Monday, April 8

I was one of those who got lost driving even using Google Maps. Until they released this feature

I belong to a family that has traveled extensively for work by car throughout Spain and Europe since the 19600s. In fact, until recently we had one of those SEATs in impeccable condition. One of the details of my childhood that amazed me was how my grandfather was able to travel the country without getting lost with “only” a road map that he kept in the glove compartment.

It amazes me because today I get lost even with Google Maps. Yes, sometimes I think I’m useless, but I know a lot of people to whom it happens, even experienced people before the arrival of GPS. I am clear that on the one hand we may have orientation problems, but at the level of usability, I think that the interfaces of the navigation tools have a long way to go.

This summer Apple Maps and Google Maps have been the applications that have shown me that there are functions that are easy to implement to improve how we navigate. I have been traveling away from home, through the Valencian Community and through Italy, wandering around a lot, which is where many times I tended to make mistakes. And it has been a joy.

STOP signs and traffic lights on the map, keys for orientation

Stop Google Maps

One problem with GPS, or at least with those of us who use it, is that when you say “in 100 meters, turn right onto Calle Pepita Pérez”, we don’t know exactly which street you mean. Let’s say that there are four streets in a row, which implies four possibilities to turn right.

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If we go at a good speed, it is unlikely that we will be able to check on the corner sign (if there is one) if that street is really Pepita Pérez and not the previous one or the next one. And although on the map we can see where we are going, it is not always well understood. Latency is sometimes another problem, because we are not at the exact point that the GPS says.

Signaling STOP signs and traffic lights is not the magic solution to navigation problems. But it has helped me like nothing else

To help with this, Google announced earlier this year that Maps would include traffic lights and STOP signs along the route this year. At the time, when I heard the news, it seemed minor to me.

However, when navigating with Google Maps on Android Auto in the car that we have rented both in Valencia and in Italy, I have felt much safer wandering around, for one reason only: thanks to seeing the traffic lights and STOP on the map was able to have almost perfect references, both in small streets and in avenues. I no longer have to count how many streets I pass, but how many traffic lights are left to turn right, where Maps shows me that there is just another one.

The saving in number of “recalculating” of Maps has been enormous, and in time too. There the loss is especially important when when you get lost you have to make huge turns to find one-way streets. If you don’t usually mess with Maps, perhaps this novelty won’t help you at all, or even overwhelm you when you see so many symbols on the map. But it helps me and other people a lot.

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Google Maps vs Waze, in-depth comparison: which app has the best navigation options?

There is still work pending

Strolling around the city is where we have to make more decisions per route, but the good part is that even if we get lost, generally the solution is not too far away, except in very specific scenarios such as the one mentioned of going round and round because there is no double meaning or possibility of going back. Taking a bad exit on a highway can make us lose a huge amount of time on numerous occasions, and even money, counting the current price of fuel or some toll that is not correct.

A very large density of information on the map can be overwhelming, but in its fair measure it is extremely useful

To this day, Google Maps and Apple Maps make an effort to indicate the exit well, both showing in which direction we should go (destination road), and the exit number. At a graphic level, on the map itself, we can see the route marked in blue, being unmarked where we should not go. Aurally, it helps a lot when Maps says out loud the typical “at the fork, stay in the middle lane.”

But even this is not enough for many people (among which I am) on certain occasions: when we face a section with many exits, a lot of traffic, little time to decide, etc.

In the absence of a future of augmented reality, I think there may be solutions such as marking in red which exits we should not take, leaving the good ones in blue. Also, if you have good space on the screen, as is the case with Android Auto, an image could be shown of which exit to take, and even which one not to, temporarily displaying the Street View view. Yes, navigation for dummies.

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So much information can be overwhelming and that is probably why it is not included today. But with the traffic lights and STOPs I have realized that with a little, our GPS-assisted driving can improve a lot.

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