Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Another update on BlackBerry 8800 GPS / Mapping software

A few more updates on mapping and GPS software for the BlackBerry 8800, following on from my previous posts on this topic. I plan to pull all my experiences in this area together into a more detailed review shortly.

I have become more impressed with BlackBerry Maps over time. While it lacks the step by step directions capabilities of TeleNav and WisePilot, and its maps aren't as detailed or nice looking as either of these or Google Maps Mobile, it does have some advantages. One which I became acutely aware of while I was in Europe and on a data plan where I had to pay by the kB (as opposed to getting unlimited data in the US), is that it requires much less data to be downloaded. I have used it for probably several hours altogether, and it tells me that it has only downloaded around 300kB of data during that time. In contrast, a single map screen is often around 100kB or more in Google Maps Mobile. If you just want to track on a map where you are going in a moving vehicle (like a car, taxi or train), as opposed to following a route, then BlackBerry maps is probably the most effective for that. Aside from the cost issue, I found that Google Maps would struggle to keep up with tracking in a reasonably fast moving car, just because it needed to download another 100kB plus of data every few seconds, whereas the more compact data stream needed for BlackBerry Maps meant that it had no problem keeping up. Another interesting little technical snippet is that I realized that the annotation on BlackBerry Maps is vector based and is dynamically rendered on the client, which means that they can do things like having a "heading up" orientation to the map, so the map dynamically rotates with the direction that you are heading in always being at the top, and the annotation always stays the right way up. In contrast, Google Maps only offers a "North up" orientation. BlackBerry Maps also tells you your current speed and travel direction, which Google doesn't.

I continue to like Google Mobile Maps for the quality of both the street maps and imagery, and the addition of support for the internal GPS is a great feature.

I recently downloaded WisePilot, which is more focused on navigation, with turn by turn routing capabilities and voice directions, so it's similar to Telenav. As I mentioned previously, Telenav only works in the US and Canada, whereas WisePilot supports almost all European countries in addition. I like both applications - they are both well designed and do a good job. WisePilot has a nice clean screen layout and a few features which TeleNav doesn't, like showing you your current heading and speed in addition to giving you directions. One drawback with WisePilot is that I found that its geocoding often seemed to work just at the street level, it couldn't determine the correct location on a street - this happened to me both in Europe and the US. If I give it my home address of 1792 Wynkoop St, zip code 80202, it comes back with a section of Wynkoop St in zip code 80216, a couple of miles away. If you search for points of interest it seems to do a better job finding the correct location. For this reason, Telenav still ranks as my first choice of navigation software for the BlackBerry 8800 in the US, but WisePilot is definitely worth a look. One other nice feature is that they have a web site where you can log in and create locations, save favorites, etc, which automatically download to your BlackBerry.

I bought MobileTracker for BlackBerry from Skylab Mobilesystems (who also develop Spot), which records tracklogs in the background, which is something I was looking for, to let me geocode photos. Unfortunately it is no use for this purpose, as it just saves a KML file with a list of coordinates, but does not include and timestamps. It would be much more useful if it exported GPX format, which is the standard for GPS tracklogs, which includes both coordinates and timestamps. I also found that running in the background wasn't very reliable - twice I just set it running at the beginning of the day, and in one case it collected a couple of minutes worth of data, in the other case none at all, even though it appeared to be running at the end of the day. You can open up a simple user interface screen while it is running, but there is no indication as to whether it is running correctly or how many points it has captured, just a button you can press to stop recording and save a file. So I'm rather disappointed with this one so far I'm afraid, it would need GPX support and improved reliability and usability for me to recommend it.

There's been quite a bit of hype over the mapping software on the iPhone recently, and I certainly like the look of a lot of aspects of the iPhone, but I think that for mapping applications, lack of a GPS is going to be a big negative versus other devices which do have this, like the Blackberry 8800.

1 comment:

Daniel said...

For some reason, I can't help but keep thinking that something isn't adding up concerning the iPhone demo.

The only thing I can think, is that it sounds probable that they're working on a GPS enabled version - and just haven't been ready to announce it yet.

Apple's always done a good job of hinting just enough to their followers to ramp-up speculation. But it's been a trend that often leads to some mysterious expectations, but usually resulting in something at the end of it. The Google/iPhone demo seems to allude to something there. And the logic only assumes that in order for the two to go together - there should probably be a version that adds the functionality.

Unless, of course, Apple has gotten wise to wireless triangulation methodologies - instead of purely GPS. That would be something - and incredibly robust.

Anyhoo. Just thinking.