Routebuddy 3: A Glimpse of the Future

Neil Wilson Harris

Neil Wilson-Harris

Saturday was one of the most pleasant and fascinating days that I have spent in a long while. I met up with Neil Wilson-Harris of Routebuddy,  small UK company that produces a native mapping program for Mac OSX. We met to record a podcast interview on computer mapping to mark the production of Routebuddy v.3. In the event we spent most of the nattering about exploration and adventure, the development of software, the perils of running a small business and generally revelling in all things Mac! Our chat expanded and expanded, we moved from coffee to real ale and then to lunch! I thought computer mapping would be fascinating and so it was!

For many years the PC mapping companies were adamant that they would not be developing their software for Apple computers, indeed, they were often very critical of the Apple platform. I remember being quite frustrated about this and so was Neil, so much so that although not a software man by background he decided to risk his future on building a company to do this. I remember the time well. Jobs had returned to Apple and — if you were a long time Apple user like we both were — you could see things changing for the better. But the PC world was entrenched and (as Neil puts it) described Apple “as a system for losers”. How times have changed!

The podcast interview goes all over the place but after a bit of editing I hope it not only makes sense but makes for fascinating listening.

I’ve given Neil a bit of stick over the last couple of years. There’s no doubting the quality of Routebuddy but topographical mapping for the outdoors has not been a business priority even though the Routebuddy team are all keen outdoor enthusiasts. Apparently, those huge motor homes you see in the USA have driven much of the market to date. Routebuddy were the fist OSX platform to work with OS maps but many of the features that I wanted — commutative height and OS Grid references were missing.

Routebuddy 3 is now here — or it will be in a week or two — and on Saturday I got a sneak preview of the program. Not only is Routebuddy 3 far better in working with topographical maps but I feel it gives you a glimpse of the future of desktop mapping in a way that no other software does. This is the future!

Re-built

Routebuddy 3 has been completely rebuilt from the ground-up. Previously RB was a Carbon App and now it runs not only in pure Cocoa format but it is the first mapping software to be written in 64 bit code. The program flies, even on a minimum spec laptop.

I can now see how the modular design of RB3 was worth working on. PC software has to deal with a messy legacy of old Windows systems with patches linking bits of of code that lurk all over the place. On the Mac RB3 only really has to deal with a much simpler program and data structure and as a result I think RB3 will be doing things that others will take a long time to replicate.

Screen Handling

The screen handling of RB3 simply blows you away. RB have always used vector and high resolution rasters to show off maps and to my mind the quality of their display has always been superior to the opposition, whether on a desktop machine or on an iphone. RB3 take screen handling into a new dimension.

The way this software transitions when flipping from map to map or zooming is very impressive. This screen handling allows some stunning features to be built into RB. Imagine a section of a map on your screen. With one mouse clock the image changes to a high quality satellite image using tiles downloaded over your broadband connection. The ‘flip’ is exceptionally quick and seamless. But now imagine that you can ‘fade’ between the two so that effectively the two are blended together. Believe me this is very impressive and although I’m not sure this fading will be available on RB3 it is coming shortly.

Route cards, sections of elevation and so on are all treated to the same quality display.

The Trek Planning Tool Extraordinaire

Within a short time of playing with the new software it seems to me that Routebuddy is a planning tool like no other. Not only does the screen handling allow you to flip between satellite and top map but it seamlessly joins maps together, maps of different resolution and even different grid system. Some of this stuff will be coming in future RB3 releases but it is not far from production.

I was immediately struck by the usefulness of this is planning, say, one of my Pyrenean walks. I like to amble along the HRP which means regular crossing from France to Spain. Under RB3 I can not only switch from maps to photo images — which can be very useful — but seamlessly move from a French to a Spanish map. The French ISGN maps will not be available on launch but they are being worked on. In the meantime, RB supports all UK OS maps and will launch with the entire USA on 1:24 (I think).

Working with the Customers and Community

Not everything I want RB to do will be in the new version immediately. For example, when planning a TGO Challenge I want to know the cumulative height gain of my route — something which saves a lot of contour counting. Neil tells me this is coming but when users and beta testers were offered the choice of this feature over satellite integration they chose the later. In all honesty when planning other long trips I just look at a day and think ‘that’s a high and long day’ or tat’s an easy day. I don’t really worry about actual height gained and so I’ll not be loosing much. I can wait a little longer.

The Mapping Hub

RB3 strikes me as being a real hub for mapping and planning. Neil tells me that RB sees the future of mapping as a desk-based tool rather than something that is simply seen through a web browsers, and I can see what he means. But RB will integrate with many online sources and as Neil describes it will become an ‘aggregator’ for all kinds of data. In addition, RB seems to be able to import and export to almost any mapping/GPS devise that you could have sitting in that rucksack pocket.

RB sees RB3 as opening up new markets and attracting new users. As a result the price for the program will come down considerably with the upgrade price being very attractive. Also, neil tells me that discounts for maps will be given for those wanting to move from other platforms (on proof of purchase of the other maps).

Building Background Capacity

RB’s customer care and relations is already far superior to — say — Anquet’s on the Mac and for a small company a lot of work seems to have been undertaken to get this right. In order to make the most of the future a lot of work seems to have gone into building the software that company sits on and that we won’t see — new compression technology and Apps that enable on the fly conversion from different formats. Neil concedes that all of this takes time but is a pains to stress that we will increasingly reap the benefits of this.

Future Reviews

I’m looking forward to upgrading and to writing a full review of Routebuddy 3. It might not be the ultimate planning tool on launch but it will offer a quality of experience that is not found elsewhere. And I’m sure that the new release will give me the confidence of knowing that this is a powerful platform that is only going to get better.

As an innovative and small UK company I with Routebuddy success. Neil is a real enthusiast and has staked a lot on its success, indeed, one of his biggest problems at the moment is coping with all of the new demands that are made by those how use maps for walking, cycling, sailing and even flying!

Routebuddy 3 is well worth a look when it launches shortly.

As for those PC companies who used to be so sniffy about Apple. So, long suckers …

Comments

  1. Good to hear. As a web developer I have to run Windows, Linux and Mac platforms for testing purposes. When it comes time to using a computer for pleasure however, the Mac is the only choice. i do love Linux but there’s still an element of faff that is just not there with the Mac. Mac OS just gets out of your way and lets you get on with the job at hand, without imposing the ‘interface’ in between. Hopefully RouteBuddy 3 will do the same thing!

    • I was very impressed. You can see where everything is going. We may still have to wait for some features but I rally do think this shows the way forward for mapping

  2. I don’t suppose this will work on OS 10.4?

  3. After a quick look around it looks like buying the mapping (Again) is going to be stupidly/prohibitively expensive and is probably going to steer me away from this tool. Having bought full UK mapping several times already; MemoryMap (device suchs, software sucks having to use Parallels), SatMap (device works, computer integration clunky), planning buying Garmin Edge 800. It really does seem to be time that we could buy one set of ‘personal’ mapping once and use it on all our devices.

    • Rob that would be good but the economics of it don’t work. I’ll put something up on this later.

  4. Cheers Andy, At least the economics are heading in the right direction. The first time I encountered the OS digital map database (on a military project) I inquired and it was £5000 for a one-off personal licence. Just for the data and I’d have to write some computer software to access it. The first digital ‘full UK Landranger’ set I bought was £200. Garmin now look to be charging £50 markup compared to a bare device. That is what I’m comparing the RouteBuddy map pricing to.

    • Rob,

      The OS. sell their data at a standard rate but the developer then has to encode it for whatever it is they are going to do. In my forthcoming mapping podcast Neil from Routebuddy talks a bit about this.

      While users (like me) get frustrated at development time they have to write software to automate the conversion process (different for each map maker) and RB have had to develop their own new compression software as well.

      When you see RB3 you will see why the development process will is not standard across companies!

  5. Cool – will a link to your podcast come up on this feed?

  6. Celtic Rambler,

    Give our software a try and let us know what you think (support@routebuddy.com) we are well aware that there are a few key features left to implement for your needs but these will appear in subsequent updates.

    Worthy of note is that whilst we now support many older, but perfectly functional serial GPS devices, we are now in the position of being able to grow with the newer devices expected in 2012, and their extended data transfer capabilities.

    RouteBuddy software now covers 100% of the desktop market, and with the unique capability of inter-OS-advanced-data-transfer, will bring benefits to any user wishing to share data with others, no matter whether they favour Mac OS X or Windows.

    neil
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  7. Bob,

    I wish we could afford to support older OSes but we can’t.

    Sorry,

    neil
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  8. RobH,

    we’re piggy in the middle here! 😉

    You’ve been charged a high price by Memory-Map for Ordnance Survey maps (which we actually sell at a much lower price I might say) and yet anything we sell, at whatever price, we have to pay the Ordnance Survey a flat rate for. (And we also need to make a living!)

    Last year we ran cross-grade deals for PC map software users so that they could start using newer Ordnance Survey maps in RouteBuddy. We only advertised this for Anquet initially but it was taken up across the board.

    My suggestion, and offer, is that you contact Jannion here: support@routebuddy.com, tell her what you currently own, and she’ll set up a one-time discount code for you to cover purchases of new maps from RouteBuddy.
    (If you have an iOS device then you can use our maps in that too.)

    Hope that helps.

    neil
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  9. Let’s assume I would like to change from Anquet to Routebuddy and have spent hundreds on maps – where does that leave me Andy? Any ideas? Is Neil likely to offer some discount to anyone who has the same problem – that seems unfair to him but also, I am unlikely to change to Routebuddy if I have to spend yet more money on mapping…

  10. Hi MAZ,

    as per my reply to RobH:
    “My suggestion, and offer, is that you contact Jannion here: support@routebuddy.com, tell her what you currently own, and she’ll set up a one-time discount code for you to cover purchases of new maps from RouteBuddy.”

    Don’t forget that Anquet’s maps are also quite old, so we can replace yours with the latest from RouteBuddy, which does also have a value in itself.

    I cannot yet speak for the changes we’ll be making to RouteBuddy in the future, suffice to say they’ll be to add in requested features, but also we’ll be building elements in that no one else yet offers and, I would suspect, very useful to professional walkers.

    neil
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