I was looking recently to see what applications were available for the iPhone (or iPod touch) relating to the Isle of Man, and was pleasantly surprised to see that a mapping application had been released.
The application, simply called 'Isle of Man', gives users a map of the Island for use on their iPhone while they are visiting. In addition to the map, it lets users find amenities and streetnames that have been added into the OpenStreetMap database. I decided this morning to pay the 59p to download the app and try it out, but beyond the initial excitement of seeing OpenStreetMap data being used for mobile maps of the Isle of Man, I haven't been so impressed with the execution of the idea for a number of reasons...
The Mobile-Streetmaps.com website promotes this app and hundreds of other similar ones from around the world, each just a download of OpenStreetMap data packaged into an application, for which they charge 59p. While it's not a large amount to pay, the company producing the applications is profiting off the generosity of the OpenStreetMap community (and in the case of the Isle of Man, Cloud Made as well, thanks to their donation of data) with little attribution, and no mention within the app itself of the license under which the data is available.
Hopefully the company will fix the attribution issue soon, by adding a mention to the pages in the iPhone app store that the data is from OpenStreetMap, and also by adding information about the license to at least the about page of each app, and to the side bar of the pages on their website.
The app itself could be quite useful if you're visiting the Island, but it has quite a few usability issues that hamper its use:
- Zooming in to the map, you are not shown beyond a certain level, leaving many streets in the center of towns and villages left without names.
- Navigation within the app could really be improved... there's not even a back button to get back to the map from various other screens.
- After searching for items, you're taken to the map, but you are left looking at the place you were looking at before, with no obvious indication that pins have been added to the map outside of your current view.
- There is no way of clearing the pins from previous searches from the map, leading to possible confusion when searching for other things.
- Clicking on the pins for search results doesn't give any more information to the user. It would be nice to be able to get contact details where available, what the nearest street is, etc.
If you would like to access maps offline for more than just a single place, and be able to take advantage of recent updates to the maps, you will probably be better off downloading the OffMaps app which I have yet to try, but costs just a little more at £1.19 and lets you choose the area and level of detail you wish to download, and lets you do it for as many places as you wish.
While free and open geodata from OpenStreetMap gives a great boost to these applications, it also has its downfalls in that it's likely not (yet) complete for any given area. To give an example, searching for 'cafe' amenities in the Isle of Man resulted in just the Silverdale cafe being shown on the map, where in reality there are many more cafes that aren't (yet) listed.
To help improve the amount of data in the Isle of Man that's represented in OpenStreetmap, in particular relating to points of interest (POIs), I'm planning to hold another mapping party on Saturday 1st August. I'll post more information about this soon, but put the date in your diary if you're interested in helping put some of these amenities on the map. If you'd like more information in the mean time, please get in touch.
Update: having contacted the author of the apps, he's already been working with the OpenStreetMap community and has agreed to improve on the attribution, which is good. I also tried out OffMaps and liked it, but one thing it doesn't give you that the individual place-based apps do, is the access to find the location of POIs and streets while you're offline (though it does work when online).