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Last Updated: Friday, 15 October, 2004, 10:40 GMT 11:40 UK
Getting around the UK by mobile
By Paul Brannan
Deputy editor, BBC News Interactive

Men never ask for directions and women cannot read maps, at least according to popular myth.

Nokia smartphone
Smartphones offer much more than just calls
But a convergence of smartphones and global positioning systems (GPS) could consign those stereotypes to the dustbin.

The mobile is becoming a wireless navigation tool, with spoken instructions to guide you from door-to-door through every twist and turn of your route.

While that in itself may be compelling it is only part of the picture.

GPS has been around for a long time and has become a firm favourite with sailors, hikers, drivers and fliers.

Its success has been built around a fundamental requirement of all people - getting from A to B.

Spawned from multi-billion dollar satellite location technology, it was developed by the US Department of Defense.

The hawks of the Pentagon can hardly have imagined the peace dividend for urban warriors.

Click and go

What is unfolding now is a powerful combination of maps plus points of interest wrapped up in a smartphone package for town and city dwellers.

Smart phone and GPS kit
Symbian phone with an operating system of version 6.1 or higher and a Series 60 platform 1.0 or higher
Bluetooth wireless technology
Multimedia card memory slot
2.6MB of free Ram
GPRS if you want traffic information updates
One of the products on offer is from Dutch firm Route 66 with Mobile Britain 2005, selling at around 199.

There are other systems available such as Co-pilot, TomTom and Mapopolis.

The Route 66 software allows your phone to steer you places like banks or car parks, railway stations or restaurants, hotels or hospitals.

Standing in a city street, you can call up a list of restaurants within the immediate area or further afield.

You then simply click on the phone number of your chosen eaterie, make a booking, and use GPS to guide you to your chosen place.

The science bit

Getting to grips with GPS can be a bit of a trial for non-technical users, and I would count myself among that band.

Route 66 had pre-installed software for me on an MMC card in a borrowed Nokia 6600, so on a 256MB card I had access to 250,000 miles of roads in Britain, 14.5 million house numbers and more than 70,000 points of interest.

The registration procedure, carried out on the phone itself, was simple enough and pairing the phone to the GPS receiver via Bluetooth also went smoothly.

With the dull stuff out of the way, you are ready to play, with the GPS receiver automatically plotting your position.

Nokia smartphone
Set up waypoints for your journey through the keypad
To plan a route you need to set up waypoints entered through the phone keypad.

This might be tedious but the software allows entry of parts of street or city names to speed you through the process.

Setting up favourites like starting points for journeys from home or from the office also proved a time-saver, negating the need to re-enter information again and again.

With the start and finish points entered and designation of the route as one to be made by car or on foot, there follows a swift calculation of the journey and a range of options on its presentation.

The 3D map view gives the kind of vista you might see looking through your car windscreen, with the ability to adjust the rake of the view.

You can also opt for a 2D plan of the route with written instructions and there are day/night viewing alternatives for the screen.

No way out

The voiced instructions are delivered in beautifully enunciated tones of a perfect road pilot and available in several languages.

Nokia smartphone
Is this better than trying to read a map in the dark?
Deviate from the route and your computer companion will either come up with an alternative on the fly or request that you "turn round at the first opportunity".

Volume proved to be a bit of an issue though, the female announcer being far too polite to shout.

Only once on a trip to Yorkshire did I come unstuck, as the navigator urged me to go down a one-way street.

Resisting the law-breaking advances, I railed against the spoken instructions and deviated from the suggested route in the expectation that the software would automatically plot an alternative.

It did, but one that by a round-about route brought me back to the same barred road.

While deeply irritating, this less than perfect outcome was still preferable to multiple stops to map-read in dark along unfamiliar lanes.

Spot-on navigation comes a step closer
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Smart phones fox frustrated users
18 Nov 03 |  Technology

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