Wednesday, 24 February 2021

ViewRanger: thoughts, memories, the future

On the GR5 Through the Alps, 2018

ViewRanger, the navigation and mapping app, is changing. In fact eventually the name will disappear as it's integrated into another app, Outdooractive. Recently I asked ViewRanger about the changes and wrote a piece on this for The Great Outdoors online. This elicited a large response. Many people obviously like ViewRanger and don't like the idea of it changing. 

On the Pacific Northwest Trail, 2010

Thinking about ViewRanger I realised that the app has accompanied me on every walk, long or short, for over a decade. No piece of physical equipment has done that. ViewRanger has been on several different phones in that time and has helped me navigate on the Pacific Northwest Trail and the GR5 Through the Alps, and in the High Sierra, Death Valley and, every month, the Scottish Highlands. Sometimes it's made navigation far easier than it would have been with just map and compass. Finding the hidden start of a faint trail in dense forest on the Pacific Northwest Trail, keeping me on the right ridge during a long descent through another forest into Death Valley, crossing the Cairngorm Plateau in a white-out.

ViewRanger in 2009

Having tried ViewRanger for the first time in 2009 I was impressed enough to use it on the Pacific Northwest Trail the next year. Indeed, I bought my first smartphone in order that I could do so. (I was loaned the one for the 2009 trial). After that smartphones came and went but ViewRanger remained. It did just what I wanted it to and it did it reliably.

Death Valley, 2016

Will Outdooractive be as useful and reliable? I hope so but I don't know yet. It's a much bigger app with far more features, most of which I probably won't want. As long as I can ignore them I won't mind that, just as I don't mind the ones that have been added to ViewRanger and which I've never used. My ideal navigation app has good mapping (OS/Harveys in the UK, equivalents elsewhere), gives your position fast and accurately, and can record or follow routes. That's it.

The ViewRanger app will be around for at least a year but it will disappear. I'll be sorry to see it go. It's been part of my outdoor life.


13 comments:

  1. View Ranger going to OutdoorActive appears to be a disaster.
    You going to have to pay for access to the maps you already own, and it would appear you have to pay again for when you want to use your maps off line. All very confusing and frustrating to View Ranger customers.
    I wonder what legal right Mr C Wareham has to do this ?
    Will watch with interest how this develops .....

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    Replies
    1. You'll still be able to use maps you own, but not in VR, as they are killing the app. What you won't be able to do is download all your maps to your phone to be there where and when you want them. You'll either have to be in range of a mobile signal or download small 50 k map tiles in advance that get wiped when you sign out. Not what I used VR for

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  2. Having had a few days to look at the various options, given the apparently impending demise of Viewranger, I've reached a few tentative decisions. Viewranger was an app that many hikers and occasional hike leaders such as I liked because it did the basics and it did them well. It didn't plot your route for you, or intrusively encourage you to do things you didn't want. There was a 'social' side to it, but it was comfortably separated into a specific part of the app, which you could easily ignore, if, like me, you're not particularly 'social'.

    Here are my views on some obvious alternatives I looked at. I should say that I'm a regular hiker in the UK who likes to plan and sometimes lead walks.

    OS Maps

    This was my initial goto when I heard about the end of Viewranger. It isn't bad. Plotting a route is relatively straightforward. But the absence of a visual, dynamically adjusted scale on the map is a massive fail. How can anyone have thought this isn't fundamental? It's almost a complete deal-breaker in my opinion. If you don't need to see a scale on a map, this is for you. There's a free introductory period using the maps too, which is more than you normally get.

    Outdoors GPS

    Plus point: it opens with the map. Relatively simple and uncluttered, but little things don't work very well. For instance, if you go into settings from the map, then press the back key on your device, you exit the app instead of going back to the map. It's quite difficult to plot a route and then access and modify that route. If you want to try it with OS maps, you have to pay £20 upfront.

    OutdoorActive

    I started off with a negative prejudice here because these are the people responsible for finishing Viewranger. But I was willing to give it a try. Route plotting works ok, but you have to pay an over-the-odds £27 to get the OS Maps which all UK hikers want. Worst is the noisy interface. It doesn't open with a map. I guess you can get used to it, but when you're working out how to use the app, you're constantly bombarded with offers, and invitations.

    Komoot

    Some people like this, but not people who like to plan walks, I suspect. It doesn't open with a map. If you want to plan a route, you have to go through some everlasting tedium about your start point etc. I just want to put my finger on a map. It does all sorts of fancy stuff about working out your route for you, with sometimes bizarre results. Not for me, but will work for some country strollers perhaps.

    Alltrails

    Spent 10 minutes trying to work out how to plan a route, then gave up. It doesn't open with a map: a sure sign of a bad navigation app, in my book. It actually forces you to give feedback on the walk you've just done - for the community.

    Gaia GPS

    From a UK point of view, this isn't an obvious choice because it's U.S. oriented. But the interface is able to be configured in some detail, and a lot of thought has gone into the user experience. I sort of hate to say it, but it's better than Viewranger. It opens with a map, hallelujah! The free maps are useable, but the big problem for us in the UK is that you can't load OS maps, apart from the 1:10000 street maps if you pay their premium charge of £24 pa: useless for hikers, with no contours, legal footpaths or countryside features.

    Conclusion

    I will migrate to OS Maps. But if Gaia manage to incorporate OS 1:25000, I will be with them like a shot.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for that excellent look at alternatives Martin. I've looked at all those except Alltrails and decided on OS for the moment.

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    2. Having tried a few alternatives, I'm stopping on Locus Maps instead. In terms of interface and set of features (including battery saving GPS config - something I miss sorely in other apps on week-long trips) it's the closest to Viewranger I could find, and it has extra features like route plotting which Viewranger didn't have in the app but other apps do.

      As a downside, they don't yet provide access to the OS Maps subscription, only (rather costly) chunk-by-chunk purchases. So if that's what you're after, the app might not be for you (yet). But tbh I didn't use OS maps that much on Viewranger either.

      While OS maps are the most detailed, they're often also *way too detailed* when you're using a smartphone and don't need to perform traditional manual navigation.

      Viewranger maps were pretty great for me in that regard - just elevation, trails, peaks, and nothing else. In comparison, Outdooractive maps are way too clunky, and the routes are styled with dashes with large gaps, which becomes pretty messy in places with lots of intersections - you no longer know which dashes belong to which route. Locus Maps are much closer to what I wanted.

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  3. I am genuinely upset at the demise of Viewranger, I have tried Outdooractive and it is awful. The mapping is simply not of a high enough quality for hiking. Viewranger kept me right so many times, very sad to see it go

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  4. I've used Viewranger since CTs review in Great Outdoors, was it 2009? I bought all GB OS at 1:50000 on a micro SD card and NY Moors etc at 1:250000. It's been brilliant. Outdooractive have given me access to my legacy maps but I cannot load them onto SD card, just blocks to phone memory. I'll stick with it until I see better reviews of OS app.

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  5. I have now discovered Locus Maps, which is excellent. Unfortunately, it doesn't allow an OS subscription, but the supplied maps are pretty good, and you can download the John Thorn maps too. From my perspective, the most important feature is that it's possible to edit routes in a very similar way to the way you do it in VR.

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  6. So, I have belatedly let OA know how I feel about OA and the sad demise of VR.
    I have had an email back from VR, and have sent this as a final hurrah.

    May I thank you for your response, and offer my apologies for my tardy response.
    This is due to me contacting as many Viewranger users I know to ask their opinions.
    I stopped when I reached 99, to include myself and make the maths easier!

    This is no doubt too late for you switching us off, but 100% my fellow users said they would appreciate me letting you know their feelings about the switch. Clearly I have no proof to send you that what I am to say is kosher, but I have no reason to falsify opinions and, as I said earlier, it will probably make no difference to losing our Viewranger.

    Most of my buddies have been with VR for more than ten years. The shortest time user is 3 years. Some use it as mountain leaders or guides or rescue.

    I asked them these questions.

    1. Rate your general user experience with ViewRanger from 1 – 5 (poor to good).
    55 users gave 5, 37 gave 4, 6 gave 3, 2 gave 2 (miserable pair!)

    2. How many of you have tried OutdoorActive, and how do you rate as above, in general use?
    76 had tried OA.
    3 users gave 5, 11 gave four, 42 gave 3, 18 gave 2, 2 gave 1 (neither of the miserable pair above!)
    They did temper their scores with comments such as ‘I’m prepared to give it more time’, ‘We hope for improvements as it is developed’.
    Main criticisms: ‘I didn’t want to change and would have liked to keep VR’ ‘ We find the layout ‘far less pleasing’, ‘less intuitive’, ‘hate adverts’ ‘clunky to use’ (this was a common thread), ‘it seems like they want more money to access what I had before’, and ‘why on earth (sic) move platforms?’

    You at VR obviously need/wish to team up with Bavaria, which is your choice. It is sad that people who loved VR and have spent considerable cash on it are now forced to fall in with what most see as an inferior product eg, . Tour & Trail maps, Outdooractive does not offer scale locking, the range of online maps available in Outdooractive is different to ViewRanger etc.

    Another of my personal issues is that I and many others have devices with loads of memory, and love to have whole countries on my phone and especially tablet, to aid planning and the pleasure of reading maps. I have friends like myself who will spend hours over eg GB, going in and out of scales. Also, and critically, it works with GPS and no mobile signal required. And what of trying to download a tile you forgot that you have just walked into 3K up a Munro?

    Many of us have been loyal devotees, but we are not happy bunnies now. Knocking money off premium in OA (and only for the first year) could have us paying more each year too.
    Good luck with OA. We hope it improves and you have not lost control of what the app is and stands for.

    Kind regards,

    Stephen et al.

    Here's hoping OA will match VR at least, but I hate not being able to pan out. How far do they think we travel?

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  7. I am really angry about the killing of Viewranger by Augmentra (the company that has bought it). I have emailed them and threatened to sue them if they don't allow me to access the data that I have already purchased through the Viewranger app.
    See below:
    1) Email that I sent them on 5 March, threatening to sue them
    2) Their response
    3) My response to their email

    1) Dear Sirs
    Some years ago, I purchased from Viewranger the OS Maps 1:50,000 for all of GB and downloaded them on to my iPhone and iPad. I have been able to open them using my Viewranger app and I have really valued this.
    Now I find that, somehow, your company has deactivated my Viewranger app on both my iPhone and iPad. I have no idea how you were able to do that. I do not know on what legal basis you felt able to deactivate part of the operating system of my devices.
    I have seen that you offer access to “Legacy maps” through your Outdooractive app. You do not say how those maps will be accessed, e.g. will I be able to download them for offline use, or will they only be available online? You also have a condition "By accepting access to Legacy maps on the Outdooractive platform you confirm that you waive any legal claim against Augmentra Ltd and its directors in relation to any previously purchased contracts.”
    I am deeply suspicious of this condition. I am not prepared to accept that condition. It seems to me to indicate that you realise that you have breached the terms of the contract in respect of what I had already purchased from Viewranger.
    I am not prepared to accept this condition. I request that you provide me with a means to access the data that I have already purchased, i.e. my offline GB OS maps.
    If I do not receive a positive response from you by 31 March, I will start immediate action in the County Court to recover damages for the loss caused to me. I consider those damages to be greater than the purchase price that I paid for the maps. I find being able to access my OS maps offline at any time to be of value to me. I assess the value to be approximately £1,000. This will be the figure that I will claim.
    I look forward to hearing from you.
    Yours sincerely
    Bob Egerton

    Continues on next post because of limit on characters on post

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  8. Continuing previous post:

    2) Dear Bob,

    Sorry for the delay replying.

    On your ViewRanger account you have the whole GB at 1:50,000 scale.

    If you accept the legacy agreement, you'll be given both 1:25,000 and 1:50,000 scale maps to use permanently online and offline. The 1:25,000 upgrade is a substantial one. The maps stream to the screen as you move and zoom, and you can save large rectangles of map to use offline.

    I have given you another year of free Pro+, which you can use to view and save the OS GB maps, and to see many other maps, without having to enter into the legacy agreement.

    In the app, use My Page bottom right of the app, scroll down, Sync, so the app picks up any changes.

    On any map screen use the map layers button, the stack of squares to the right. Choose Topo. Zoom in and you'll see the maps.

    In Outdooractive we only offer whole countries, no tiles or pre-named areas.

    You can save rectangles of map to use offline. On the app's main map tab, use the down arrow top right next to the search box. That gives an adjustable box, which you can size to about 50km across. You can save multiple boxes. Both 1:25,000 and 1:50,000 are saved, so no need to worry about seeing 1:25,000 on screen before saving.

    The basic uses a basic resolution of 1:25,000 and the full uses a higher resolution, giving sharper results when zooming.

    See https://www.outdooractive.com/en/k/saving-routes-and-maps-offline/37514067/ for more.

    Mike Brocklehurst
    support@viewranger.com
    ViewRanger Technical Support Desk

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  9. Continuing post:

    3) Dear Mr Brocklehurst
    Thank you for your email. Unfortunately, your response is not satisfactory.
    I purchased the data comprising the 1:50,000 OS maps for the whole of GB. That data of approx. 3GB is saved on my iPad and iPhone. It has been accessible and viewable at any time, in any place, without internet access. If I go on holiday to the mountains of Wales or Scotland, I know that I will always have access to those maps irrespective of what internet service is available. When I purchased that data, I expected that it would be mine to keep for as long as I wished in the same way that I have on my shelves at home OS maps that I purchased 50 years ago. I did not expect that, at some point, Viewranger would intervene and prevent me from viewing my data.
    Your proposed solution of having an Outdoor Active Pro+ subscription is not the same thing. I may be able to download 50km squares of data and retain them offline, but that would mean that I would have to plan ahead and download several squares before travelling anywhere so that I could access them without internet access. And having data in 50km squares is not the same as having the whole UK in one dataset that can be scrolled through wherever I am. Furthermore, you may be offering me a year’s subscription free of charge, but after that year, I will have to pay an annual fee in order to access the data.
    Also, I do not need an Outdoor Active Pro+ subscription for online viewing. I have an OS Maps subscription that provides me with access to 1:25,000 and 1:50,000 maps when I need them online.
    I accept that, from time to time, you may wish to update the Viewranger app and, maybe, charge for certain services such as access to online services. However, I do not accept that you have the right to switch off the app on my iPhone and iPad without my being able to stop you. I still am not clear on what legal basis, or how, you did this.
    I demand that you turn back on the Viewranger app on my iPhone and iPad immediately so that I can access my data. Alternatively, provide me with an alternative means of accessing my data without charge.
    If you do not do this, I will pursue my court action against your company because of your unlawful and contract breaking actions. As I advised in my previous email, if this matter is not resolved satisfactorily by 31 March, I will start court action without further warning.
    Yours sincerely
    Bob Egerton

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  10. I've been using Trail Boss for the past few years. I use it for hiking, mtb and back country skiing in Canada and am quite happy with it. It has a good selection of maps with world wide coverage - satellite, street, topo, etc. It can connect to other internet map servers and display their maps. You can plan routes and follow them, it can record your trips. It has no social media aspect, it is strictly a mapping app. Downsides: OS maps not available for you guys in the UK. Its only for Apple IOS devices.

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