I was driving from Canada to Boston several months back, about halfway back from the BlackBerry 10 unveiling in Toronto, when an unfriendly darkness crept up over the horizon ahead. Talking to my father on the phone, I mentioned that I was somewhere in eastern New York State, and he asked if I was driving into any weather; apparently he’d seen mention on TV of a storm in the region.
My eyes flashed to my other phone, the BlackBerry Z10 review unit I’d just picked up, which was propped up on the dashboard with its GPS navigation app directing me back home. The display showed nothing unusual, just the usual barren tan “landscape” extending to the artificial horizon, my little blue arrow inching along toward it at the bottom.
That wasn’t a huge surprise; BlackBerry 10’s navigation suite was pretty bare-bones, which I mentioned in my full review. I thought other, more mature platforms like Google Maps and Nokia’s HERE Maps, though, might offer what I was seeking: a navigation view with live weather laid atop the landscape ahead, so drivers could see what meteorological conditions they were speeding toward. No such luck, though. Checking both of those offerings -then and now- showed me no such functionality. Aside from a handful of third-party offerings like Magellan’s Compass app for the BlackBerry PlayBook, I found no joy.
The function of the 3D navigation view in a turn-by-turn driving application is to show you what’s ahead, so you can prepare for your next move on the road. Currently, that’s confined to displaying roads, upcoming turns, points of interest, and the like. But travel -particularly long-distance travel- is inextricably bound to the weather. Travel by car can move a driver and passengers across storm paths, through flood regions, and into and out of tornado zones. It sometimes involves changes in altitude that mean changes in temperature, which can make the difference between a slick road and a frozen one. Driving in clear conditions is an entirely different story than driving through a hailstorm, and a navigation app that shows the upcoming danger would be a far more valuable tool than one that continues showing the same sedate clear sky.
There are other third-party apps out there that try to fill this gap besides Magellan’s PlayBook offering: CoPilot Live offers a quick link to AccuWeather, and apps like Waze provide roughly analogous functionality via crowdsourcing, letting drivers warn others about all manner of hazards. But it’s not the same. A clear visual indication of weather conditions ahead would be simpler, and it would instantly add value to smartphones’ navigation offerings while making things safer for drivers, hikers, and all those who travel to uncertain corners of the globe.
Joe Levi contributed to this editorial.