Navigating with OsmAnd

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During our time in New Zealand, we naturally needed maps. At my insistence, we primarily used map data from OpenStreetMap, the crowd-sourced, libre-licensed map of the world, as displayed by the libre-licensed OsmAnd application (specifically, the OsmAnd~ 0.8.2 F-Droid package) on my phone. Overall, it was quite good, with Jessica even agreeing with me in saying that using OsmAnd for navigation on our trip was a success.

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OsmAnd in action

I’ll start with some of the limitations and bugs. The interface took a bit of getting used to, but once we had accustomed ourselves, I think it was pretty handy. At the suggestion of a fellow SplatSpace member, I hope to contribute an article or two to the hackerspace’s blog on using OsmAnd and its interface. The automatic daytime/nighttime chooser seemed to get broken by our timezone change. It was trivial to manually set it to daytime mode, though. The predicted driving times were way off. There was a rendering glitch that made land look like water at times, so that Jessica thought we must be driving on a really long bridge for part of the journey. Pop-up boxes on the map had frustratingly small close buttons that we had particular difficulty hitting. The application crashed occasionally, but was able to resume the last route when restarted, making them at least non-catastrophic. On a small number of occasions, we seemed to be somewhat circuitously routed. Since street number information is largely absent from OSM in many parts of the world such as the US and NZ, we could often only get directions to the street and had to locate the specific building the old fashioned way.

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Setting the route

I hope that most, if not all, of the shortcomings we encountered will be fixed. Now for the aspects we enjoyed. The offline maps capability was excellent. I just downloaded Australia and New Zealand in one convenient package before departing and it didn’t matter that my carrier-locked CDMA phone didn’t get any service there. (A side note: I was hoping that my Republic Wireless wifi calling might work. I wonder if the cost of overcoming regulatory barriers is preventing them from easily operating globally. As Wikipedia notes, “E911 regulations and legal penalties have severely hampered the more widespread adoption of VoIP”, and those are just the U.S. regulations. But back to OsmAnd…) The favorites feature was useful. It let us keep track of all our destinations. Bicycle and pedestrian modes were great. Although my wife was horrified by my riding with the phone in hand, I thought it was awesome to cruise some of the easier forest trails with my very own heads up display, showing the trail, our position on it, how far until the end, how far we’d come, and our current speed. OsmAnd with plugins is also able to record your movements when you want it to and upload them to OpenStreetMap for easily adding some of the roads and trails that weren’t already on the map.

We could have added on a GPS to our car rentals for $8 NZD per day. Since OsmAnd served us well enough, we decided to put that amount towards fixing the issues we faced and supporting further development by way of a donation. I hope to give to OpenStreetMap with corporate matching once the US OpenStreetMap Foundation chapter achieves 501 (c) (3) status.

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