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Built-in Smartphone Mapping Apps from Google and Apple

In their series ‘Smartphone GPS Navigation‘, American Foundation for the Blind explains how the built-in Smartphone mapping apps can help people who are blind or visually impaired.

In their built-in mapping apps (Google Maps and Apple Maps), both Google and Apple provide mapping data collected and assembled from a wide number of sources—from satellite imaging to special vehicles that travel the highways and byways collecting vast repositories of mapping data.  They also use the locations of cell towers and Wi-Fi hotspots to help triangulate position even more precisely than stand-alone GPS navigation devices. The databases accessed by these apps don’t just include street names and locations, but they also include millions of points of interest (POIs.) This makes it possible to use either of these mapping systems to locate your town’s City Hall, the nearest gas station, a specific fast food restaurant, a hospital, or even the location of a specific street address. Best of all, these services are offered absolutely free of charge, and, as we will demonstrate, it is possible to use these maps accessible using your smartphone’s built-in touchscreen reader.

Both Google Maps and Apple Maps store their data on company servers, so to use either to its fullest capabilities you will need an open wireless cell data connection. The amount of data that is transmitted between your device and company servers is usually not excessive, so most people can use smartphone navigation effectively with only a minimum data plan.

Apple Maps is only available on Apple devices. Google Maps is available on both Android and Apple iPhones, though to use Google Maps with an iPhone you will first need to download and install the Google Maps app from the iOS App Store

The feature sets found in both apps are quite similar. Often one or the other company will introduce an exciting new feature, but it is usually not long before that same capability becomes available on the other platform. Consequently, in this section we are going to group them together and describe the features that are of most interest to people with visual impairments who wish to answer the three most important mobility questions: “Where am I?” (current location), “Where am I going?” (destination), and “How do I get there?” (directions).

Current Location

Sometimes, especially for those with visual impairments, the most critical navigational information is your current location. Even when you’re using a guide dog or cane, it is possible to become disoriented. Mobility instructors can teach you a number of techniques to help reorient yourself. A mobile GPS device can also be quite useful when you need to determine your current location.

Both Apple Maps and Google Maps can pinpoint your position as near as 16 feet, depending on the number of satellites and other markers from which your smartphone can receive a signal. Currently, the GPS satellite network is prohibited by the government from providing civilians with more precise location data. Poor weather conditions can also lead to what is known as satellite drift, which can also decrease your device’s ability to obtain sufficient data to pinpoint your precise location. Concrete walls and metal roofs can also block satellite signals, so GPS data obtained when indoors is usually not as accurate as that which is gathered outside.

Location data is calculated via triangulation, using information from as many satellites as possible. This data is quickly translated into more user-friendly information, which is to say the nearest street name and address.

When you ask either app, “Where am I?” your smartphone will return your current location. Both map apps offer the ability to set a location as either a favorite or as your home address. As you will soon see, it is a good idea to make setting the location of your home address one of the first things you do with your new GPS mapping app.

Did you know that if you own a smartphone, you also have an accessible compass? Both Apple and Google Maps include a “compass mode,” which will help you become oriented to North, South, East, and West. Using compass mode is an excellent tool to help you stay on track when you are crossing a wide parking lot toward the street, or finding your way out of a large park or other public space.

Many third-party apps also offer additional functionality if they know where you are.

Yelp, a listing of user-generated reviews, will display the eateries closest to you, with links to additional information, such as complete and accessible menus. The Grocery Pal app, which enables you to create a shopping list and check the specials at your favorite supermarkets, also uses location data to highlight grocery stores in your neighborhood. (You can read a detailed review of this app in the May 2013 issue of AccessWorld.)

Before these or any other apps can use your location data, you must first grant your permission. Most will request this permission the first time you start them. You can also turn these permissions on and off in your device’s Settings menu.

This article was written and published by the American Foundation for the Blind.  To read the rest of the article, you can visit this link https://www.afb.org/blindness-and-low-vision/using-technology/smartphone-gps-navigation-people-visual-impairments/built

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