Tech Talk: Mapping the way ahead

gvSIG Mini Maps
gvSIG Mini Maps
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IT has always amazed me that more of us don’t complain about the BBC weather forecasts. It’s bad enough that they’re inaccurate and ambiguous to the point of uselessness, but on top of that we have to pay for them twice – once via the taxpayer-funded Met Office and again through the licence fee.

As if to demonstrate that such an arrangement is no longer feasible, another government department has started giving its data away – a move that has begun to bear fruit for people who rely on their mobile phones for directions.

Ordnance Survey maps used to be prohibitively expensive for all but the most dedicated walkers, but the organisation’s new “open source” policy has released its mapping to the developers of apps and widgets which then combine it with other information.

One such app is gvSIG Mini Maps, which melds OS data with familiar online maps from Google and others. All of these have different qualities, but bringing together the best features of each creates a mapping system of unparalleled detail and user-friendliness. And because your phone has a built-in global positioning system it can determine your location wherever you are and put the most appropriate maps at your fingertips. GvSIG is still a work in progress, but you can download free versions now for your Android phone or PC.

Google’s own mapping system is already built into every Android phone and if you’re thinking of taking yours abroad, it’s perhaps even more useful than you realised. It’s now possible to download a section of a map before you set off, and then use the phone’s GPS to get personalised directions without eating up expensive minutes of mobile data. The cost of “data roaming” when you’re out of the country can be extortionate, so this is a way of getting your own back on the phone companies. You can download a map of the whole of Tenerife, say, before you leave home and use it freely while you’re there.

The option for doing this is hard to find, but you can enable it by ticking the “Precache map area” box in the Labs section of Google Maps options.

You can also preload details of traffic delays for your journey, using a free app from the RAC, which uses the live traffic data that conventional sat navs make you pay extra for. And while you’re at it, why not check out your phone’s app store for alternative weather services; they’re nearly all better than the Met Office’s.