With auto systems dominating the GPS market, handheld users often feel neglected by the major manufacturers. We rarely see hardware improvements, and topo maps are updated even less frequently. The GPS maps that we do have usually show 40 meter (131 foot) contour intervals. Personally, I like to know if I’m approaching a cliff of say 100′; with these maps, it wouldn’t show! Nor do most outdoor maps allow for auto-routing on trails, the way that GPS highway maps do.
There are very few options if you want better maps. Garmin has a 1:24,000 scale set of national park maps which do have routable trails. You can "make your own maps" if you are so inclined. And we’re starting to see vendors produce third-party solutions for limited geographical areas.
Thankfully, a new player is entering the marketplace. Navionics, an Italian company best known in the U.S. for their marine charts, aims to have U.S. maps available by the final quarter of 2007. It is not clear at this time what devices will be compatible, but we do know that third party maps can be produced for Garmin and Magellan devices, so hopefully we’ll be able to use them on most handhelds.
While it isn’t clear if they’ll be offering 1:24,000 scale maps, their plans are fairly adventurous and I’d be surprised if this wasn’t included. Navionics has plans to roll out two versions – a base map and a full outdoor version, which will include navigable trails, POIs, 3-D views and satellite imagery. Of course the latter implies the need for a device that can accommodate raster imagery like the DeLorme PN-20. So there’s a lot that we don’t know yet, but it sure is nice to see someone working on the often neglected outdoor market.
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