Early thoughts on Nokia Map Suite

Posted on 10/27/2011

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Amidst the euphoria (and disappointments) of the launches yesterday, the Asha S40 devices , the Lumia 710 and the stunning Lumia 800 running Windows Phone Mango, a couple of new applications were rolled. Of particular interest seeing as mapping and location based services are a strength of Nokia was the Map Suite available from Nokia Beta Labs. Like the new installation of Nokia Maps 3.08 with Weather, this new package bundles a number of applications, four in this instance, into one installation.

With Maps 3.08, I was actually happy that the application was broken up into different modules, initially Maps, Drive, Check-In, Update and Guides. However with the addition of Weather and now the Maps Suite, Nokia Maps is now one bloated mass with ten separate applications falling under the Maps banner. The new additions are Live View, Places, Public Transport and Pulse. Live View, Nokia’s take on the augmented reality experience, has been seen before and is still available as a standalone, but the rest are new additions to the family.

But think about that. Ten separate applications dumped into your menu. Unfortunately the one word that comes to mind is ‘bloated’, which is not how I want to look at what is ultimately the best bit of software on my N8. I have had a chance now to play with pretty much all of the packages and overall it is still the most compelling software to come out of Nokia and I believe offers one of the best mapping solutions, when looking at the sum of all the parts, in the world. It is simply stunning. However I am of the opinion that someone needs to sit the team down, take stock of all the services that make up  the Maps Suite, and think about how the experience can be streamlined to make it far more accessible and friendly for the end user.

Lets Strip it Down to the Core

Looking at all of the applications that make up the Maps suite, it is pretty clear that some have clearly defined functions, though there is some functional redundancy at play, hence why there are so many apps in the package. I understand from one angle that since some of the apps are beta or experimental testing them one by one and getting feedback on each is important. Having said that though, I believe that Maps Suite can be distilled into for streams, which could each represent a single application, namely ‘Communicate and Share’, Prepare’, ‘Navigate’ and ‘Explore’.

Communicate and Share

Nokia Pulse

This is essentially a single application, Nokia Pulse. I am still undecided about Pulse for two reasons. First it is proprietary, right now on mobile where I presume it is designed to be used supporting only Nokia Symbian touch devices and Windows Phone devices. There is web interface of course as well as a mobile site, which brings me to the next point, it comes accross as JASN, in other words, just another social network.

These two factors put Pulse on the backfoot because there is already a huge social network that has in excess of 750 million users where pretty all of your friends are likely to be, that utilizes the status update and sharing paradigm. And being proprietary it immediately dilute the number of people a user can connect with. Back in the day, there was a strong possibility that the majority of your friends would be using a Nokia phone but these days people have so many options to choose from and Android in the smartphone world is the runaway leader these days.

However, it is focused more on close knit group sharing however which does actually make it interesting. The use case presented at Nokia beta labs focussed on a family situation so that would be a group of four, maximum ten people, sharing their locations, photos etc. It’s private, it’s secure, it’s lean, all things which Facebook is not. I’ll see in the coming weeks if I can convince aby of my Nokia totting friends to utilize pulse .

Prepare

Nokia Weather

Again this stream is a solitary application, Weather. Nokia Weather is limited at the moment but still immensely useful, providing location aware forecast. It’s missing just two features at the moment, search and a homescreen wigdet. As the application stands, the app locates you via GPS and then serves up the weather forecast for your current location. Sometimes however you might want to look ahead. Perhaps you are going on holiday. I’d like to know the weather where I’m going, maybe 200, 500 or 1000 Km away, and I don’t want to have to navigate to another application. Hence the necessity of a search function. The widget speaks for itself, while it is trivial to open the app it’s nice to ustilize the widgetized home screen for glancability.

Navigate

Again this is relatively straightforward. Nokia Drive is a gorgeous application, with big friendly touch controls, and live traffic with rerouting. One thing I’m still missing here is the ability to search for an navigate to a street corner, and a surprising amount of addresses for restaurants and the like are given as ‘corner of…’. It is also disappointing that adding route points, ie point A to C via B, is no longer supported.

Live Traffic Updates

Overall though an inpressive piece of software and one that makes sense to have as a standalone application.

Explore

While the application started out as a navigating tool, Nokia Maps has evolved into so much more, bringing in guides, an ever improving point of interest (POI) database, check-in and on device updating of maps. Nokia Maps is now a fully fledged location based service, which explains why there are so many applications available in the Maps Suite.

To run through the remain applications, we have Maps, Check-In, Guides, Live View, Places and Public Transport.

These six apps fit into the explore stream and in my personal opinion, do not need to be singular but form an integration exploration and check-in suite, under the Maps banner. When starting up maps you are greeted with the following screen.

Nokia Maps Landing Page

The first place to visit is search. With Maps as it is you can perform a text search with smart auto completion, localized category search and favourites. Howver the functionality of localized category search is redundant with the release of Nokia Places which does the same thing in a more elegant manner. Along the bottom is an icon based ribbon for selecting different categories, top left the ‘My Location’ toggle and top right is a list icon which switches to a text based view of local places, based on the icons selected. Currently this is mostly entertainment areas, food, shopping, bars etc, but if this includes are areas like hospitals, parks etc, it would be a very intuitive solution. Another point of contention is that when a place is selected , currently the place card shows a smaller map portion to localize the place and then the name, and a toggle to select mode of navigation, walk or drive. In maps however, one has more detail, address, contact details, and sharing options. Sharing currently is only SMS and Email, surely it makes sense to add social networks here.

Nokia Places Category Selection

Category List View

Listing in Nokia Places

This is also where Guides can come into the picture. Guides in essence takes a whole lot of sources, for me Lonely Planet, Eventseekr, Insight Guides, Cityseekr, Tracks4Africa, SafariNow and the strage Events Guide. These all provide restaurant , hostels, entertainment etc. Oh and weather, with a search option. All very useful but the app itself is an anomaly amongst the slickness of the rest of the Maps apps. And I’m sure you have gathered is functionaly redundant. Weather is taken care off, why not absorb the rest of Guides into Places. When calling up a place, reviews etc from the guides should be available in the place card.

Staying with places we get to another functionally redundant app, Live View. I love augmented reality from a geekery perspective, having had both Wikitude and Layar installed on my phones at various times. As a standalone app, it’s okay but if it was integrated into places, that would be ideal with a toggle icon sitting in between ‘My Location’ and ‘List’ toggle. Thus once the categories you wish to view are selected. You can toggle between Live View or Map View in one tap.

It would great here to see a separation from Search (incorporating text search and favourites,) from Places with each of these added to the toolbar in the main map view.

Public Transport is integrated into Maps via an option under Options (the cog wheels) to toggle transit lines on or off thus acting as layer in Map view. Like with the places UI, this should have a  toggle top right that adds the layer for local transportation.

Speaking of the toolbar, right now it is Search, Options and Exit, but by switching to the new UI guidelines, the icon list would be as follows, Back Arrow, Search, Places, Views, Option. Under views, one would find the usual options, map/satellite/terrain and 3D/Landmarks/Night Mode. Under options would be the Extras menu, curiously found when tapping on the cog wheel, which includes the map loader, settings etc.

And with that, nine apps have been reduced to four. Now I’m not a UI designer so how this would all look is beyond me but from a usability perspective I think it would be a lot more friendlier, reducing the number of applications one has to utilize to utilize the maps suite to it’s full capabilities

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Posted in: N8, Nokia, Rant, Review, Symbian, Web