[aprssig] Generic Smartphone APRS aps!

Gregg Wonderly gregg at wonderly.org
Mon Jan 31 16:18:50 EST 2011

On Jan 25, 2011, at 3:33 PM, Bob Bruninga wrote:

>> Without a mapping application, 
>> APRS is virtually useless. 
> Well, that sentiment is what pervades Amateur Radio and is why we are still
> just a small minority of map voyeurs instead of communicators.  The APRS
> channel cannot provide the map tracking continuity that map tracking voyeurs
> expect.  Promoting APRS as just a tracking system is a self-defeating dead
> end. (and is why we are stuck where we are today with hardly anyone
> communicating while mobile anymore because all the repeaters are PL'ed and
> there is no easy on-the-fly way to make a contact.

What you are imaging, is that somehow "where" and "icon" are the only things that a map coveys.  There is so much more to be gained from the map.  It tells you what information to look at, of all the APRS information available.  it doesn't require a scrolling list to be navigated.  There are kinds of shortcuts to information that a map provides much better than a textual, scrolling list does.

Remember when all we had on computer screens was scrolling text?  Now, we have graphical UIs which use "pictures" that our brain can recognize much faster than 1,000 words.  This is exactly how an APRS map makes APRS much more useful for mobile operators.

You Bob, are far too tuned into your existing displays.   With all of your experience in the design of them, it is much more trivial for you to consume them.  People without anywhere near that much information have a really hard time tuning their brain to "just text" and figuring out where and how to find information.

If there are more than 4-5 active stations in any area, APRS textual displays change so quickly that there is no way to consume the information available.

This is the problem as I see it.  You want text to be the primary conveyance of information and it is simply the least efficient in a mobile environment.  A mobile operator needs something that they can comprehend without staring.

A map provides a nice compartmentalized display which segregates stations based on one of the most important characteristics of local APRS activity, location.  The mobile operator can pick the station to look at easily and consume the information provided with a glance.

> Of course, maps are GREAT to see where all the net participants are
> currently located in the VHF RF domain and special events and all kinds of
> uses,...  But to fulfill the basic needs of a single national network
> channel for establishing immediate communications between users, the map is
> not as important as some think.  I assume that most tactical aware hams can
> visualize where someone reported as 3.5 miles NW is located relative to the
> area.  Same goes if they are 35 miles west, or wherever.

You are right that messaging does not require a map.  However, in my area, we have a large UFH linked system that covers more than half of the state of Oklahoma with coverage into Kansas and Arkansas.  It was built to provide the NWS office in Tulsa OK with opportunity to have communications with EOCs in outlying communities.  With this system in place, mobile APRS users in severe weather events (which happen here all year round) need the map.  The NWS operator needs to know where people are and people need to be able to look at the map and know what repeater they should be using!  So, in our use of APRS, mapping is essential, there is no way to provide the severe weather support activities that save countless lives!

> But in my non-ham radio dealings, I guess I have seen a whole lot of folks
> who are just basically clueless about spatial awareness and couldn't tell
> someone which way is north, or how to get to the nearest Radio shack without
> a map.  Asked how far away the Home Depot is, I am amazed that many people
> (who know where it is) cannot estimate the distance even within a factor of
> 2!  Is it a mile away?  Is it 10 miles away?  They just look stunned as if
> they have never heard of a "mile" as a unit of distance. "Just go that way
> to the McDonalds and turn left."
> My earlier list of priorities for implementing APRS was in no way meant to
> diminish the value of maps.  But it was to show that the most important and
> easiest aspects of APRS as a communications and information distribution
> network do not necessarily require maps.
> Get the communications built-in first, then add the maps as the icing on the
> cake.

I think it really depends on the application that APRS is targeted for.  Messaging and bulletins are such a small part of the total APRS picture.  Message content is much richer than it used to be, but, that also means that messaging needs to have some different information conveyance techniques than looking at the message text.  Repeater freqs need to be on the icons on a map so that people can see what equipment is where to know what to use for best coverage in a particular direction.  Only then can they choose the right frequency to put into their status/message.

The map really provides the best representation for all the spacial and directional characteristics of RF usage.  The information that is in the text of APRS packets, while readable, is not always easily consumed.  As more and more information has been packed into more and more compact and brief representations, in particular, the time needed to "Look at" a packet has become very time consuming.

So APRS applications need to do the things you say, but for me, all of that is of little benefit without a MAP included.

Gregg Wonderly

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