GPS systems

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

Stay on track

The march to­wards al­ter­na­tive, mostly app-based nav­i­ga­tion, par­tic­u­larly in ur­ban ar­eas, is on the in­crease. Although tra­di­tional GPS or portable nav­i­ga­tion de­vices (PND) have cer­tain benefits – such as not drain­ing your phone bat­tery – the writ­ing seems to be on the wall.

In­ter­est­ingly, in his lat­est Voet­spore di­ary (in this mag­a­zine) Jo­han Baden­horst shares that un­til re­cently, ev­ery step of the team’s jour­neys was planned, mapped and recorded on a GPS. “Yet now, af­ter com­plet­ing the In­dian Ex­pe­di­tion” says Jo­han, “I be­lieve that we are wit­ness­ing the death of the GPS as we know it.”

In­dus­try gi­ants like Garmin and TomTom are aware of the shift­ing GPS land­scape and both com­pa­nies have de­vel­oped GPS nav­i­ga­tion apps (along with other ap­pli­ca­tions for sport and fit­ness). Garmin’s first foray into this space with the Nav­i­ga­tor App for both iOS and An­droid failed and so it rewrote the en­tire GPS ap­pli­ca­tion. It now of­fers Garmin StreetPilot On­board, ex­clu­sively for iOS. TomTom has had more suc­cess with TomTom Go Mo­bile which, like more and more the nav­i­ga­tion apps to­day, al­lows you to save maps for off­line nav­i­ga­tion, so you’ll be able to find your way as long as the phone can pick up the satel­lites.

Still the space keeps evolv­ing, with in­ter­est­ing de­vel­op­ments like those from What3Words... then.per­son­al­i­ties.gusts. A lit­tle con­fused per­haps? The three words above are not the re­sult of ran­dom artis­tic li­cence or an ine­bri­ated jour­nal­ist work­ing late into the wee hours. No, ‘then. per­son­al­i­ties.gusts’ de­notes a very spe­cific lo­ca­tion via the free What3Words app that can be con­verted to the GPS co­or­di­nates -33.93242,18.495759. That’s where you’ll find one of our jour­nal­ist’s desks at the Leisure Wheels Cape Town of­fice. If, us­ing more tra­di­tional meth­ods, you search for the Ram­sayMe­dia (Leisure Wheels) of­fice on Google Maps, you will be given the fol­low­ing co-or­di­nates: -33.931776, 18.496059, which will help you find the build­ing at 36 Old Mill Road, but no more spe­cific than that.

You see, What3Words has divided the world into a grid of 3m × 3m squares (57 tril­lion of them) and as­signed each one a unique three­word ad­dress. This means that any­one can ac­cu­rately pin­point any lo­ca­tion and share it more eas­ily and with less am­bi­gu­ity than with tra­di­tional GPS ad­dresses.

Avail­able in mul­ti­ple lan­guages, What3Words shouldn’t be thought of as more or less ac­cu­rate than GPS, as it re­lies on GPS to re­turn the three word ad­dresses, but the aim is to make lo­ca­tion shar­ing more hu­man-friendly. Think about it. You write or type up a GPS lo­ca­tion for a lekker camp­ing spot in Botswana for your buddy, ex­cept that af­ter driv­ing all day he dis­cov­ers that you made a mis­take. (That’s one way to cut a friend­ship short.)

In­stead, pin­point the lo­ca­tion with What3Words and share the three words. We looked up the Devil’s Cataract view­point at Zim­babwe’s Vic­to­ria Falls and it can be found at ‘fold­­tab­lish. use­ful’ and the view­point just south of it can be found at ‘steers.cud­dling.hid­den’.

Land Rover’s ARDHI off-road­ing app has al­ready adopted this tech­nol­ogy, al­low­ing driv­ers to in­put these three-word ad­dresses to plan off-road routes with three-word way­points. It will be in­ter­est­ing to see if other ve­hi­cle man­u­fac­tur­ers be­gin to in­cor­po­rate this app into their nav­i­ga­tion of­fer­ings.


Google Maps needs no in­tro­duc­tion and is one of the most pop­u­lar mo­bile nav­i­ga­tion ap­pli­ca­tions that seam­lessly in­te­grates with search and other Google ser­vices. Af­ter mark­ing your cur­rent po­si­tion, the free app gives you var­i­ous route op­tions to your cho­sen des­ti­na­tion, with es­ti­mated trav­el­ling times and live traf­fic up­dates fac­tored into the equa­tion. Voice nav­i­ga­tion elim­i­nates the need to look at your screen and you can also save frequently used ad­dresses un­der short­cuts such as ‘work’ and ‘home’.

Although Google Maps re­lies on you hav­ing an in­ter­net con­nec­tion for real-time stream­ing, it al­lows you to save and store large map ar­eas to use for nav­i­ga­tion even when your phone loses sig­nal.

In an un­fa­mil­iar area, Google Maps is a gem; how­ever, if you are us­ing the real-time stream­ing of maps frequently, ex­pect it to make a dent in your data al­lo­ca­tion.


Waze de­scribes its app as ‘the world’s largest com­mu­nity-based traf­fic and nav­i­ga­tion app’ with Waze users con­tin­u­ally up­dat­ing in­for­ma­tion.

We gave it a try to com­pare with the more fa­mil­iar Google Maps. Ini­tially, the graph­ics struck us as a bit cutesy and fea­tures like lo­ca­tion shar­ing with friends on so­cial me­dia seemed to be aimed at young driv­ers. There is the op­tion to re­main ‘in­vis­i­ble’ so that you can’t be found or dis­turbed while driv­ing, which seems like a far more pru­dent op­tion to us.

What we did like is that you can pre-se­lect a des­ti­na­tion and the time that you’d like to ar­rive there and save it for later. Based on the traf­fic, Waze will alert you that ‘it’s time to go’ in or­der for you to reach your port of call by that time. Like Google Maps, Waze di­rects you via the fastest route to avoid traf­fic and the two seem very com­pa­ra­ble. Waze also has fea­tures like the ‘Gas Sta­tion’ icon that shows the fill­ing sta­tions in the area that you’re in, to­gether with the price of petrol and diesel.

There is an op­tion that al­lows you to change the voice giv­ing you di­rec­tions from the de­fault ‘Jane’ to among oth­ers ‘Boy Band’. We highly dis­cour­age you from try­ing the boy band, it is cringe­wor­thy to the nth de­gree, with the sound of a male voice sing-song speak­ing, def­i­nitely not singing.

For us the jury is still out be­tween Google Maps and Waze but we are lean­ing to­wards the for­mer.


Track­s4Africa dif­fer­en­ti­ates it­self from the above-men­tioned apps by spe­cial­is­ing in re­mote places in Africa, with no streetby-street ad­dress look-up in South Africa. The app sup­plies over­land trav­ellers with es­sen­tial route in­for­ma­tion and of­fers off­line nav­i­ga­tion right across Africa for both An­droid and Ap­ple (iPhone and iPad) users. It costs R799.99 The maps in­di­cate camp­sites and other ac­com­mo­da­tion, as well as fuel stops, ATMs, shops, restau­rants and emer­gency ser­vices (like em­bassies, police sta­tions and hos­pi­tals). It also high­lights at­trac­tions like na­tional parks with cov­er­age of view­points and wa­ter­holes. You need to pro­vide an ex­ter­nal power source when used for pro­longed pe­ri­ods as the GPS to­gether with the screen will drain your bat­tery in no time. Be­sides the app, Track­s4Africa of­fers down­load­able maps on an SD card that can be used with a tra­di­tional Garmin portable GPS sys­tem.

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