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My Initial Thoughts on the RNIB Navigator App

At lunchtime, I took the new RNIB Navigator app for a "test drive". Given I have more to say about it than can be accommodated in a tweet of 140 characters, I thought I would write a quick blog post with a few observations.

As background, I've been told by Rehabilitation Officers I have excellent mobility skills. I feel a dog provides the best form of mobility for me, but I am now working well with a long cane and am very reliant upon echo location which is essential for getting to some of the places I need to go to locally. In this context, I am very familiar with the names of streets in the area, how they relate to each other and the public places on them.

With all that in mind, I tested the app today and overall was impressed with how it worked. As you would expect from an app developed for blind people, it is completely accessible. I found all the Buttons convenient to access and the prompts from VoiceOver were excellent and were automatically spoken according to the settings I had previously activated. I'm very glad RNIB have made it available.

In the past, I have used GPS technology in a pedestrian mode and particularly in cars as I travel widely every week and I like to know the places we are passing and how long it will be until we reach our destination, that kind of thing. I look forward to trying Navigator in that context this week.

However, from a pedestrian perspective, I found Navigator to be as good as anything else I've tried, and the best way I can describe that is "adequate". I use it as a guide only as to notify me what's around, how to get from one location to another and so on, but I don't expect it to be precise. Navigator, for me, is not precise. It often advised me to turn into streets when I had already done so for example. So in summary, I wouldn't use it to locate a place exactly but more as a means of telling me when I was in the vicinity. To say again, this is typical of GPS products I've tried and because I have the skills I do, I can work with that.

There are a few other points I should make.
1. I've read a lot on Twitter about this being a new app and so the feature set may be lacking and we should bare with the developers. That is not how I see this. The model adopted is the Seeing Eye US-based app from Sendero, which has I think been around for about a year now. The new part about this is the adoption of it by RNIB and as a consequence its usefulness within the UK. To repeat, the technology used is the same and I would have thought therefore it ought to be a little more sophisticated.

2. As an example, the ability to store a favourite location other than your home address does not seem to be included, and that surprised me. One possible work around could be to check in at the place on Foursquare, as this is one of the databases used for Points of Interest. But this means interacting with another app, and I have also read that Foursquare are possibly removing the ability for a person to "check in" within the near future, or at the very least there may be a separate app for this. I don't use Foursquare these days and so I am not as up to speed on this as I should be. But returning to the point, I would have thought the ability to store a favourite point of interest or location would have been fairly fundamental. At the very least this would have helped Rehab Officers in terms of assisting blind people to mark specific locations either en route or when one has reached a frequently used destination. I'm sure there will be a logical reason as to why favourite places are not included however. But there has to be a better method of marking often visited locations rather than checking in on Foursquare as this could potentially pose as a security risk I would have thought.

3. Despite what I've said, I see using Foursquare for points of interest as fairly important, such as locating public buildings. The other method of selection for P O I's is the Tom Tom database, which does not include all locations I would expect in this area. I wonder how this facility will fair when Foursquare services are redesigned later this year? It will be interesting to see. Lets hope Navigator will still be able to interact with it.

As I say, I'm really pleased that RNIB have the app available and I'll certainly keep using it for the moment and see what develops. Thanks to them again for bringing the Sendero product to the UK.