OpenStreetMap

Using OSM on a phone Part 2 (plus a protoype)

Posted by Mark Newnham on 18 August 2013 in English (English)

In an Earlier Diary Entry I asked the question ''Given the focus of current mapping towards use on mobile devices, Why is there no proper mobile version?'', which drew the normal response from contributors to any Open Source project, i.e. 'If you don't like it, do something about it'. So, excepting the fact that I've never written a line of code in Ruby in my life, I'm trying my best here.

For a starting point, I'll introduce an issue on the main openstreetmap.org bugtracker 'No search on mobile style' , opened up over 7 months ago, and still unresolved. The issue reports that the search facility on the OpenStreetMap landing page is unavailable when loaded on a mobile device, i.e. a Smart Phone, not a tablet. What this issue really is, is that when a browser screen width is a bit smaller than an iPad or Kindle, the design of the main page at openstreetmap.org forces the sidebar on the left off the screen into invisibility and inaccessibility. This reduce the usability of the map page by 95%. As all of the search bar links are missing, the user of the device is pretty much stuck. Conversely, the edit link is available, which offers a number of options which don't work on phones. The overall effect of this is the user is presented with a pretty unsatisfactory experience.

The general thrust of the response to the questions raised is that the presentation of the landing page data is going to change in the near future (see SOTM 2013) so why the put the effort in. However, what value would be gained by making a Smart Phone level browser interface compatible with the main page? (tablet yes, but smartphone no). It may be counter-productive, a distraction to developers to try to add the compatibility required into the product. Who would want to edit data in a smartphone based browser anyway? Data accumulation can be done with apps, ready to 'bring home' and be edited with a full-size editor.

A visit to openstreetmap.org on a Smart Phone device has no need to be a rich, fully featured experience. It just needs to be a teaser, a tempting look at what might be available. Unless the decision is made to compete with providers of maps, with its associated bandwidth requirements, a simple map, comparable to the existing landing-page but designed to fit within the size constraints of Smart Phone is all that is required. Links to mobile-device enabled versions of the websites like the Forum and Wiki would be useful, and possibly Social-Media links.

From another perspective, a reasonably well structured mobile site can give insights into what users are looking for when they arrive on the openstreetmap.org. Tracking their movements through the page clicks can help show where the focus of 'marketing' could be.

I've put together a prototype of a simple openstreetmap.org mobile website. Specifically designed to be used on phone-sized devices, but tested only on my personal phone, a Samsung Galaxy S3, it's just designed to show the concepts, not be an answer to issues I've described here, but It's also a reminder that by use of a few frameworks that we could do better right now, without waiting for changes to the 'big picture'.

Comment from Stalfur on 18 August 2013 at 02:27

Precisely what was bugging me on my BlackBerry Curve, until the latest update when the map just doesn't load.

I tried your page on the Curve, I would like to have some text next to the search box, when you click on "Just show me a map" you are not shown a map but a searchbox with no indicator of what goes in it. Just a simple "Enter name of location" would help tremendously.

When I do get the map it is absolutely miniscule, the search box and white area around it takes half the screen and the map is about 50 pixels high if so.

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Comment from Mark Newnham on 18 August 2013 at 04:23

Another thing I forgot to mention was that I only learnt to write slippy maps this afternoon. Writing device-independant JavaScript I'm sure is difficult. But this wasn't really the point of the excercise. I'll try to find out out how to fix it, but as the whole prototype could disappear from the site in a week, I'm not sure it's worth it.

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