until they drive around a one-way system a few times and keep missing the spot where they need to get off).
The other area that is a hot topic to me is traffic congestion. Traffic congestion definitions start when more than one vehicle enters a road or carriageway. Many systems I have used don’t have a database or at least an up to date database of traffic management systems. I.e. they don’t know if there are intersection controls and whether they are lights, roundabouts (rotators), controlled or uncontrolled intersections, They therefore often falsely interpret a few cars, stationary at a red traffic light, as congestion when it is normal for that location.
I will write more on travel times, real and estimated in an upcoming blog, to help explain how they work, because they are fluid and not a fixed point in time. There is also the question of accuracy, which is also subjective and can cause stress to people relying on them to get to a location such as an airport on time. A recent story in Queenstown, NZ, popular with the rich and famous; and the rest of us, where Google was asked to change their travel times https://nz.news.yahoo.com/a/-/top-stories/25928338/travel-times-readjusted-on-google-maps/ illustrates this.
What is a bigger problem if you are looking at real time travel times RTTI, that rely not only on connectivity to receive them, but also on a critical mass of the right type of vehicles or travelers providing the data, and the ability to analyze these quickly is illustrated when we look at traffic events on major highways in remote areas. Services like live traffic information Google are often very good in major urban areas, but sometimes all but impossible to find any information at all outside of the cities, even on major state highways.
Bottom line, there is no one size fits all. You need to understand your reasons for using these services and don’t just apply one business case to it. Then look for the best fit for that purpose/purposes. It may be multiple devices. Don’t just trust a big brand name or buy on price if the cost of getting it wrong is more than the difference between cheap and quality. Don’t assume that because the brand name is big and well respected that it is the best in everything it does.
If in doubt, ask people, ask an expert. There is a corollary that is well known in the software and consumer goods industries and that is people will often defend a poor purchase, or poor product once they have made an investment. They don’t want to look stupid. If you want to buy an SUV to go offroading, will you ask someone who has a four wheel drive that has never been off the road?