Last year I complained about a dangerous change to Google’s Maps app. When driving, you want to spend the majority of your time concentrating on the road ahead. Flicking one’s eyes to the mirrors & speedometer should be enough to quickly assess one’s environment. The same applies for SatNav apps – every second that is spend trying to figure out what the graphics means is a second where the road goes unobserved.
Recently, I’ve been trying Nokia’s new Here maps for Android. There’s a lot to like about the app (more on that later) but it really doesn’t handle British roundabouts particularly well.
Here are two screenshots I took of the same stretch of road. Nokia Here is on the left, Google Maps on the right.
At a glance, Nokia Maps tells me that I should be turning left. That’s incorrect. The “2” icon – indicating the 2nd exit – has a higher cognitive load that a simple arrow. And anyone who has experienced the pleasure of Britain’s roads knows that roundabouts often have sneaky exits which aren’t immediately apparent.
Looking through the driving directions Nokia provides, it appears that all of its roundabout icons instruct the driver to turn left.
I’ve scaled that image down so it should appear about the same size as you would see it on a smartphone. Can you make out the little notches and numbers?
Localisation doesn’t just mean spelling “colour” correctly – it also means taking into account other cultural quirks like driving on the “wrong” side of the road, when to give way, and roundabouts.
That said, there are lots of things I do like about Nokia Here.
- Cleaner interface. Google seems to think I need to know the name of every side street I pass, Nokia keeps it distraction free.
- Speed limit – and current speed. In the UK it’s fairly common to go from a 50MPH zone to 30MPH and back again in just a couple of metres (don’t you just love our half-arsed metric conversion?!). In my observations, the Nokia app provided accurate speed limit information and, helpfully, played a sound over the car’s Bluetooth speakers when the limit was being broken.
- The traffic estimate in the bottom right corner is interesting. I’m not sure how useful it is to tell me how long I’ll be stuck in a jam.
- While I rarely use voice directions, I found Nokia’s speech synthesis to be moderately clearer than Google’s. There was also a wide variety of voices from which to choose.
On to the superior aspects of Google’s navigation solutions.
- The 3D depth offers a better view of the road ahead. While both apps will automatically zoom depending on speed, I felt like Google allowed me to see further.
- Journey time. Both apps show the Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) – which can be really useful. More often than not, I want to know how long until I get to my destination. With Nokia I have to glance at the small clock in the top right, then down to the bottom of the app, then perform some mental calculation in order to know that I’ve got 20 more minutes left. That’s an increased mental load compared to the glance needed on Google.
- Alternate routes. Again, both apps will helpfully suggest an alternate route should a faster journey time become apparent. Google places a button on screen which will quickly show all possible routes if you’re sat in traffic.
Both apps work well. If Nokia could work out how roundabouts are supposed to work, the Here app would be a strong contender for my primary navigation app. As it is, I suspect many users will have grown used to Google’s interface and – assuming they don’t radically change it – will not want the added mental burden of trying use a new app while driving.