Highlights 2013: Accessibility improvements in navigation apps

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Thursday, 19 December 2013 11:11am

In 2013, there have been some significant developments for accessibility in navigation apps. Navigation apps allow people to use their mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets as tools to help them get around. Most devices come with a built-in GPS and this year major technology companies updated their existing GPS apps with improved features for people with disability. As part of Media Access Australia’s Highlights series, we look back at some of the ways navigation apps have been improved for people with disabilities throughout 2013.

Google Maps

Google improved its GPS app with the introduction of voice-guided directions. Voice-guided directions enable people who are blind or vision impaired to follow walking directions through audible cues for each turn (rather than visual or text cues). Voice-guided directions are also available for driving and walking. While voice-guided directions have been a part of the Google Maps app since last year, it has continued to improve this year with its compatibility with new features and with the text-to-speech software of certain devices.

Last year we also so the introduction of the Google Indoors Maps app which helps people get around indoor spaces. In March this year, it was introduced for the first time in Australia, with a list of shopping centres. Indoors is particularly useful for looking up directions to essential facilities such as toilets, entry and exit points, stairs and information desks. A voice guide is also available on the app. Google has continued to improve this service throughout 2013, increasing indoor map locations and compatibility with devices.

Samsung Galaxy S4

Samsung introduced its new smartphone, Galaxy S4, at the start of this year with many exciting new features. Running on the Android operating system (made by Google), the S4 comes with the Google Maps app and can be used with the S Voice to provide voice-guided navigation. The S4 also comes with an S-Voice Drive mode which, as the name suggests, can be used for driving navigation. For walking directions however, the S4 comes with another GPS app called Navigon. What is useful in this app is that is provides voice-guided directions for walking as well as driving and announces street names.

Apple Maps

Apple Maps has been improved in Apple’s new operating system for mobile devices, iOS 7. It has improved its integration with various other Apple apps such as Calendar, Mail and Contacts. Turn-by-turn walking directions are also available and can be used with the inbuilt screen reader VoiceOver.


Another Australian-made app is the PointFinder, released in September this year. The Android app uses the GPS information provided by the inbuilt compass of the device, and allows users to save points of interests which directions are required for. The unique feature of this app for blind users is the audio compass which provides audio feedback to indicate how close or how far a person is from the point of interest.

Prototype tactile maps

Two interesting navigation prototypes are worth mentioning. Blind Maps from Denmark is a device that can be attached to a smartphone’s GPS app and converts walking directions to braille-like patterns. This provides a tactile navigation experience for people who are blind.

Another prototype called the Braille Smartphone, presented at a TED talk this year, shows how pins that raise at different heights could provide a tactile experience for navigation on a smartphone. Combined with audio feedback for actions, this would useful to help blind users get around different locations.

More highlights of 2013:

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