Rant: Bewildered by smartphone maps

It was my own fault, of course. Faced with the challenge of finding an obscure venue in the ancient labyrinth of the City of London, Apple Maps was never going to be a good match if getting from point A to point B is the name of the game. Which it is, really, with maps.

Wednesday was unseasonably hot in London and London is not a city which handles heat well. The Underground system becomes a fetid hole, perspiration draws maps of imaginary countries on shirts, an unnameable feral smell hovers, fair skin shocked to be exposed to ultra violet rays glistens and turns to an angry scarlet. Citizens unused to temperate climes cluster, bathe and baste. Already a sea of human traffic at the best of times, walking the streets becomes a fractious, hazardous and frustrating challenge.

Firing up Maps seemed a good idea. Show me the way then, iPhone 5, from Bank station to Old Billingsgate. The problem is that the City, London’s confusingly named financial centre, is full of tall buildings and narrow streets, making it hard for satellites to locate the user precisely. This is compounded by the fact that new buildings arise with a rapid cadence, changing the layout of the area. This mania for building, compounded by ubiquitous road works, means that maps that haven’t been dynamically updated in real time become works of academic interest - fascinating documents, yes, but not much use for getting from here to there.

And so we leave Bank station, walk to Monument, fail to see our destination on the map signs erected by the local council and we turn to technology. But the technology takes an unconscionable time to locate us and therefore the directions are gibberish.

‘Walk To King William Street’. But I’m on Great William Street…

‘Turn left now.’ That would require walking into a wall or angry looking stockbroker.

‘Go back onto Pudding Lane.’ Where?

‘Turn back onto Fish Street Hill.’ Um…

‘Turn right now.’ Onto a building sight?

Eventually with much sweaty manipulation of the visible map on the small screen of the device we see our destination and fiddle a route through.

‘Cross the road.’ But that would involve hurdling a fence and running the gamut of nonstop traffic. So, we walk up to the zebra crossing, wait as a VIP with outrider is granted preferential movement by the police (Her Majesty The Queen? Our Prime Minster? Lady Gaga? The black screens of the limousine don’t let us know.)

‘You have arrived at your destination.’ Nope, this is clearly the offices of the Daily Star, Daily Express and fellow high-quality publications.

Eventually an entrance is discovered. Wait outside for press conference people to allow access. Talk incoherently about London to a Japanese journalist. That’s called the Shard. SHARD: like glass. It’s quite new, the tallest building in London, I think. You can eat at the top. That one? About 10 years old, the Mayor of London is based there. It is said to resemble a testicle. A testicle? Oh, you know… it doesn’t matter. We are hot, rambling, tired. ‘Are you alright?’ asks the nice Japanese. Yes, but I used the maps on my phone to get here, I say by way of apologetic explanation. ‘Maps don’t work so good on phones,’ he says. We nod, two nations bound by our disrespect for technology’s inexorable march to somewhere we didn’t want to go.

Next time I’ll dig out my A-Z map – sometimes paper is best.


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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