Mapopolis and other navigation software for PDAs: are we there yet?

My impressions concerning Mapopolis and navigation software for PDAs. I think we haven’t reached our destination yet.

Before going to Charlottesville, Virginia recently, I took a quick look at navigation software available for the PalmPilot. I thought that this little outing would be the perfect setting for trying to use my PDA as a navigation device. Since I was looking for housing and thus would be visiting multiple locations, the device would be put to good use. I don’t have a GPS so I knew I wouldn’t be able to use most navigation packages to their full potential. However, my wife was going the driving and I was navigating so not having a GPS didn’t really matter.

I decided to try out the Mapopolis software. They offer maps for trial that apparently have all the features of a regular map but are good only for 10 days. That span of time was more than enough for my trip. So I downloaded the Charlottesville map, loaded everything onto my Zire 72, and set out for Charlottesville.

The area covered by the Charlottesville map stops at the outskirts of the city so we used our good old (2004, yeah, old) Rand McNally USA roadmap to get to Charlottesville. Then I plotted a course from the road we were driving on to our first destination in Charlottesville. Mapopolis was able to plot good courses but not always optimal ones. I also found that Mapopolis would get easily confused by roads that curve. There were a number of times when we were staying on the same road but Mapopolis thought necessary to specify that we had to do a slight left turn or a slight right turn because the road itself was curving to the left or the right. This is not a problem that prevents navigation but is simply annoying and can be confusing the first time it is encountered.

Navigation worked fine but where Mapopolis clearly fails is in the user interface department. Controls are obscure, confusing and in the end irritating to use. For instance, after getting the search results for a street name, the 4-way navigator button of my Zire 72 can be used to scroll the entire list of results but not to select a specific result from the list. The people who produce Mapopolis need to get a human interface designer on the project or replace the one they have if they already have one. Mapopolis’ bad user interface is the reason I can’t recommend it.

But what about other software packages out there? I haven’t had a chance to try them so I can’t say much. PDAStreetFinder, by Rand McNally, looks good but its Charlottesville map was apparently last updated in 2002! Also, installing the demo requires Windows and since I’m allergic to Windows, no luck there. Moreover, from that I understand, the demo would not have been of any actual help to me since it wouldn’t have covered Charlottesville. So overall PDAStreetFinder didn’t look appealing to me. There are other packages out there but nothing really appealed to me like Mapopolis did. They all had some problem: too expensive, no demo, etc. Mapopolis’ policy of offering real maps and the real software as a 10-day demo that can be used in real situations is the best possible way to generate interest in their product. Unfortunately, Mapopolis’ great marketing method is torpedoed by the deficient user interface of the product.

As far as I’m concerned, regarding navigation software for PDAs, I must say we aren’t there yet and may not be there for a while still.

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