I was hoping that people would share what they believe to be the best combination of apps and settings to essentially turn an iPhone into a ‘walking companion’.
What I mean by this, is a setup which will keep me aware of what’s around me in regard to current location, upcoming intersections and points of interest in my vicinity. Typically this will be when out for a leisure walk with my guide dog, so I don’t specifically need routing capabilities … just something that will allow me to more confidently stray away from my usual walking routes (this will be in a urban environment btw).
I keep trying BlindSquare and really, really want to like it. However, I repeatedly find myself frustrated by inaccuracies with the Foursquare POI data and the app announcing intersections which I have either already passed or which will not be on the side on the road on which I am walking.
Another possible issue with BlindSquare is that it appears not to let me have Voice Dream Reader playing at the same time. Have I missed a setting which will change this, or does BlindSquare claim total control of audio? If so, this would be a real negative, as listening to a book in VDR is part of the pleasure that I get from being out for a walk.
So, I guess that my main question is whether I should be persevering with BlindSquare, or whether something else will get me what I want?
I am in the UK, so this rules out Nearby Explorer and Sendero Seeing Eye.
RNIB Navigator is available here in the UK, and is created by Sendero. Would I be right in assuming that this is essentially a localised version of Seeing Eye, so will offer exactly the same functionality? Yes, I know that RNIB Navigator offers a free trial, but I activated this when I first downloaded the app when it was first launched, but didn’t have an opportunity to then test it before the trial expired. Now I only have the option of signing up for a subscription. Is it not what I am looking for, anyway?
In short, I would love to hear the setup that people find works for them to keep aware of your environment when walking.
I use BlindSquare myself while walking, and it does the job for me really. The only thing I do have an issue with, is what you have mentioned about Blindsquare announcing the intersections that you may be passing, but that aren't on the side of the road you're walking on, which is something that I do hope the developers will work on.
You can work around that issue though, by going into tools, and intersections, and look at them in a list, and there you'll be able to work out where they are based on the clock face directions.
I'm in the UK as well, I've heard of RNIB navigator, but to be honest, I will not pay a subscription for something that I have with Apple Maps and BlindSquare working together.
I'd personally say stick with BlindSquare.
BlindSquare is a useful app with two fairly significant and annoying limitations:
1. Street/intersection data from Open Street map. The advantage of OSM is that the data is worldwide. But the data can also be missing or inaccurate because OSM is open source.
2. POIs from FourSquare. FourSquare seems like a declining service, and I feel like it's becoming less and less reliable over time. "Junk" POIs are common.
Seeing Eye/RNIB has better intersection data and POIs from both Google and FourSquare, but the app only announces some POIs and the next intersection in the background. You won’t hear a summary of your current location, for example. So while the data is better, I don't rely on it very much because of the way it was designed.
I love BlindSquare for its background operation and user interface, but I wish it had slightly better data. The free OSM map data, especially combined with declining quality POIs, sometimes weakens the experience.
Foursquare and other sources
I'll certainly agree with you about the places Blindsquare gets it's information from. although from my experience, the POIs from Foursquare have in most cases been accurate, maybe with an exception of a few meters, but I can in this case change the location of a POI if needed, but I do understand how difficult it can be to firstly find that location in order to modify it's location.
I love using Blindsquare, and the data sources is definitely something that I would like to see changed, I haven't had many issues with the accuracy of the information, but I have heard of people that had a very different experience.
I use BlindSquare together with google maps, and yes, the app announces intersections even if they're on the other side of the road of course. I'm not sure about voicedream and blindsquare not working together, but you probably should be paying attention to the environment instead of a book when walking anyway.
I use blindsquare myself to great success, try fiddling around with the precision/direction status indicator at the bottom of the screen if you find yourself struggling to know exactly where you are. :)
You may try Apple Maps
Inside the Apple Maps app, there is a button labeled as tracking. This control is a switch of three positions: no, yes and heading. If you turn it to the third option Voiceover will give you information on the street you're walking on, some places of interest and streets you approach. The disadvantage is that the app must be in foreground to let Voiceover read the information, but it may work for you as a more accurate tool than the OSM data that BSQ offers right now.
Hope this helps.
In response to Oriol Gomez
Thank you for your comments regarding BlindSquare.
However, please don’t assume that you know better than me what my capabilities are. Despite what you may believe, I am more than capable of listening to an audiobook and walking with my guide dog at the same time.
A set of open-ear headphones and the common sense and experience to know when to pause audio playback have ensured than an audiobook has never got in the way of knowing what’s going on around me.
I apologise to others for this mini-rant at Oriol. But, finding a perception of blindness on here that has a blind person likely to fail at such a low hurdle is extremely disappointing and frustrating.
Listening to things while walking
I myself listen to my music library when I'm walking, never had a problem with it.
I used BlindSquare recently with google maps. To my dismay, it would not read the walking directions as I traveled. Did I do something wrong, or is this a limitation of google maps?
Meanwhile, Apple Maps read my turn by turn walking directions with no issue. So at least I was not up a creek without an alternative. I just had kind of hoped google maps would work, as it has a totally different voice than anything else I was running, IE my phone and BlindSquare.
I use autour' i cannot afcord blindsquare' but autour is free. Apple maps is also really great'
BlindSquare with other audio sources
I have found that, at least in the past, if the audio menu feature of BlindSquare is active, then other apps that play media, such as music or audiobooks, have difficulties running in the background. So, if you want to have an audiobook playing while using BlindSquare, you may need to go into the settings for BlindSquare and turn off the audio menu.
I have not tried the audio menu lately, so I don't know if the latest version of BlindSquare continues to have this problem or not.
The BSQ audio menu feature gives quick access to information and some functions of help during a route. As the way to interact with this menu is by pressing the play/pause button on the headset, BlindSquare uses the apis normally used to play audio. This is why, if you want to play an audio book in background you have to disable audio menu by going to other/settings.
Is BlindSquare best app to be used as a "walking companion"
Is BlindSquare the best tool for turning your iPhone or iOS devices into a “Walking Companion?” Well as an Orientation and Mobility Specialist there are several considerations to be made before implementing the use of BlindSquare. First and foremost, BlindSquare is not an replacement for a cane or Orientation and Mobility training. BlindSquare is however and excellent tools for VI & Blind travelers to utilize as it will assist the traveler in obtaining information about the environment while offering the user the ability to customize information received as well adding additional information or PIO to assist them. BlindSquare is your “Screen Reader for the Environment!”
Before continuing let's define our “Exceptions” based on the actual Function and Application of the BlindSquare app but review exactly what it does and does not do.
A key factor to consider is reasonable exceptions based on the available features and functions. BlindSquare GPS App is not a GPS mapping App offering turn by turn directions as of yet. BlindSquare GPS does interface well with several other 3rd-party applications to assist the user to more effectively obtain walking directions using their preferred app for navigation without the needs to toggle between multiple applications. Thus directional information obtained is solely dependent upon the GPS navigational database. As BlindSquare interfaces with Apple Maps, Google Maps, Waze, Ariadne, Navigon and many other GPS & Public Transportation applications, listed here, the user can choose the application that provides them with most easily understood and accurate information. Oh by the way BlindSquare al interface bi-directionally with the Seeing-Eye- GPS App too :) Additionally, unique to BlindSquare, BlindSquare supports all iOS builds, as far back as iOS 6 for GPS navigation. For Indoor navigation, BlindSquare utilizes Beacons which transmit a bluetooth signal with directional information, available for businesses, agencies, and organizations who want to create and accessible indoor environment. BlindSquare Beacon Positioning System (BPS), however the service will only work on devices capable of using bluetooth, supporting models from the iPhone 5 up to the current iPhone 7 models. When receiving information relayed by BlindSquare the user should always utilize their best judgement, as newest iPhones will ultimately be more effective in delivering the user to the chosen location, within closer proximity, based on the the upgraded GPS hardware, included with newer iPhones.
I inform users that the FourSquare application is not needed but is an additional database that may provided morel information about their location. However this is an crowd-sourced database and the individuals are not held accountable for the accuracy or the information they choose to share. I have had some interesting experiences with the FourSquare App in terms of the announcements received. While in Philadelphia, I was completely amused to hear an announcement marking a placed defined as, “My Weed Dealer's House.” Thus I do not utilize FourSquare with students under the age of 18 ever, as the inappropriate announcements “can and will definitely occur” while in use.
While instructing students in Orientation and Mobility I utilize BlindSquare as an instructional tool to reinforce O&M skills and concepts. First lets assume the traveler has good cane skills for navigating, is able to analyze an an intersections to make safe street crossing, and can demonstrate effective spatial orientation and cognitive mapping skills.
Using the BlindSquare Tools: AroundMe, LookAround, Nearby Intersections, Tracking, and Location the user can easily preview their surrounding to obtain information needed to to make appropriate choices. BlindSquare provides additional, more detailed, and personalized information to the user based upon their GPS location and travel speed which would otherwise be unobtainable if only using a standard GPS app.
BlindSquare assists with spatial orientation answering the key factor of “Where Am I!” While stationary or traveling, the user can shake their phone to obtain information about their current location. Based on their current GPS location, the user receives information about closest street address (# and street), business name (if appropriate), heading (direction they are facing), nearest intersection (using street names), as well as the distance from their location to that intersection. Whether VI, Blind, or Sighted that is a lot of really important information shared with a simple shake of your phone everyone could benefit from.
BlindSquare also supports users to spatially update, “I have walked # distance, in #time, and still have #distance and #time until I reach my destination.” Using the location feature, with the BlindSquare Tracking tool, a shake of your phone now provides even more information to the user, expanding upon the “Where Am I” information to include, the distance and time they have traveled, as well as the distance and estimated time (based on their traveling speed) they still have to go until they reach their destination.
The BlindSquare tools also support problem solving and cognitive mapping skills. After using the location tool to determine “Where Am I,” the user can utilize the LookAround and Near by Intersection Tools to create a cognitive map of their position in relation to time and space. Using LookAround, the user can point their or phone and/or face any direction and receive information about, “What is in that direction and how far away is it!” Using the LookAround feature, and based on the radius defined by the user, BlindSquare announces information about business names, street addresses (# & name), intersections (by name), while providing a heading (direction to travel), estimated distance to the announced. Thus while making a series of quarter turns, the user can effectively create a cognitive map of their location and what is around them, needed to effectively plan a route to their desired location and/or give directions to a friends to locate and assist them. When requesting assistance the GPS information tool, allows user to send exact information defining their location on a map via email, text message, etc.
Ignoring the standard definition of Place, as a house or business address, I find the most useful tool of BlindSquare is the “Add Places” feature. The feature allows user the ability to create and customize landmarks, obstacles, locations, unmapped destinations, travel reminders, alerts/warnings, or additional instructions to best assist them when traveling. When adding a “Place” the default information provided in the text edit field is the location address, however this field can be edited with unlimited character insertion. Thus you can create a customized announcement about the given GPS location and define when you want to receive that information based on distanced defined by the users. Some examples to expand on might include: a description of the intersection, a closed area under construction. a business or house address entrance way, an overgrown bush that smacks you in the face while walking down the sidewalk, a reminder to turn, reinforcement prompts to the user they are still on coarse, warnings for parking lots or uncontrolled intersections, gingerbread crumbs on your route / trail, or even the location of a shed etc on your property. And wait for it …. you can use the BlindSquare Tracking Tool, to locate it.
BlindSquare provides features that support multiple users providing accessibility within their app for proficient screen reader users, low vision magnification user, deaf blind refreshable braille display users, as well as the not tech savvy, or user with intellectual disabilities though the us or the voice command feature.
In opinion as an O&M instructor, the BlindSquare GPS application allows me to teach and reinforce O&M skills and concepts, while allow me the ability to manipulate and customize all of the features, define announcement content and prompting levels, that best meet the visual and cognitive abilities /needs for VI & Blind travelers.
Paired with 3-party applications to further support my students to obtaining turn by turn directions, locate public transportation, obtain a taxi, or share their location with the taxi service, driver, or parent for pick up, BlindSquare support independent and safe travel using a variety or Open-Source databases and applications. Additional features to include the QR reading tool to access additional information and/or an alternative to print as well as Beacon identification for indoor travel offer my clients access to all environments and materials without the needs to toggle between multiple applications using only the BlindSquare user interface to receive and control information. I don’t know where else anymore would obtain the level of features and support for a one time fee of $39.00.
Disabling the Audio Menu
Many thanks for the tip to disable the Audio Menu. I am looking forward to putting this to the test later today (smiles)
I love it. I use it every time I go out. I love that I can make a place alert. Very handy whenlooking for a driveway or exit some place. I use it with google maps sometimes and can find my way anywhere with it.
I say it is the best ap I've ever purchased for walking around town and say it is soooo worth the money.
Go for it!