When I first heard about Fugawi's (as in "where the fugawi?!") new mapping app for the Apple iPhone, it seemed quite intriguing:
With all those features and a price of only $4.99, I bought it immediately. Now, after having played around with it for a while, I'm no longer intrigued. The app's problems fall into two categories: missing features and user experience.
The people who buy topographic maps generally want to use them in the back country, not at home. That means they won't have an Internet connection, so the maps need to be able to be stored on the device. Fugawi does cache the map data onto the device, but they don't make it clear just how many maps will be cached or the order in which they'll be stored and deleted. Nor is there any way to specify which maps MUST be kept on the device. That's an automatic fail right there.
iMap supports user created or uploaded waypoints, but it doesn't support track logs. This is another instant fail. Using waypoints to follow a trail is a very clumsy way of doing things, particularly if you're hiking instead of following a dirt road. An off-road navigation system MUST include track log support.
I tested the app under the the assumption that a user would not have Wi-Fi access. To connect to the Internet, I used a 3G wireless connection (Rogers). Overall, the app felt rather sluggish and it didn't take long before I became frustrated with the constant waiting. When it starts up, the app takes about 4 seconds to load. Once the map is displayed, it took about 12 seconds to zoom in by one level deep. When panning to another location, it took about 14 seconds to load all the map tiles for the new location. If you're moving around slowly, things get a bit better, because the app loads adjacent map tiles, anticipating that you'll probably pan over to see them. The reason for the slow performance is simply due to the fact that, like many digital topographic maps, the data is in the form of raster graphics files, not vector data. In other words, it's downloading images of maps, rather than the actual vector or location data. Besides being bigger and therefore slower to download, you can't smoothly zoom into images. That's why Fugawi has to load a new set of map tiles when you zoom in. It's downloading higher resolution maps. This is quite different from vector-based map data (the Google Maps app is an example of this).
The key point, if you haven't guessed is that it became aggravating to use. But even worse, it made me cranky with my iPhone, which was a very unpleasant feeling. We're back on speaking terms, now that I've stopped using iMap, but it will take some time before things get back to the way they used to be.
The map rendering speed wasn't my only gripe, though. The other thing that really bothered me was the strange way that they handled the display of my current position. When my current position was displayed, I could pan to another location, but if I zoomed in (after waiting 14 secs for the files to download, of course), it would then teleport me right back to my current position. To stop this from happening, I had to turn off my current position display before panning elsewhere.
Waypoint handling was also disappointing. It was easy enough to create waypoints, but very difficult, if not impossible, to delete them. The waypoint tool sometimes let me grab an existing waypoint and delete it. Other times, it wouldn't.
iMap comes with a free account on X-Traverse.com so you can transfer your waypoints to/from their server over the Internet. This feature worked fine in my limited testing.
My conclusions (no big surprises, here):
First, the good stuff:
And now the bad stuff:
This is one of those apps that people will buy to show off their iPhone's abilities, but to succeed as a useful navigation tool for off-roaders, it needs more work.
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