GPS Vs. Paper Maps
A few days ago we talked about an article comparing how fast someone could navigate between two points; one person with a GPS and another person with an atlas. (Nuvi vs Atlas) Today, I saw another article comparing paper maps with GPS maps. The article suggests that paper maps are more accurate than GPS maps.
One reason paper maps remain in high demand is their capability to provide a higher level of accuracy than GPS devices. “When you grab quick directions from the Web, they give the illusion of coming from real time, but often they are not,” [Marc] Jennings [Marc Jennings, president of paper mapmaker Langenscheidt Publishing Group] said in a statement. “We work with government agencies that are actually building roads and providing licenses for new buildings or changes in buildings and streets.”
I’ve never been one to rave about the quality of GPS maps, in fact one of our most popular articles is about outdated GPS maps and the long process between road changes and updates in a GPS device. However the argument that paper maps are more accurate than a GPS doesn’t seem to be a very good argument.
I did a little experiment today. Granted the sample size was very small, but it was interesting nonetheless. I went out to my car and found all of the paper maps and atlases I had. The most recent one was dated five years ago. Most were dated about eight years ago. One was (gulp) dated twelve years ago! How accurate could those maps be? Sure enough I quickly identified several roads on those maps where the name had changed, new roads built, and in some cases old roads demolished. I checked the cars of several acquaintances… none of them had paper maps newer than three years old.
A paper map will never update itself. You need to buy a new map when they are published. Granted, you also need to update the maps in a GPS receiver, and those maps are not cheap, but they can be updated.
Marc Jenning’s argument that online maps and GPS maps “give the illusion of coming from real time” doesn’t make the paper map I purchased five years ago any more accurate. It will never get more accurate.
Marc also mentions working with government agencies who are building the roads to get new information. The digital map providers such as NAVTEQ and Tele Atlas do the same thing so I’m not sure how this makes paper maps better.
Paper maps do have their place in auto navigation. The battery in your GPS can die or the GPS itself could malfunction. It is always handy to have a navigation strategy that includes a backup to GPS whenever possible.
Also, there are companies who are introducing technologies that could make map updates a thing of the past. A company called Dash Navigation is starting to build GPS devices which offer two way connectivity. This enables the GPS device to receive updatesa automatically. With such a technology in place the user could always have the most up-to-date maps available automatically loaded into their GPS.
So paper maps have their place, and they likely always will. That is a good thing since unless you spill coffee on the map it probably won’t malfunction. But I think online maps and GPS maps have the upper hand when it comes to providing updates and long-term accuracy.