Features You REALLY Need
Bluetooth, MP3, multi-destination routing, 3D terrain views…. What features do you really need when it comes to GPS? A few weeks ago I asked people in the forums what features they thought the needed but as it turns out they really didn’t need in their GPS. As a result of that discussion, I began to wonder… what is the minimum set of features you need to navigate?
Now I’m not talking about the ability to enter a destination, or map coverage of the area you will be traveling, but the actual features and display items for actual navigation. I began to wonder, do I really need to know the distance to the destination? No. Do I need the estimated arrival time? No. Voice prompts? Maybe. Do I even need the map display?
And so came the test. Pick about five locations that I’ve never been to before and see if I can navigate there with the GPS and a bare minimum set of features. So I got myself good and lost, and then picked a set of nearby Post Office locations out of the POI database and tried to navigate to them with as little feedback from the GPS as possible.
Without looking at a preview of where the location was on a map, and without even looking at the physical address, I had the GPS create a route to each of the destinations. I muted the sound. And I covered up the entire display with the exception of a tiny square that was one inch high and 0.75 inches wide. What remained was just two pieces of information, the distance to the next turn and the direction of the next turn.
So how did I do? I found them all without missing a turn. Now that is not to say that it made me very comfortable. There were times when the GPS indicated I should take a right in 500 feet and there were a couple of roads that could have been about 500 feet away by my estimate. By the end of the test I was actually much better at visualizing and estimating distances despite the fact that I use GPS daily.
Not knowing the distance to the destination or time to the destination was also a bit unnerving. I kept wondering, “how far away am I?”. But a little patience and I was able to make it to each of the destinations without incident.
There were also a few times where I approached a “Y” type intersection and the GPS said my next turn wasn’t for another mile or two. In that case I would have liked to have had the map to determine which way it wanted me to go, but I seemed to correctly guess which road was the “default” at the intersection.
I also missed not being told what side of the road the destination was on, however with the “countdown” distance to turn (which displays distance to destination on the final leg) at least provided some guidance about where to look.
So what does this say about GPS design? Should we consider GPS devices without map displays, or without sounds? Of course not, the more cues we have the more we can focus on the road and the less distracted we will hopefully be by the GPS. But it does bring to light something about the two cues that I did have… that they are probably the most important pieces of information to have. How the manufacturers display those two pieces of information could play a critical role in how comfortable you are with the GPS.
For example I’ve always disliked how some of the Garmin devices display the next turn as “left/right” in the status display. I’d much prefer a graphical representation of the intersection like many other models will. I also don’t like how the turn direction is at the top of the screen and the distance to that turn is at the bottom. I need to look in two places to get the most critical pieces of information. Thankfully it looks like both of those issues will be addressed in the new Nuvi 2×5 series devices.