Maps on mobile devices are a really great tool and something that I know I’ve quickly got used to as a way of finding your way around places.   It’s now routine to use the maps feature to find where a place is, or where the nearest something is to where you happen to be when you are somewhere unfamilar.  A couple of things have come up just lately that highlight how we’ve come to depend on them and what a problem it is when they don’t work.

Apple iOS6 maps
Apple’s much-publicised problems with the new maps function in iOS6 (reported here by the BBC) really brings home how important the maps function has become as a standard feature of a mobile device.  I know that organisations like Pew Internet carry out a lot of surveys on mobile phone use, but I’ve not seen anything that identifies how much use people make of the maps features on mobile technology.

Yes, it might be 4 miles away... but that doesn’t make it the nearest
The other thing that brought it home was standing in Helensburgh last week and trying to find the nearest petrol station.  Yell screenshot of Helensburgh petrol stationsIt’s not a place I know that well and we’d been staying nearby on the Clyde estuary and wanted to get some petrol before heading off north.  So the obvious answer was to look up petrol stations in Helensburgh on the mobile phone.  So a quick check on the phone on Yell gave the nearest petrol stations, just 4 miles away.  Maps of petrol stations near Helensburgh from YellExcept, they aren’t the nearest petrol stations, unless you happen to be driving a boat, as they are in Greenock, across the other side of the Clyde estuary.  Most of the petrol stations it picked up (and Yell doesn’t seem to be the only site that has the same sort of issue) may well have been the nearest locations in terms of distance but they simply aren’t going to be the quickest places to get to.

And that strikes me as really odd that sites like Yell don’t give you the nearest site in terms of how long it will take to get there.  Looking for a petrol station, it’s probably likely that you are in a car and driving.  So how far is it to get there using the likely route you would have to travel, and what are the traffiic conditions, i.e. are there any traffic delays.  Which seems to me to suggest that a cross between the maps, route planner and directory system is what you actually need, or a car that turns into a boat.

PS.  It’s actually 27.9 miles or 47 minutes to the petrol stations in Greenock according to the AA Route Planner  and the even more interesting thing, is that actually there’s a Tesco Express Tesco helensburgh website screenshotpetrol station in Helensburgh itself, which didn’t show up on Yell search.  Ironically the Tesco’s website that does show the Helensburgh petrol station also shows Greenock as being nearby, so has exactly the same problem.