OsmAnd and I, love and hate
In July 2021 I wrote in the Tech Diary about how tedious it is still to navigate by bike. In the meantime, I have continued to familiarize myself with the peculiarities of OsmAnd, the OpenStreetMap app for Android. It’s a great app that can do absolutely everything: Navigate areas with no cell phone coverage! contour lines! Change the map yourself! Detailed setting of all preferences when riding a bike! But she doesn’t make it easy for you.
Every time I plan a bike trip, I say: Now you can rely on me without worrying, the path won’t lead over gravel roads and stairs again, I’ve finally figured out what to set in which remote submenu! I’ve got the app under control now! My mother (for whom it is important for age reasons to only drive on paved roads without exception) then makes skeptical remarks. Rightly so, because my claims have put her in situations where I had to carry her bike over obstacles several times.
At the beginning of August I successfully drove around the Allgäu with OsmAnd and asked myself what my problem was in 2021. It’s all packed with conspicuous bike path signage, the app (in its bike mode) color-codes which roads are good bike roads, and they really are.
But I didn’t ride through the Allgäu in navigation mode, I just followed the app’s colored bike lanes. Today it’s different, I want to go to a place that is far away and relatively difficult to reach. I enter start, destination and my preferences (no main roads, only paved paths). I don’t start navigating (which may or may not be relevant to what follows), but simply watch my point as it moves along the suggested line as I drive. The cell phone is attached to the handlebars with two canning gums because the “Rubberman” ordered in 2021 is far too tiny for my cell phone and I still don’t have a suitable holder.
The two canning gums prove themselves well. But every once in a while I want to peek into another app, and then OsmAnd restarts every time, probably for memory reasons. No problem, start and finish are preserved, re-displaying the route is quick.
Unfortunately, the app jumps into pedestrian mode after every restart. I only notice this when I’m standing in front of a forest into which an almost invisible path leads. Turning back is not an option, the route is uphill and so long that the bike battery may not last. For the next half hour I ride on meadow and forest paths that might be suitable for an unloaded mountain bike, but not for a fully loaded city bike. I quarrel loudly with the app. It’s starting to feel like a personal war between us, knowing it’s just plain bad usability. I can’t blame anyone for that, because both OpenStreetMap and OsmAnd are run by volunteers—myself included—and it’s a wonder that almost everything works fantastic almost all of the time. Just not if I want to ride my bike on paved side roads. In addition, the alternative Google Maps is so easy to use because it has almost no setting options and largely ignores the existence of all means of transport that are not called cars.
On the way back, the same thing happens to me several more times, but this time for different (unclear) reasons. At the bottom of a steep gravel road in the forest, I meet another cyclist who has stopped and is looking at his cell phone. “Twice I’ve tried to drive this way, twice I’ve failed at the point,” he says. I don’t ask him what app he uses.