GPS Wanderings [Reviewing Palm/Kirrio/MapSonic combinaison]

I finally went for the bluetooth add-on (GPS hardware from Kirrio and MapSonic
software from Michelin) to my aging Palm Tungsten T. I’ve been using it
for the past weeks on different type of journeys (from several minutes
to 5-6 hours). Here’s my review.

My hardware is aging but the overall solution works although when
computing the itinerary the slow (100MhZ) CPU speed really shows (same
goes for launching or quitting the application). Something I just don’t
understand is that exiting the application on my Palm is very
slow (about 30 seconds!). The worst part of having not enough memory is
that sometimes, in the middle of driving, the app decides it needs to
re-compute the itinerary (probably after copying data from the card to
the device) which translates into a memory error requiring to reset the
Palm device (to reset the bluetooth connection)! Destination is then
lost and you need to re-program the damn thing. Not a good idea while
driving! Another pretty annoying issue (maybe memory-related) is that
the sound
is sometimes “broken” making the most interesting feature just unusable.

Calling Mars. Setup time is another part that really needs work.
Every time I turn navigation on, the Palm devices tries to detect all 
bluetooth devices around and presents the user with a list with things
like phones or PDAs if you’re in a crowded place. Most of the time
though, you only have one (your GPS). There should really be a notion
of a registered GPS device to purely remove that step.

More than the 3D “bird eye” view, the sound is the best feature which
kinda makes me think the phone solution was a good idea after all.
Another thing that makes the phone-based solution viable is traffic
information (which I don’t have in what I bought). Oh wow….

The Palm OS 5.0 digitizer is just broken. It always offsets after a few
hours of use (maybe there’s a fix/patch, I need to check). The trouble
here is that the roots of the GPS software now owned by Michelin really
shows with very small buttons except for most of the navigation part.
Try using a pen while driving.

The interface with the address book is nice but not perfect – I really
want to be able to store precise coordinates so I  don’t have
to validate city, then street name, then street number every time.
Places like home, work and a few others should be available via one or
two clicks, not six or seven (I haven’t had time to reinstall POSE to get some snapshots, but any UI engineer would clearly caracterize this as an abuse of dialogs)! What is also a little annoying is the
inaccuracy in estimated time left
when computing something. Just leave the progress bar and remove the
time (or at least use 01:03:24 and not 1:3:24)!

There’s still lots of room for improvement on the reliability part of
the whole system. For instance, better combination of the data should
avoid errors like “jumping” from the highway to the parallel much
smaller road a few meters away. While the GPS box seems better (more
satellites), it sometimes seems to
never “hook up” and I had to turn it on and off a couple of times.

Setup time is crucial. The objective of this whole GPS system (IMO) is
to not lose time trying to guess the driving directions (I hardly ever
look at a map before sitting down behind the wheel). So, having
sometimes a 5-10 minute setup time (wire/place devices->start
the app->set the destination (way too many
steps/screens)->start navigation mode->detect
devices->select GPS device->wait for
synchronization->drive) is just not acceptable.

Overall, this solution/combination is somewhere between alpha and beta,
but the good news is that most of the issues have software solutions.

Final thoughts. Thinking about it, this whole solution is way to
standalone. It would be nice to use the online service,
(with or without satellite photos…), pick your own. Using the server
horsepower and caching really makes sense here for figuring out
itineraries. And finally, the more I think about it, the more the
always-online phone device seems like the best approach.

Author: alexismp

Google Developer Relations in Paris.