It seems like I am hearing a lot about the problems with personal navigation technology these days. A recent twitter post by @mapserving of a news article by the BBC describes another case of GPS misadventure. And only a few days ago, my wife and I, attending a reception listened to an extended dinner table discussion of the problems of in car navigation. Some of the accounts are humorous but sometimes the consequences may be serious.

So as a one promoting the benefits of spatial technology, what does one make of these types of reports?

As the growth in location aware applications and services is upon us, we need to remind ourselves first, that technology in itself is probably not the complete solution to any user’s needs.

In the case of GPS navigation there are many potential sources for error including the following:

  • Outdated map data – recent street addition
  • Incorrect or incomplete data
  • Inaccurate geocoding
  • Poor routing models
  • GPS satellite system responsiveness and accuracy
  • Interpretation of user queries
  • Operator error

Take a look at the manuals that accompany your GPS device. If these issues are addressed at all, it is not in an overt way. And even if they were spelled out more prominently, would it make a difference? My sense is that in today’s technological world, there is a tendency among all of us to focus on the benefits of technology while losing site of its limitations.

There is a fine balance between promoting new technology and ensuring that users are aware of the limitations of its use or the need for other information, common sense, etc. One of the challenges of those providing technology based products and services is to minimize the limitations of the technology during the user experience. This can be accomplished by:

  • Understanding the use case – this will change as products and service uptake moves from early adopters to mainstream users;
  • Ensuring you have thought through and are able to provide a complete solution to the user – are things like documentation, training, etc necessary and how should they be implemented to be effective; and
  • Constantly work to solve technical limitations or provide workarounds.

These are pretty fundamental and there are probably others but we need to keep at least these three in the foreground as we work to advance the use of spatial information and technologies.