Google Maps V’s Live Search for Windows Mobile
A week or so ago I got my latest development device, the HTC TyTnII. Since then I have moved networks from Optus to 3 in order to get economically priced data. My only complaints about the HTC Touch was that it didn’t have either a keypad/keyboard, nor HSDPA support*. Now that I have a data capable device I have started to play with a number of applications that take advantage of mostly-on data.
Being relatively new to Sydney one of applications I’ve found to be particularly useful is Google Maps for Mobile. Without a data capable device this application is all but useless as it crashes if the network fails or is not available. Now that this isn’t an issue (well for the most part – except of course if your device starts to roam in which case you either loose the network or loose an arm and a leg when you pay the next bill) I have started to use this application quite a bit.
The other feature of the TyTnII that (occasionally) is useful in conjunction with Goolge maps is the in-built GPS. I say occasionally because picking up a signal is a bit of a lucky draw. Yes, I know you need to have satellite line of sight but honestly to not be able to resolve the location in the middle of Sydney is not a great story!
Lets start with looking at how Google maps deals with the GPS:
In the first image you can see the currently white dot at the centre of the screen, which is the current location of the unit as determined by the GPS signal and it alternates between white and blue so you can clearly make it out (select “Track Location” from the menu to start GPS tracking). In the top right corner you can see that there are currently 2 active satellites that the unit can communicate with. Unfortunately if this number goes to 0 for an extended period Google Maps gives you the prompt in the right image. Worse is that if you click cancel it stops looking for the GPS signal and removes the last known location from the maps – OMG who programmed this!
The next scenario is getting directions. Google Maps makes this as easy with a “Directions” menu item. You then have an option of selecting the GPS location or entering a location (left image). After it has determined the directions it presents a summary (right image) giving the distance and time estimate (which I must admit is quite accurate).
When you hit ok you are taken to the map with the starting point selected (green diamond), way-points marked (yellow diamonds) and the route in purple (left image). You will also not that the on-screen buttons have changed to include a forward and backward arrows. These will move you between the way-points along the route. Despite the instructions on the splash screen that you should not operate while driving, this makes the maps very easy to use while you are driving! Clicking the zoom in/out buttons will give you a visual indicator of the estimated area to be covered by the new zoom size – zooming is always done around the centre of the map.
Searching for shops and restaurants is easy with Google Maps – Click the Search soft key, enter the type of food or shop you are looking forward and qualify with a suburb (left image). The results will be displayed using numbered pins on the map (right image).
The last feature that is quite neat (albeit not very useful) is the aerial view which can easily be toggled between from the Menu.
Mid last week I was convinced to give the Live Search for Windows Mobile a try. Unfortunately my reaction has not been at all positive. Let me try and articulate why. I suspect most of it comes down to Live Search wanting to be too much and not delivering on anything well.
The opening screen (left image) is very portal like and is not immediately intuitive that you need to enter an address (second line) – otherwise you end up with all your results coming from a random location in the US. Once you have done this half the functions (Traffic, Movies, Gas Prices, Categories, Shop/Restaurant Search) still don’t work as they are only enabled for the US. Luckily the maps and directions both work. Unfortunately for some reason it always seem to default to an zoomed out view of Sydney (right image).
It isn’t immediately clear how you can zoom in/out (if you recall Google Maps has a + and – on-screen interface!). By pressing the d-pad you get a zoom interface (left image). You can also use the d-pad to scroll the screen whilst in this mode. In order to accept the new location/zoom you simple stop pressing buttons and after a short timeout it refreshes the screen. From the menu you can also select “Center on GPS” and assuming that a satellite can be connected to you will see the unit’s currently location (right image). Unlike the Google interface this doesn’t indicate the number of satellites that it is currently connected to.
To get directions you need to leave the Map (did anyone really think about how this app would be used???) and select Directions from the Live Search home page. This presents you with a dialog where you can enter a location (left image). Well actually you can select a previous location or select new location. Selecting a new location gives you a number of options as to where to get the location information from – I particularly like the Contacts integration!
Once you have determined start and end locations the route information is presented as a summary list but no totals (left image)! Clicking Map will again take you to a zoomed out image (grrr how annoying!) as shown in the right image. What I do like is the on-screen prompts saying what to do at the next way-point. This is much better than the bubbles that obscure the map in Google Maps. Moving between way-points is also easy – although the left/right arrows are small you can click anywhere on the left/right side of the prompt to move forward/backwards in the way-point list.
The last point I would like to make is a comparison between the presentation of mapping data. These two images are at approximately the same zoom and both are centred around the same GPS location. Personally I find the one on the left (Google Maps) much easier to read than the right image (Live Search). I think it is a combination of the width of the streets, the colours used, the positioning of street names and numbers.
* For those interested in HTC Touch I would highly recommend looking out for the HTC Touch Dual that is soon to be released. This will have HSDPA support and has a slide down keypad! Warning: this model will not work on the Telstra NextG network as it doesn’t support their frequency. There is likely to be another model early next year targetting this network explicitly. Note that this is not an issue for the TyTnII that supports all the frequencies.