Digital Mapping Tool Overview
Even with a strong interest in technology, digital maps were around for a few years before I went about exploring them. The reason was that everything then was on CD or DVD and the prices were beyond what I could justify paying. It was when web delivery of digital maps started and smaller areas could be purchased that I finally took the plunge.
Anquet, now riled by many, was my starting point before unstable software led me to look at Mapyx Quo. SityTrail, Memory-Map, Routebuddy and Viewranger have been added to my collection more recently. While some look at the route planning tools on offer, they are nothing if the mapping data is not available in the first place. With all of these, I get to survey maps for the U.K., Switzerland, France, Slovenia, Norway and the U.S.A. This collection of tools also offer maps for Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands too so there is good coverage all round.
For a time, the OSi had their Trail Master series for parts of Éire but that seems to have gone by the wayside to leave Mapyx Quo and Viewranger as remaining options for displaying Irish digital maps. That illustrates how much is changing in the world of digital mapping with providers coming and going. Now, we are seeing the national mapping agencies and other publishers themselves embracing digital delivery.
Walking maps are being made available on the web by others too. For instance, Bing Maps have 1:50000 and 1:25000 data from the Ordnance Survey while SysMaps also can do this along with maps from the like of France and Germany so you can broaden horizons if the need arises. Despite only having a personal website to do so, Peter Robins has set up a good selection of viewers for maps covering a variety of countries and Joery Truyen also has a list of online hiking maps on his adventure website. On occasions, the available maps are better for outdoor enthusiasts than those on a national agency’s own portal. That from Germany’s BKG comes to mind here as does the one from Italy’s IDN and the Czech Republic’s Tourmaps.cz so there is a growing number of such national portals.
As good as Google Earth and services like Mapcarta that work from its data have become, they do nothing to take from maps created by national mapping agencies so it is encouraging that we see so many ways of getting and working with their data. It just goes to show how important maps are to outdoors folk and it is something that I know only too well.
Founded in 2001, Anquet started out selling sets of disks containing OS digital map data. Since then, the business has moved more and more to online delivery. In the early days, you needed to install Anquet v06 but Outdoor Map Navigator has taken over that role now. Both tools will work on Windows and there is an app for Android too (the one for iPads does not work with iOS 11.0 at the time of writing) so your maps are available on your tablet or smartphone. As well as Ordnance Survey maps, the range now includes those from Isle of Man Survey, Harvey Maps and France’s IGN. Though it is not my main tool, I still have Anquet for sake of exploration as much as anything else.
It was perusal of National Geographic’s hiking maps for North America that led to my discovering this. The viewer is an app for iOS and Android while there also are plans for a Windows Phone one. Maps are, as the name suggests in PDF form and you can zoom in and out of them. What can cause some confusion are the number of map providers whose wares are on offer. Some of the maps are free while others attract a fee with enhanced versions of USGS map tiles going for $0.79 each at the time of writing. Others will cost you more and National Geographic falls in to this category. Intriguingly, so does Harvey Maps on this side of the Atlantic so this is more than a North American mapping range.
Though it is not a digital mapping tool per se, it is possible to use Garmin’s BaseCamp software to view maps stored on a Garmin GPS device. The range of maps is extensive with dedicated country coverage including Britain, U.S.A., Canada, Austria, Norway and Spain while there are base maps that also cover any countries for which dedicated mapping is unavailable.
Some now decry Anquet’s customer service yet it was not that which caused me to look elsewhere. Anquet v06 had become troublesome on the machine that I was using so I went looking at Mapyx Quo after hearing some good things about it. Again, internet delivery is the mainstay for buying maps though an offer led me to buying Ordnance Survey 1:50000 and 1:25000 maps for the whole of Great Britain on USB sticks, a move that involved a wait for the media and then for stabilisation of the software afterwards. It was just as well that the software is free and that it is just the maps that you buy. Even with some jerky movements on Windows 10, I still stick with it for the range additionally includes 1:50000 maps from OSi and OSNI for the island of Ireland. Slovenian maps once were available but that now seems not to be the case anymore though previous purchases continue to work largely as they should.
There was a time when all digital mapping packages came in shrink-wrapped boxes and some have moved away from this model faster than others. Memory-Map made the move into the downloadable map business more recently than others and also has apps for iOS and Android as well as its Windows mainstay. Its range has extended beyond British maps to include those from Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa and the U.S.A. The latter includes DeLorme maps as well as those from USGS, which contain 1:63000 data for Alaska as well as those at the 1:24000 scale for elsewhere. Usefully, there is a try before you buy feature that I wish that I had tried earlier because it might have had me looking at maps before picking only those that I really needed.
It was the Discovery Walking Guides website that brought this tool to my notice. It is an Android app that allows the use of maps from Britain’s Ordnance Survey and France’s IGN along with the aforementioned other publisher’s maps of Spain and Portugal. The selection may be more limited than some and it is becoming a crowded market these days but there mist be some who use this app to serve their needs.
Routebuddy started out with support for OS X (Apple Mac) and iOS (IPhone & iPad) with a Windows version coming later, a refreshing change from the usual state of affairs. Maps using data from USGS (USA, without Alaska), Ordnance Survey (England, Scotland & Wales), IGN (France), Harvey Maps (U.K., Isle of Man and Ireland), Kartverket (Norway), Lantmäteriet (Sweden), GST (Denmark) and LINZ (New Zealand) are included in the range it offers. Some advocates claim it offers a better experience than Anquet but it is the range of available maps that gets my attention.
This came to my notice in its previous guise as GeoLives, when it was the way to get Irish digital maps from OSi. GeoLives is no more and the emphasis is on apps for Android and iOS devices though there is a web app called Sity Guide Editor that can be used on PC’s too (Firefox and Google Chrome are the recommended browsers). Maps are available for Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and the U.S.A. on an annual subscription basis and the prices are very reasonable for what you get. The maximum scale for those countries who have it is 1:25000 scale maps while 1:50000 is the largest one for others. Magnifying a map changes its scale so you can go from 1:250000 to 1:100000 to 1:50000 to 1:25000, a very handy feature. Planning tools are available too and there is one app per country on the mobile platforms while the web app has the necessary switching functionality together with planning tools.
In contrast to the usual way of things, Tracklogs would appear to be sticking with delivering OS maps using physical media like DVD’s, CD’s and memory sticks. This makes me wonder if they see this as a future niche with their competitors moving towards the download only model that high speed broadband has opened up for many of us.
It may be a GPS app for mobile devices running Android, iOS (iPhone & iPad), Symbian (legacy Nokia hardware), BlackBerry OS and Kindle Fire but it has maps available from such an impressive number of countries that I wish that PC based competitors would take notice. In some cases, the maps can be viewed through a web viewer but it does vary by provider. Most can purchased through the online store and all are available as in-map purchases.
The range of countries includes Great Britain, Ireland (North and South), Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain (with Canary Islands and Portugal’s Madeira), Sweden, Switzerland and U.S.A. That allows plenty of scope for international wandering and I am left wondering why a Windows app has yet to appear given Microsoft’s push into mobile devices.