GOOGLE MAPS AND A LONE LADY TRAVELLER

The thing about being a UX researcher is that I tend to view my world through a UX lens. I’ll constantly be judging products, services and even processes according to how much of a good user experience they give me. I had a few vacation days and decided to take a drive to Western Kenya by myself. Seeing as I had never been to that part of the country and didn’t really know how to get there I decided to make use of Google maps (I had never used it before). This turned out to be quite an adventure.

PLANNING THE TRIP

I opened Google maps and typed in my destination (Rusinga Island, Homa Bay) and immediately I got two options based on the roads I could use and it also showed me how much time I would end up spending on each road assuming there was no traffic. I decided to use the A104 highway.

ON THE ROAD

I had the app open on my phone and it was quite easy to follow the directions while on the highway. This was because I’d get directions like “follow A104 and Kisumu –Busia Rd/Nairobi Rd/B1 to Sondu Kapsoit Rd/C25 in Kapsoit…4h 23 min (267 km)”. Knowing that all I had to do was drive straight on the highway was quite simple and didn’t need much thought.

App interaction on the road

It was quite interesting having the voice navigation reminding you to turn right after 100 meters and continue on road C25. This is handy because while driving you don’t want to turn your eyes from the road to look at the application for safety reasons. We all know a small distraction on the road can be quite disastrous.

Hiccups on the road

Google maps may have almost all roads mapped out but I realized it might not necessarily know the terrain of the road. I realized this first hand when the app advised me to turn right on to a certain road that was supposedly 22 minutes faster than the one I was currently using. I ended up on a partly tarmacked road that became worse the more I drove on it and which turned out to be about 30 minutes slower than if I had kept on the original road.

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some of the rough roads I ended up on during the trip.

Sketchy Internet connection

At times the Internet would become sketchy and this would affect the running of the app whereby it would stop refreshing itself location wise.

Effect on phone charge

Running the application ended up consuming my phone charge relatively fast. I was using it online and the fact that I had my data running contributed to the depletion of charge. My phone went off when I was about two hours away from my destination. I had to make a stop at the town I was passing through called Kisii and charge my phone at one of the restaurants. It was already a bit late in the day around 7:00 pm and I didn’t have the luxury to fully charge as that would take too long and as a lady driving by herself I didn’t want to end up driving in unfamiliar areas too late in the night.

Human element

With minimal charge on my phone I crammed the rest of the journey and put off my data. I didn’t want my phone running out of charge again while I was still on the road. I called ahead to the camp I was staying at and constantly asked for directions from the people there. I must be honest this wasn’t very convenient and I lost my way a few times but I eventually got to my destination.

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the sun sets over Lake Victoria off Rusinga Island, Kenya

PART TWO OF THE TRIP

On the second part of my drive I still used the app again but intermittently. I would put my data on, map out the next part of the journey, make sure I have the road and distance and time right in my head then put off the app and drive off until I get to a point where I needed to get new directions. This was in a bid to save on consumption of phone charge.

I have used the app once again since my trip. A friend sent me her location and the pin helped me locate the homestead she was at from my location. In a Kenyan village where there is no street addressing or major roads that was quite impressive.

Things I loved:

  • The fact that it gave me options of different routes I could use. This gave me a sense of control of my trip.
  • The voice navigation. I didn’t have to stop on the road to keep looking at the directions or steal glances at it, which can be distracting while driving.
  • Easy to follow directions. Having the distance and tentative time registered on the app was quite handy. Having a sense of distance and time reduced the anxiety of travelling to an unfamiliar location as I could somehow tell how far or close I was to my destination.

Things I disliked:

  • Having to use the app while online. This was a problem in areas where Internet was sketchy. (I have since learnt it’s possible to use it offline by downloading portions of the map on your phone. I’m yet to try this out though).
  • Getting a “shortcut” that ended up being much longer by virtue of the road being rough.
  • The app draining my phone charge.

GOOGLE MAPS AGAIN?

Yes, I will definitely use it again. I found the experience quite easy and enjoyable despite the few hiccups along the way. I wonder what I will review next? 🙂

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Abby Written by:

Hi, I am a UX researcher based in Nairobi, Kenya. I am passionate about helping people create simple, innovative but USABLE and enjoyable products to solve social problems. The African context interests me as I believe Africans should be in the fore front of solving our own problems. I have a love affair with books and outdoor activities. Forever in search of adventure :)

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