For a while now I’ve been contributing in smallish countryside cities. While not small through their surface area nor their population count, they have a low proportion of active OpenStreetMap contributors and their urban development share a common pattern that is “downtown commercial arteries” leading me to classify them as “countryside cities” rather than “modern evolved and distributed cities”. Those commercial arteries are defined by a street network of mixed uses buildings with shops at ground level and housing at higher levels ; Walking down one of these street, one could model the facade as a succession of doors allowing access to either a shop or housings and that’s exactly what I am looking a software for.
I have searched and tested multiple solutions in my journey but haven’t quite found the ideal one so far. The criterias I am looking for are as follows:
- Lightweight: I’m one of those still using old hardware limited both in memory and performance ;
- Offline map: I’m a cheap guy, allow me to cache the mapping area through WiFi before leaving home ;
- “Notes” creation rather than Waypoints: Most of the apps allows you to create “waypoints” on a GPS trace, while those have their use I definitely can’t use those as GPS function is rather battery intensive and high-rise buildings, or simply clouds, highly affects signal quality. Given a map (see aforementioned point) I would rather be allowed to pinpoint a location and add my own tags to it. Those data could then be exported to a computer to be processed through comparison with OpenStreetMap data.
While not dealbreaking, the app use could be extended through an uncluttered UI and workflow, a customizable presets to one-tap buttons function could make themed mapping parties a breeze, and pictures/voice records.
Below are some solutions I tested with no success so far.
Three applications stood out for their uses, having clear aims, they offer both mapping function and lightweightness. Sadly, none of them fill all my criterias.
- Keypad Mapper 3: The last version of the Keypad Mapper suite, last updated in 2013, is explicitly oriented toward house numbering. While offering rather interesting functions such as “relative to position note location”, it doesn’t offer presets nor pinpoint function. It is GPS dependent and while one could use the pad to write comments instead of housenumbers the process would be painfully slow. Moreover, there seems to be an issue with the app making users share cell towers location to CellTowerID. While I do contribute to this database too, I would rather have the choice to do so ;
- OSMTracker: One of the KeypadMapper successors, while not being perfect offers more flexibility and uses. As I see it, the application follows the same workflow of a buttons-filled screen but with the possibility to create presets. The so called custom layouts, while rather difficult to create, can easily be shared to multiple devices. The only downside in my opinion is the once again “waypoint GPS dependent” function rather than a pinpoint one ;
- StreetComplete: While having many benefits, StreetComplete is too limited for my use. Its main aim could be described as “data refinement” rather than mapping. Furthermore, it only offers limited offline functions ;
- GeoNotes (Suggested by GOwin): The closest app to what I’m searching so far. It is indeed very lightweight and run smoothly on my device allowing me to take notes and pictures to export. On the other hand it still insists on having my position without the option to disable it and offer no offline map. I still decided to keep it and give it a try in the future with a few workaround for the two point aforementioned. One can decide to not give it the permission to search for location, an option to disable it would still be welcomed for less tech-vocab users and experimenting different methods. It’s still possible to use WiFi at home to cache an area data, Not sure about the memory cap but will certainly test it.
These solutions deliver a map-like experience, which can be extended with some freemapping functions at the cost of ressources use and device bloating. Using those for mapping require prior mapping experience and can be clunky for first time users.
- Organic Maps: A fork developped by the MapsMe team, without any editing capabilities. I find it quite interesting in its own category, that is an offline map, and could use it as my main smartphone map application given some refinement. One thing I disliked while testing it is the absence of option to turn off GPS, launching the app automatically starts location search even before acquiring map data (that needs to be downloaded at first use). I have high expectations for this app in the future if given the option to turn off GPS (using it as a map exclusively) and some refinement to the search function ;
- OSMAnd: One of Android OpenStreetMap based bigshots and my main smartphone map application. It offers both a map and editing functions but I find it quite cluttered and ressources heavy. Not using it daily, I often find myself lost in the interface. Some links directing to the same content while important ones are scattered among minor ones. I would prefer a standalone application to this, more lightweighted that could be installed on devices for mapping parties.
Fully fledged map editors offer limitless tagging possibilities to users at the cost of being too complex for beginners and ressources intensive. I would rather have a lightweight data surveyal tool and a power editor at home than having under my, more often than not, frozen fingers a tool capable of nuking entire OpenStreetMap areas given an hazardous tap.
- Vespucci: The community goldstandard OpenStreetMap mobile editor, offers a complete contribution solution on a smartphone. Tried it once and instantly made my device freeze and reboot, potentially because its ressource consumption or my device being outdated. For the glimpse I caught of the user interface, it seemed very bloated on my small screened device ;
- OsmGo! (Suggested by jambamkin): While not being what I’m looking for it’s nonetheless interesting. I see it as a kind of light iD with more than enough editing capabilities to work with POIs and nodes. It doesn’t seem to feature offline maps nor export function thus wouldn’t fit in my expected workflow.
My computer editor of choice for its capabilities and extensive addons library. On top of not being keen of the idea of laptop surveying, it would not be an acceptable solution for mapping parties and beginners. I would still use it to process surveys data, comparing with OpenStreetMap database.
Pen & Paper
Of course, the simplest, most accessible and lowtech answer would be to grab a pen and some paper onto which one could have printed the building footprint through OpenStreetMap. Using some kind of code it’s rather easy to have “presets”. Unfortunately that process is too time consuming, tinkering heavy and beginner unfriendly in my opinion.
Until recently, I considered buying an action cam to survey street facades and upload pictures to Mapillary and/or KartaView (previously known as OpenStreetCam). The two of them are the most known survey pictures hosting services, and while sharing them under open licences they aren’t fully opensource. The aquisition of Mapillary by Facebook back in 2020 has been a major dealbreaker to me while looking for a decentralized and fairer internet and the idea will be undefinitely pending until the next Mapillary.
During my journey I searched for a way to make street surveyal easier. So far, one have to stop at each doorstep to take notes while hoping to have a precise enough GPS signal. My main take on it would be to completely ditch the use of GPS location service for an offline map marker system. So far I found offline maps or marker solutions, but none offered both of them. The closest is GeoNotes, courtesy of GOwin, which isn’t perfect but fine enough for fieldtesting (I’ll try to come back and give an update once that’s done). Once again, the ideal workflow as I see it would be a lightweight smartphone application that allows its user to describe elements’ succession while walking down a street before exporting it to a computer for further processing. I am by no mean expert in UI, UX, software development nor even GIS. This diary entry simply aims to share my idea upon making data surveyal easier through a basic application that could be further extended by users feedback.
Edit: Formatting, typo and moved JOSM to “special cases” as someone who, didn’t liked me putting it next to Vespucci in the “Editor” category, nagged me to do so. Also added some users’ suggestions.