This article is the second in a two-part series evaluating accessible cell phone-based GPS navigation systems that can be used in conjunction with cell phone screen- reading software. The first article, which appeared in the May 2009 issue of AccessWorld, focused on Wayfinder Access, and this one focuses on Mobile Geo. This article also includes a comparison of the two products' features and functions, as well as descriptions of our experiences with Mobile Geo.
Caption: One of the authors testing Mobile Geo.
What Do These GPS Products Do?
For readers who did not have a chance to read our initial article, we present some basic information about these products here. These cell phone-based GPS software products do much of the same things as their notetaker-PDA (personal digital assistant) predecessors have done, but in a smaller, more convenient package. To access the many features of these products, you must also have a screen reader installed on your cell phone. The features include providing
- directions and planning routes
- your current location
- pedestrian and automobile directions
- a spoken itinerary and alerts of upcoming turns
- an announcement of, and directions to, points of interest, such as restaurants, hotels, banks, gas stations, churches, and dozens of other categories of places
- settings to configure how you want the information presented
- compatibility with cell phone screen-reading software
Priced at $399, Wayfinder Access is manufactured by Wayfinder Systems AB, a Swedish company. It is compatible with both the TALKS and Mobile Speak screen readers and works on cell phones that run the Symbian operating system. Symbian phones run on the GSM cellular network, so you need to be a customer of a service provider that uses this network, such as AT&T or T-Mobile, to use Wayfinder Access.
Priced at $895, Mobile Geo is a Code Factory product powered by Sendero GPS, the GPS software from the Sendero Group that is used on Humanware's BrailleNote line of products, GW Micro's Braille Sense, and soon on Freedom Scientific's PAC Mate. It is compatible with Code Factory's Mobile Speak screen reader and runs on Windows Mobile-based Smartphones, Pocket PC phones, and PDAs. Windows Mobile phones run on both the GSM and CDMA cellular networks, so Mobile Geo users are not limited to specific service providers.
The interface for both products uses your screen reader's voice to convey information and your phone's keys for input, but the latest version of Mobile Geo also has a voice-command feature for input. Some of the phones with which Mobile Geo and Wayfinder Access are compatible have their own built-in GPS receivers, but others require that you purchase a wireless Bluetooth receiver. One of the main differences between Wayfinder Access and Mobile Geo is the way they access data from maps. With Mobile Geo, you load maps onto your phone's memory or its memory card and may need to purchase and install new maps if you travel abroad. Wayfinder gets its maps over the air via your cellular connection, so you do not need to install any maps. However, Wayfinder's functions are limited if you are in an area with no cellular service, and you need to have a data plan as part of your cellular service. One of us pays an extra $15 per month for an AT&T data plan, and T-Mobile charges $19.99 per month. You also need to establish an Internet Access Point on your phone. Since we published this information on maps in our initial article, we learned that Wayfinder has a map-downloader tool on its web site, allowing you to download and store maps on your phone and avoid the data plan charges. However, the map-downloader tool is not accessible to users of screen readers.
Both products allow for a free trial period to test the products, and you can access user manuals and learn more about the products, including the compatibility of phones and PDA devices, at their web sites. For Mobile Geo, go to www.codefactory.es or www.senderogroup.com. For Wayfinder, go to www.wayfinder.com.
Testing Mobile Geo
To help us test Mobile Geo, Mike May, of the Sendero Group, lent us an HTC S730 Smartphone with Mobile Geo version 1.5 and Mobile Speak version 2.1 installed. The phone came with maps already installed, and he also sent us a Bluetooth Holux M-1000 external receiver for better GPS accuracy. The HTC S730 is a flat, candy bar-style Smartphone with fairly good tactile keys and a decent nib on the 5-key. It also has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard with keys that are satisfactory, but that require some getting used to. However, you do not have to use the QWERTY keyboard to use Mobile Geo. The Holux M-1000 is a small, wireless GPS receiver. It is just a simple rectangular box with one tactile On/Off switch and a USB port for connecting it to a computer for charging. It measures 1.7 by 2.5 by 0.7 inches and weighs 2.0 ounces. We found that we had to expose the GPS receiver to the sky to establish a connection, but once the connection was established, we could put the receiver back in a pocket or purse.
Caption: The Smartphone with a Bluetooth GPS receiver.
The software came already installed, so we did not test the installation process. However, the user guide provides a detailed description of an accessible installation process that can be completed independently. Since the HTC S730 is a Smartphone, we will describe how Mobile Geo is used with a Smartphone. Using Mobile Geo on a Pocket PC phone will be different, and you can learn more about that by reading the Mobile Geo manual found at www.codefactory.es.
The Mobile Geo Interface
Mobile Geo uses a text-only interface with no graphics to worry about, so it is perfectly compatible with the Mobile Speak screen reader. You launch Mobile Geo by navigating to its shortcut in your mobile phone's Start menu. It also appears in the Mobile Speak Control Panel on the Start menu, and you can also set a speed dial to launch it with one keystroke. When it is launched, Mobile Geo's main screen appears, and you are placed in a list of informational items that you can move among with your Up/Down arrows. These items, depending on whether or not you have a route set, will include most or all of the following: GPS status, current position, destination, nearest intersection, nearest point of interest (POI), current speed and heading, pedometer, city, mode, kind of GPS receiver, date and time, and battery status. If a plus sign is spoken before an item, you can press OK/Enter on your joystick and get more detailed information or perform an action. For example, if you press OK/Enter while on the position item, you are taken to the "Where Am I" screen with more detailed information about your current position, including address information and your latitude and longitude.
The rest of Mobile Geo's many features and functions can be accessed via either the menu system or shortcut commands using the numeric keypad. The manual states that Mobile Geo is also compatible with Microsoft Voice Command, allowing you to control Mobile Geo via speech input. Speech input would provide more of a hands-free experience when combined with a wireless headphone and microphone, but we did not test this functionality.
You access Mobile Geo's menus via your phone's soft keys. The left soft key opens up the Functions menu, and the right soft key opens up the Application menu. Each menu has eight items, but the items on the Functions menu also have submenus.
The Functions menu includes all the main controls for accessing all the route-planning and wayfinding features of Mobile Geo, as follows:
- Set Positions includes the tools for setting your starting and destination points for planning a route and your position for exploring the map around a certain address or latitude and longitude.
- Route Functions has 10 submenu items with various options for creating and saving routes and accessing previous routes you have saved.
- Search allows you to scroll through POIs in your current vicinity and includes an option to use its advanced POI search tool for searching for a specific POI. You can enter, for example, the name of your favorite fast-food joint and find its location. This tool has eight options for customizing your search, including the category of POI, such as restaurant, and the distance from your current position that you want to search.
- Virtually Explore the Map allows you to use your phone's joystick or arrow keys to move block by block around your map.
- The Modes function allows you to switch from the GPS mode using your satellite connection to a virtual mode for simply exploring your map without using satellites. It also allows you to turn on or off the "look around announcements" that alert you to POIs as you travel.
- Settings has several options for configuring how Mobile Geo works and communicates with you. The settings are far too numerous to describe here, but some of them include controlling your connection to your GPS receiver, whether Mobile Geo gives you directions using a clock-face style or using front-left and back-right style of directions, and whether to use vibrations to alert you to turns and other route information.
- Announcement History brings up a list of the last 10 announcements that Mobile Geo has spoken, in case you missed one.
- User Favorites allows you to bring up a list of the POIs you created previously and to name or delete a route that you saved previously.
The application menu has several options for Mobile Geo screens, or windows, including Go to Previous Screen, Return to Main Screen, Refresh Current Screen, About Mobile Geo, Minimize to the Background, and Exit. This menu also has an option to reconnect your GPS receiver and to turn Bluetooth on or off. There are also shortcut keys for most of these options.
Mobile Geo's shortcut commands are a convenient way to execute commands by simply pressing a button on the numeric keypad. These commands are divided into two categories: short and long presses. Short presses give you general information, while long presses provide more in-depth information. For example, while on a route, a short press of the 4-key gives the name of the next intersection, while a long press gives you the type of intersection, such as three-way or four-way intersection, its cross streets, and its location from your current position. While testing, we found that as we became more familiar with and comfortable using Mobile Geo, these shortcut commands were a convenient way to access information quickly. The commands we used most often were the 1-key to determine our current GPS position, the 4-key to hear about the next intersection, and the 8-key to learn about the nearest POIs.
You can also use all the same shortcut commands when Mobile Geo is minimized and you are using another application, such as your phone's web browser. Just precede each command with a press of your phone's Home button, and you will hear the information that you need.
Command Describer Mode
To learn the various shortcut commands, you can press the Home key four times quickly to enter Mobile Geo's convenient Command Describer Mode. You can now press any key with a long or short press, and instead of taking the action that command usually takes, Mobile Geo will speak the command's name and a brief description of what it does. To exit Command Describer Mode, you again press Home four times quickly.
To test Mobile Geo, we planned and followed several routes for both pedestrian and vehicle scenarios. We conducted our testing in and around Huntington, West Virginia, home of AFB TECH. Huntington is a town of roughly 50,000 people and has wide, four-lane streets with buildings that rarely exceed 3 stories. There are a handful of buildings with 10 stories or so, but they are dispersed, so, in general, there should be little of an urban-canyon effect in Huntington. Urban canyon is a term that is used to describe cities that have tall buildings that block a GPS system's access to satellites. Creating a route with Mobile Geo is an entirely accessible process, but it can be a bit cumbersome and time consuming, as you have to set your beginning and end points before Mobile Geo can calculate a route. Mobile Geo can also take a couple of minutes to calculate and display a route. However, for actions like planning a route that may take a while, it provides a swoosh sound every few seconds to indicate that it is progressing. While traveling along a route you have planned with Mobile Geo, Mobile Speak's voice provides guidance, and you can customize the amount of information that is spoken. For example, you can have it announce all the POIs along the way or simply the turns you will have to make. Mobile Geo also has a feature using vibrations to produce short Morse code alerts. For example, to alert you to an approaching turn, Mobile Geo can produce Morse code vibrations for the letters A and T, which stand for Approaching Turn. Next, we describe some of our experiences traveling along various routes.
In general, Mobile Geo performed solidly when using it in a vehicle, properly getting us to within 50 to 200 feet of our destinations. However, we found that it worked best if we set it to announce only the turns along our route and not all the waypoints because it was too verbose when it was set to announce all the waypoints and street crossings along the way. In that case, Mobile Geo's announcements lagged behind our actual progress along the route. For example, if Mobile Geo was set to announce all the waypoints, and we were lucky enough to catch several green lights in a row, Mobile Geo would announce intersections that we had actually passed two blocks earlier. Its announcements were much more timely when we had it set to announce only our turns, but we sometimes had to go to the Settings menu twice to make sure it was set to announce only turns.
While driving down one route that we had created with Mobile Geo, we ran into some road construction and had to take a detour. Mobile Geo was set to recalculate a route automatically if we went off-route, and it did recalculate the route. However, it did not audibly announce that it had created the new route, so we were not aware that it had done so until it again began announcing turn-by-turn directions. Similarly, when we reached our destination and had Mobile Geo plan a reverse route back to our point of origin, it again did not announce when the route was created. Also, a couple of times when creating a reverse route, it did not bring up the old route, so we had to create the new route from scratch.
We found that Mobile Geo was fairly accurate in announcing when to make a turn when on a vehicle route. We also liked how you can minimize Mobile Geo and work on other phone applications, yet still have access to Mobile Geo information at the press of a button. While on a long route, which included a 60-mile stretch of interstate highway, one of us minimized Mobile Geo and wrote several text messages with marching orders for our AFB TECH interns at the lab, but we could easily check the estimated time of arrival to our destination by pressing the Home key followed by the 3-key.
Mobile Geo's Getting Warmer feature was useful, especially when traveling on a bus. You can set a destination, and Mobile Geo will alert you as you are approaching your destination, which helps you avoid missing your stop when traveling on a bus.
We had more mixed results when using Mobile Geo on pedestrian routes. The routes that Mobile Geo created to our desired destinations were always accurate, but while we walked along the routes, we found that the satellite positioning information was often not as accurate as we would have liked. For example, sometimes we would be walking along a route, but Mobile Geo would not announce a required turn until we were about a half a block past the actual intersection. Other times, though, Mobile Geo would announce a turn within 50 feet of the intersection. A couple of other times, we lost our connection to our GPS receiver, but Mobile Geo neglected to inform us that we were no longer connected on one occasion. The POI feature, conveniently accessed with a press of the 8-key, was a helpful tool for learning all the businesses, restaurants, and hotels in the vicinity while on a route. On one long route, the first author learned via the POI feature that an Indian restaurant that he was not aware of was around the corner, and he used Mobile Geo to find the phone number and made a reservation for dinner. However, the directions to the POIs that Mobile Geo provided were sometimes not accurate, placing them on the opposite side of the street from where they actually were.
One thing that we really liked about Mobile Geo while testing it in Huntington is how it avoided guiding us across dangerous train crossings. Huntington was built around the train industry, and in several places, roads are built with viaducts dipping down under the train tracks. Whenever we planned a route across the tracks, Mobile Geo would properly guide us to the viaducts, rather than right across the tracks themselves. Although Mobile Geo's guidance and accuracy while walking along a route are not always perfect, it is a good tool for planning a route and getting close to your destination. You just have to remember that you still need all your cane or guide dog skills, and you may have to supplement Mobile Geo's information with information gathered from other pedestrians.
Low Vision Access
In addition to working with Mobile Speak, Mobile Geo is also compatible with Mobile Magnifier, responding properly to all Mobile Magnifier's screen-manipulation commands. However, using Mobile Magnifier outside in the sunlight can cause significant screen washout on nearly all cell phones, so people with low vision may have to rely on Mobile Speak when using Mobile Geo outside. Also, the button labels on most Smartphones are too small for most people with low vision, so tactile techniques are necessary to use Mobile Geo.
Mobile Geo's User Guide is an accessible HTML document that is designed to work well with screen readers and screen magnifiers, with a linked table of contents and section headings for easy navigation. It provides a great deal of information about using the product and about GPS in general. One minor complaint that our testers had with the manual is that it does not provide enough step-by-step instructions for planning and following a route. One tester also voiced a desire to have a clearer description of the difference between virtual mode and GPS mode. To find more information about Mobile Geo, including the User Guide, you can visit the following web pages: www.senderogroup.com and www.codefactory.es. A good place to obtain links for all accessible GPS products is www.accessiblegps.com. This site includes users' and manufacturers' reviews of both Mobile Geo and Wayfinder. You can also listen to several Blind Cool Tech podcasts about Mobile Geo and other GPS products at www.blindcooltech.com.
The Bottom Line
Mobile Geo is perfectly accessible because it has been specifically designed for people who are blind or have low vision, and is 100% compatible with Mobile Speak and Mobile Magnifier. We found it to be a great tool for learning about our surroundings in our home town and when traveling in other towns. When traveling for work, we found it useful when venturing outside our hotel and learning what is around with just one keystroke. We even learned a lot about some of the stores and businesses in our home town that we had never known about before. We also found Mobile Geo to be a helpful tool when traveling in vehicles because it will get you close enough for your sighted driver to locate the destination visually. And, you will never feel useless riding in a car when your sighted friends are having trouble finding their way.
Although the GPS's inaccuracy while on a pedestrian route was a problem during our testing, Mobile Geo can still be a useful tool for finding your way while walking around, and it performs well when searching for and finding points of interest. However, as we stated in our article on Wayfinder Access, you still need to have had all your orientation and mobility training and properly use your cane or guide dog when using Mobile Geo. You should also be comfortable asking passersby for directions, especially to pinpoint your final destination.
Because Mobile Geo can take several minutes to find a destination and create a route, you may want to create your route ahead of time and load it when you are ready to travel. That way, you can avoid being late or making your driver impatient as you begin a journey.
Should You Buy Mobile Geo or Wayfinder Access?
If you are in the market for a cell phone-based GPS system, the question of choosing between Mobile Geo and Wayfinder Access really comes down to the specific phone you have. Mobile Geo works on Windows Mobile Smartphones and Pocket PC phones, and Wayfinder Access works only on Symbian phones. Therefore, if you have a Windows Mobile phone, then Mobile Geo is for you. But if you have a Symbian-based phone, such as one of the many Nokia phones that are compatible with TALKS and Mobile Speak, then Wayfinder Access is for you. If you are starting from scratch and are going to buy a new phone, then we hope the information we have provided in these two articles on Mobile Geo and Wayfinder will help you make a decision. Here is a little bit more comparative information on the products, and you can also check out our features and ratings charts at the end of this article.
Although installation is accessible with both systems, the installation process is easier and faster with Wayfinder Access. However, Mobile Geo's manual provides detailed instructions, and it is a one-time-only process.
Mobile Geo has more ways to customize and configure your GPs experience, but that adds some complexity for the beginner. Although you may get overwhelmed with all the bells and whistles with Mobile Geo, once you learn how to use it, you can access most features with a single press of a button.
Because Mobile Geo loads its maps directly onto your phone, you can explore your maps inside even when you do not have a GPS connection. Having maps placed on the phone also eliminates the need to keep an expensive data plan with your cellular service provider. Also, because Mobile Geo does not require a cell connection, you do not even need to have a cell phone service plan if you just want to use your phone for GPS wayfinding. Wayfinder also has a downloadable tool for loading maps directly on your phone, but the tool is not compatible with screen readers.
Mobile Geo takes quite some time to create a route, five minutes or more at times, and Wayfinder is much quicker, taking only seconds. However, Mobile Geo emits periodic swoosh sounds to let you know it is still working on the route.
Mobile Geo is significantly more expensive, but that difference will be made up over time by not having to pay for a data plan from your cellular service provider.
"1. Although the Holux M1000 is an excellent GPS receiver, Sendero now recommends and ships the IBlue GPS receiver with even better accuracy, acquisition time, and longer battery life. The HTC S740 is the newest phone, and it has a built-in GPS receiver but not nearly as good as the IBlue."
"2. Wayfinder and Mobile Geo use the same Tele Atlas maps, so street accuracy or inaccuracy should be the same. However, Mobile Geo has a much more extensive points-of-interest database--15 million versus 3 million on Wayfinder, although the basic travel categories of points are the same. GPS and data accuracy should be fairly similar among all the products. It is the amount of content that is much greater in all the Sendero products, including the shared user points of interest."
"3. The time to calculate a route depends on the length and density of the route as well as on the processor speed and memory of the Windows device being used. A typical route calculation on the HTC S740 takes about 22 seconds for a 2-mile route and 38 seconds for a 5-mile route."
"4. The Virtual Exploration mode is a significant benefit of Mobile Geo, something Wayfinder does not have."
"5. The automatic triggering of LookAround information like points of interest is much more extensive and easier to understand on Mobile Geo than on Wayfinder, especially with Wayfinder's use of the 360-degree compass to indicate where points and intersections are."
"6. Whereas Sendero tells you to head South on the Street and provides a Continue Straight message or Turn Around message, Wayfinder just says to walk along the street with no indication of which way to walk. You would have to manually review the Guide or Itinerary views in order to figure out the route. You do not hear automatically what to do. Wayfinder does not indicate the side-of-street whereas Sendero tells you the side of the street for both POIs and destinations."
"7. It is common for users to want to switch regularly between vehicle and pedestrian route following. In Wayfinder Access, you have to change to your desired mode by going into the Settings and choosing Passenger, Taxi, or Pedestrian mode. Then you calculate your route. If you need to change the type of route you wish, you have to go back into Settings, which takes quite a few key presses. It only takes a couple of keystrokes to do this on any of the Sendero GPS products including Mobile Geo."
Product: Wayfinder Access.
Manufacturer: Wayfinder Systems, Kunsgatan 5 S-111 43, Stockholm, Sweden; phone: 866-467-4761; web site: www.wayfinder.com.
Product: Mobile Geo.
Distributor: Sendero Group LLC, 429 F Street, Suite 4, Davis, CA 95616; phone: 530-757-6800; web site: www.senderogroup.com.
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Overall accessibility: Mobile Geo: 5, Wayfinder Access: 4.5.
Documentation accessibility: Mobile Geo: 5, Wayfinder Access: 5.
Speed of route creation: Mobile Geo: 3, Wayfinder Access: 5.
Route accuracy: Mobile Geo: 4.5, Wayfinder Access: 4.5.
Location accuracy: Mobile Geo: 3.5, Wayfinder Access: 3.5.
Level of customization: Mobile Geo 5, Wayfinder Access 4.