4WD MODIFICATIONS - COMMUNICATIONS & NAVIGATION
Queensland-based Hema has an App for Apple and Android device users that puts detailed outback map data in your lap or pocket.
We’ve been testing GPS-based navigation aids since the first hand-held units emerged more than 25 years ago.
In the early days of GPS units we were over the moon at the prospect of having our latitude and longitude displayed on a tiny, blurry screen. In concert with a topographic map we could locate position reasonably accurately: gone were the days of a coin-toss at bush-track intersections, to decide on whether to take the left fork or the right one.
The next generation of GPS units had moving-map technology, where the mobile device’s location appeared as a cursor on a map that scrolled across the screen. It couldn’t get any better than this, we thought.
In this century, GPS chips have found their way into many different devices and GPS navigation is taken for granted.
Mapping has become interactive in metropolitan areas, with traffic advice being fed into GPS systems to help motorists avoid trouble spots and minimise congestion. The mobile phone is now a portable computer with powerful GPS capability and mapping is automatically updated as road conditions change.
Hema joined the GPS navigation unit business with its Navigator product that combined comprehensive bush mapping with metropolitan street navigation and that has been pretty much a state of the art technology. However, with the release of its iPad and iPhone mapping App in 2012, Hema raised the bar higher.
In late 2018 Hema released a similar App for Android devices.
Back in 2012, on a trip from Sydney, up through western Queensland and the NT’s Limmen National Park to Arnhem Land, we had ample opportunity to compare the Navigator’s inbuilt mapping with that downloaded via the Hema App. We used Navigator, iPad and iPhone all at the same time, on roads that ranged from freeways to bush tracks. We also checked out the Navigator’s metro street navigation against phone-App navigation. We used both Apple and Android phone-App navigation for this comparison.
We weren’t surprised to discover that the phone-App metro street navigation surpassed the Hema Navigator’s metro system, because we’ve found that both Apple and Android systems equal or exceed the performance of all the GPS-street-navigation units we’ve tested.
For metro navigation, get one of the latest GPS-equipped smartphones; download one of the many street navigation Apps and you probably don’t need to buy a GPS unit that sticks on your vehicle’s windscreen. The bonus of smartphone navigation is that the unit works as a hand-held device when you’re on foot in a strange area.
Hema’s mobile device App extends smartphone capability even further, by including just about every bush map Hema makes, including all Australia in topographic 1:250,000 scale, state and territory data, Great Desert Tracks and specific regional area and national parks mapping.
Through our entire test journey there was no discernible difference between Navigator mapping and iPad/iPhone-App mapping. Both types displayed many disused two-tyre tracks and even some property tracks.
Because we could display the same mapping on our iPhone and iPad simultaneously we checked out the iPhone in a windscreen suction clamp, giving a close-up picture of our immediate surroundings, as we drove along, while the iPad could be referenced when we needed an overview of a larger area, thanks to its much bigger screen.
One of the problems with all windscreen mounted GPS units is visibility in strong light and the iPhone scored over any such units we’ve tested. It was also clearer than many original-equipment and after-market in-dash navigation screens.
The iPad’s large screen allowed us to plan trips on-screen, which hasn’t been possible with small GPS displays: enlarge the mapped area for a broader picture and the wording becomes impossible to read. We’ve always had to resort to paper maps for planning purposes, but now it’s possible to do that on-screen.
However, we always carry comprehensive paper maps for areas we’re touring, in case electronics fail us, or the US shuts down the GPS satellite system for strategic purposes!
We love the Hema App so much that we haven’t thought about any other navigation system for our regular remote area trips.
So, in developing its iPad/iPhone App has Hema made its own Navigator obsolete? Possibly, although the Navigator has some sophisticated mapping and tracking functions the App can’t replicate.
The mobile device App is a single application, whereas the Navigator HN5i has three separate programs: iGO street navigation; Ozi Explorer 4WD navigation and Memory Map topographic navigation. Free campsite information – Camps 6 – is preloaded into the street navigation of the HN5i and is not available in the App.