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September 28, 2009

Lost with all the maps

lost springsBOSTON, USA – Living in Europe, I was accustomed to whipping out my phone, booting up Ovi Maps, and finding out where I was and where I needed to go. The synchronization through Ovi also made it easy for me to set up landmarks from my browser, or transfer landmarks from one device to another.

But since I’ve moved to the USA, the whole thing has broken down, mostly due to lack of uniform network coverage. Read on to hear my trials and tribulations and weigh in with some of your own stories.

I have the whole world in my hand
The cost of getting mobile maps seems to have gone down,* because everyone seems to have a navigator in their car and electronics shops have tens of models on display. I already see behavior modification where people no longer give directions, but just an address, expecting the receiver to either look it up through a PC browser or use their own navigator.

And there is no doubting the geeky thrill of being able to see street maps peppered with points of interest or satellite images of your surroundings, all from the palm of your hand and from anywhere you happen to be. It’s also thrilling to just start driving or walking, knowing that, when the time comes, you just open up your device and get the directions you need.

Except when it breaks down.

Lost. No, really lost.
We were off to visit my relatives in rural Pennsylvania, but at the end, switched destinations to meet them at a party. No worries. I had the address and waypoint programmed into my Ovi Maps on my phone.

When we approached the general area where the party was, we then pulled out my phone to get the last turns needed. Alas, there was no network coverage and I had not loaded the area maps into my phone.

We first tried all sorts of electronic rain dances – rebooting, changing SIMs, changing phones, even resorting to GMaps (D’oh – no coverage = absolutely useless). We then moved to Plan B and tried calling my relatives, but being at a party, they did not hear their phones. Then Plan C was asking the gas station, but they didn’t have any maps that seemed to help (huh, isn’t that an indicator), nor did they know the road. We just started driving in an arbitrary direction until the coverage kicked in and we were able to get back on track.

After getting yelled at by the whole family the rest of the way (it was hot, we were all hungry and tired from the long drive, you know the scene), we finally made it to the party.

Our behavior has changed, making us depend on our wee electronic devices to supplement our brains. But we need to make sure that all that supplemental information is actually in our devices – I need to figure out how to load all the regional maps into my device, that was the mistake that set up this failure. Also, this story illustrates a deep dependence we have on network connections. While in Europe, I never ran into problems; in the US, it is more likely for me to be in rural areas where coverage is not as robust.

Ironically, this has only happened once to us, since we spend most of our time in a more urban area with better network coverage. But the one experience – hopelessly lost in an unfamiliar area – has made us smarter in how we use our mobile maps. Now we have printed maps for our region and make a point of printing out directions before we head off somewhere. Just to be sure. Until we regain confidence in using maps in rural areas here in the US.

Do you have similar stories? How did you overcome being lost? Are you as dependent as I am on Ovi Maps?

Image from .Larry Page

*After all these frustrations, I considered getting a small navigator with the maps built in, but it would have ended up being less convenient and even more expensive. Go figure. Now I’m off to load all those maps!