No doubt, navigation apps have changed our lives. We can hardly remember the days when we used to print maps or ask a passerby for directions. Heck, tell that to our kids, and they will think we lived in the stone age.
Navigation apps went a long way in improving their interface and features, starting from better ETA estimation, through live updates and ending with updated map data.
Now I think it’s time for navigation apps to leverage their user experience to the next level.
Moving from distance to time
Put people in an open field, and ask them, “point me to a location which is 650 meters away”. Most people would fail to estimate something even close to that. So when navigation apps display navigation messages such as “turn left in 850 meters”, it may be precise, but for most users, it’s pointless.
When the app says “turn left in 850 meters” it tries to notify the user when he needs to turn left (“after 850 meters”), and since when is the primary purpose here, it is more intuitive for the user to use a time estimation rather than a distance -> “turn left in 2 minutes (850 meters)” will be better, since people know what 2 minutes means, not 850 meters.
Base navigation orders on noticeable visual objects
When the user reaches a junction, his next step is to take the right turn to the right road. When you think of it, it’s a complicated task — he needs to match the map on his display to the streets outside, including measuring distance and all that while he is driving (!).
Most navigation apps zoom the display at this point to help the user make the right decision, but in many cases, this is not enough.
One improvement we can make is to use noticeable objects out there to generate a more human-style message.
For example, if the turn is right after a school, then the message can be “turn right in 150 meters, right after the school” or “turn left on the next exit.”
It is just like directions from a friend “Drive 2 minutes and after the kindergarten turn right”.
Integrate Car Pool to your trip
Carpool is an excellent idea since it can help reduce traffic and save costs for so many people. The way most companies implement carpool is by trying to coordinate drivers and passengers’ planned trips.
While this approach sounds logical, it has one big flaw — it creates constraints both for the driver and the passenger. The driver needs to pick the passenger in a specific time and place, and the passenger needs to be there on time; otherwise, the ride will fail, and the users will lose faith in the service.
The best thing to do is the use the fantastic data that we have on current trips, and to match them to ride requests in real-time.
When the user requests a ride to a specific place from a particular place, a message needs to sent to the relevant drivers that are registered to the carpool service, and their path pass at the user pick up point and heading to his destination.
Match a ride request to a current trip is the best way to coordinate a carpool without any constraint, and the most intuitive way to that is to integrate it right into the navigation app.
“Notify me when the traffic is lighter.”
One of the most common use cases for users is to use navigation apps to get a real-time ETA, and this is how they know when they leave their office/home.
Navigation apps can add a feature that will detect when the traffic jams are lighter in real-time, and message the user to leave. While Siri does it with planned events, it doesn’t cover use cases when the user doesn’t have an event, and he wants to leave his office when the traffic is lighter.
“Direct me to the closest parking lot.”
We were all in this situation — you reach your destination, and then you start looking for a parking lot. In many cases, parking lots status data can be accessed online, so one of the requests users want is “get me to the closest available parking lot.” This can save users tons of time searching where to park their car when they reach their destination.
Compute walking distance
Of course, the user wants to get to his destination as quickly as possible, but directing him precisely to the final destination is not always the quickest way of doing that. Sometimes the ultimate goal for that car can be 300 meters from the address, and at this point, the user should continue on foot. It depends on the traffic and road situation. Computing walking distance can be handy for users, especially in crowded areas.
Car Energy Consumption
Fuel consumption when driving at low speed in traffic jams can be different than driving on a long way on 110 km per hour. And since the app can estimate how the trip will be in terms of speed and traffic, it can also calculate the energy consumption for the car.
Sometimes we have several routes with minor changes in ETA, but with a big difference in energy consumption, so why not giving the user better advice about his path decision?
Help the app detect your car direction
The following is a small but essential feature — the way navigation apps know your direction is by the movement of your car. When you start your trip, it takes time for the app to understand your direction and sometimes even precise location (when there are multiple roads close to each other). The time wasted here can cause the app to show a wrong path and extend his trip more than expected. To overcome this frustration, the user can rotate the map and move his location before he starts the journey to help the app with the correct paths.
Some of the features exist in some of the apps, some exists in patents, and some are still in my head, but my feeling is that most of the navigation apps I know don’t make use of their significant data (both online and DB) and the great device’s technology while sticking to the traditional navigation product instead of giving us the next generation of navigation apps.