Lost in cyberspace

Almost minutes after buying an iPhone 4 last year, I went on an app-purchasing spree/spiral, downloading programs and games I didn’t realize I could ever want or, indeed, need.

Almost minutes after buying an iPhone 4 last year, I went on an app-purchasing spree/spiral, downloading programs and games I didn’t realize I could ever want or, indeed, need.

I now keep track of my schedule, social life and calorific intake via iPhone while reading newspapers, listening to the radio and angrily battling these mean pigs who stole a bunch of eggs.

One app that I was aware of, and quite excited to purchase, even before I got the phone was a navigational program called TomTom.

One of the top navigational iPhone apps on the market that uses the device’s built-in GPS system, I chose to buy TomTom over its main competitors, Navigon’s MobileNavigator and TeleNav’s AT&T Navigator, because of its “IQ Routes Technology” which seemed to generate the most positive number of reviews.

The most expensive of the three apps mentioned, at least at the time, TomTom also had a map package which included both Canada and the U.S.

I was pretty excited when I downloaded and installed the app which I planned to use for roads trips, summer weddings and news stories in West Bench. All revved up with no place to go, I decided to take my navigational system on an imaginary test drive to Vancouver to check out the app’s interface.

The first route that popped up took the driver to the Coquihalla. No doubt a quick path to Vancity, particularly if one keeps their vehicle at top speed, I have never been much of a fan of the Coquihalla for a few reasons. One, in the winter the Connector with its windy snowstorms looks more like a post-nuclear-holocaust movie set than a drivable roadway. Two, in better conditions, its straightaways and high-posted speed limits allow me to drive faster than I ought to. And three, while there are some moments of beauty on the Coquihalla, I much prefer the scenic alternative of the Hope/Princeton route, with its changing landscapes. The route is also a shorter distance. Plus, and maybe I was a goose in my past life, there is something weird about driving north to Merritt when Vancouver is south.

And so I hit find an alternative route to bring up my beloved Hope/Princeton. But instead, the app presented a convoluted seven-hour trek down through Osoyoos and across the border into Washington state, reaching as far south as Malott (wherever that is) and then slowly back up north through the Peace Arch Crossing.

A little shocked but undeterred, I turned to the alternative route function again, only to get an even longer trip stateside which had me taking a ferry back into Canada.

Happily, the latter seafaring option has since been removed. Sadly, the Hope/Princeton route has still not been added despite at least a couple of updates.

Apparently not having heard of the saying: once bitten, twice shy, I also experienced a rather time-consuming route-generating mishap when leaving a friend’s house in Surrey for Penticton.

I don’t know Surrey that well and wanted to get from his place to Highway 1. But instead of simply taking me up one of the main arterial streets of Surrey to the highway, TomTom led me along a farm road which seemed to have more potholes and stop signs than streetlights.

The stupid thing is that it took me so long to realize that I was being led astray by the navigational system. I mean it did occur to me once the road narrowed, the streetlights disappeared and the pavement began to shake my car a little bit that I might not be going the right way, but I kept thinking, ‘Oh, it will probably get better once I get over the next hill.’

Of course it didn’t, but by the time I realized that it was too late. If I had run out of gas or got a flat tire, I would have been stranded in the middle of (and I mean this with as much respect as the word allows) nowhere.

I contacted TomTom on May 13 to try and find out what kind of actions the company is taking to generate better routes designs in Canada and elsewhere. But, instead of answering the question, TomTom explained that the route through Washington state was created when an avoid roadblock option was selected. I suggested that I hadn’t selected that option and that even if I had, surely a route designed to avoid roadblocks should not be crossing through two separate international border crossings. They did not answer back in time for my deadline.

But alas, I guess it all comes down to buyer beware and user be wise. But the thing is, I still kind of like the app. Maybe not for what it is now, but for what it could be in the near future if its makers would just do a better, and perhaps even safer, job of creating the routes.




Bruce Walkinshaw is a reporter with the Penticton Western News.