No more getting lost? That’s a shame

We recently did a road trip around California navigating around using the TeleNav Scout app and OpenStreetMap offline. Overall the app did very well, we didn’t get particularly lost, the directions were largely clear and understandable (more on that in a minute), we saved a fortune in data roaming charges (thank you OSM contributors) and we certainly didn’t follow any obscure tracks to the middle of nowhere like the picture below. All of which prompted a few disconnected rambling thoughts.

Lost in Transmission

First off, offline navigation with OSM and Scout is pretty damn good. Of course you would expect California with its massive geek population to be well mapped and it is, but what was a surprise was the high level of building numbers that have found their way into OSM. There were only one or two occasions when we could not navigate directly to an address and on one of those occasions the instructions from my mate Ken Field said

“xxx St is probably the shortest road in America…about 50 yards. It has 2 houses. One is on the road, ours is up a ridiculously long driveway. You will probably arrive at xxx St via yyy St, turn right and just past the stupid giant black gates with white pillars (next door’s back entrance!) is a more modest driveway with a brick built mailbox with our address on it. Just head on up that driveway and you’ll find us at the top”

Which was almost as useless as the SatNav which got totally messed up and tried to take us through someone’s back garden, but  we found it eventually.

Scout handles addresses that it can’t find elegantly taking you to the centre of the street and making clear to you that this is not your final destination but the nearest it can get you to. If I wanted to be picky, I would moan a little about some glitches in the continuity of freeways which occasionally misled me into turning off at a junction and then turning straight back onto the same freeway at the same junction. It would be great to have an inbuilt feature on the app that could flag those little errors and allow you to fix them later on, I guess it would need to be something like simple geocoded voice notes activated by a voice command for safety. So all good for a thousand miles or so, then I decided to fiddle with the settings! Sea of Sound  

“Idiot!” you say and I agree with hindsight. There was a setting that offered the shortest route, I just thought that would be a good idea. It didn’t occur to me how much longer it might take to drive the shorter distance on these routes, great on short journeys perhaps, good for cyclists or walker but not when you have hundreds of miles to travel and find yourself being dragged down backroads, dozens of tiny turns to save a few yards etc. That setting should have a safety warning “This setting may increase your journey time” So that mistake, which took me a couple of days to work out, routed me off some of the faster routes onto the back roads and guess what? At least some of those roads were interesting, we saw some places that we would have missed (good and not so good), it added a little edge to our travel (“are you sure we are going the right way?”), we weren’t exactly lost but we were a bit uncertain about where we were going. The promise of SatNav was that you would never get lost again, that you would travel along the most direct, fastest routes, that you could avoid traffic and be warned about cameras so that you could speed in between them and then slam on your brakes (not a recommendation, just an observation of ‘others’ behaviour). But ultra efficient travel may be a bit boring, there’s no opportunity for a serendipitous discovery. So here is my feature request

Can I have a setting that let’s me choose the ‘scenic route’ or the ‘interesting route’ rather than the fastest or shortest route?

How great would it be to get just a little bit lost and to discover some interesting place or a beautiful route along the way. I am glad I found my way to meet up with my pal Ken Field on the “shortest street in America” otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten to drink geobeers, while talking mappery and staring at his globe shaped fire pit, nor would I have got the personalised tour of the ‘map factory’ aka The Esri Campus

In the garden of the map factory

Glad I sneaked my Google Maps t-shirt in there and didn’t get booted out.


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