Sunday, March 25, 2012

Location-based Services On the Road

Test Driving GPS Navigation Devices
I don't own or often even use a car, so I haven't had the opportunity to use in-car GPS navigation devices. As my research focuses on location-based services, it's easy to focus on the hype generated by mobile apps, and forget the popular workhouse of the LBS industry.

So on a recent trip to Hawaii and wanting to explore more of the islands than feasible with public transit or tour buses, I was eager to try out GPS devices when I rented a car.  I figured it would be a great way to try out this tech and make my travels easier. I sure got to know  more about the tech, but I think the GPS device resulted in more problems than help. Although I used the same product, from what I've read and encountered, it sounds like my experience is not atypical.

What I liked about the GPS navigation device
  • basic functionality is easy to use
  • accuracy of positioning and its map interface
  • we also got some unrequested but appreciated information on attractions near us that gave historical and cultural commentary (although we didn't want it again when we passed by it on the return trip)
What I didn't like:
  • told us to turn the wrong way down one-way street and drive into an active volcano
  • doesn't recognize unofficial roads (e.g. national parks, mall parking lots, etc)
  • voice is often indecipherable
  • directions not given in enough advance (e.g. tells us to turn while almost parallel to the road)
  • not offer enough detail if zoom out (e.g. place names and roads)
  • doesn't remember destination if turn device off (e.g. to get something to eat)
  • can't add sub-destinations (e.g. post office, restaurant)
  • location finder very limited and many attractions and long-term businesses not listed
  • ultimately it was wrong or bizarre so many times that I just couldn't trust it
Some of these problems could be rectified by gaining familiarity with the interface and features of the device or possibly with another product.

Overall, I was disappointed with GPS navigation device for two main reasons: 1) it doesn't replace trip planning and way finding with print maps and 2) it isn't easy to use enough to use that a driver could safely do it on their own.

We had similar problems with other sources of automated way-finding on the trip. We also printed off AAA/CAA customized maps and detailed driving directions ("Triptiks") from their website. The TripTiks seemed like they would get one from point A to point B but they took bizarre and difficult routes. Without any explanations provided for why a seemingly odd route was chosen or even if there was a reason, their routes seemed unnecessary complicated and longer.

I've also encountered the same problem with Google Maps. For example, when trying to get directions to my place, it has one going blocks out of the way to avoid a left turn (perfectly legal and easy).

So my hopes of an automated solution to replace the dreaded navigation seems a ways off.

Smartphone LBS On the Road
I did find it enjoyable and useful to use LBS on my smartphone while on my travels. I've always feared the roaming charges of my mobile carrier plan, so I've never used Foursquare (my LBS of choice) outside of my home town.

I checked into a bunch of different places and looked up reviews and deals in various places. I also posted my location and comments from foursquare to my Facebook account.

It was great to share the main sites and my experiences - more so since the places were so new and different (it also helped me get a bunch of badges, not that I care about such gimmicks - okay, I kinda do).  Looking back on my check-ins, it was a great travel log.

I decided to experiment this trip and pay the costs to try things out, but my bill hasn't yet come, so my fondness may soon enough turn sour.

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