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Archive for the 'augmented reality' Category

Locus, A GPS Mapping Application – Part III: Tracks, Waypoints And Miscellaneous

The final part of my review of the Locus map app for Android; here are links to Part I: Interface, and Part II: Maps.

The first thing you need to know about waypoints in Locus is that the program insists you assign them into named Categories; especially noticeable the first time you try to create one. I resented this initially, but have since decided that requiring this kind of categorization/organization is a really good idea. Waypoints can be added using the Points manager, normally accessible in the right toolbar.


After choosing a Category, you get the waypoint list for that category, along with additional options at the bottom. From left to right, they are:

  • “+” – Create a new waypoint. You’ll be given the choice of your current location, the current map center, an address, coordinates, or (if you have the optional Locus Contacts free plugin), one of the contacts in your address book. Tip: If you want to use map center, you should turn off the “center map on GPS location” button (left button on bottom toolbar), otherwise the map can pop back to your current location. Then scroll to the location you want to place the waypoint, and bring up the Points manager.
  • Check mark – Selects/deselects all waypoints. Checked waypoints are visible on the map, unchecked waypoints aren’t. You can also turn on/off individual waypoint display by tapping directly on the checkbox.
  • Arrowed circle – Refreshes the list
  • Boxes with down arrow – Sorts the waypoint list by name or distance from your current location
  • “Grouped” boxes – Lets you filter waypoints by icon
  • Trash can – Deletes selected waypoints


Tapping on a waypoint brings up more options:

  • Plot it on a map
  • Navigate to it
  • Edit/delete it
  • Send it to a navigation app (like Google’s Navigation); bring up the Google Street View if available; share it with compatible app; load it into either Locus’s built-in compass, or a compatible third-party app like GPS Status.


When you add a waypoint with the “+” control, you’re only given the option to name it (default is coordinates). But once recorded, you can go back and assign additional info to the waypoint, including standard stuff like a description and custom icon; plus,  non-standard stuff like taking a photo at that location and assigning it to the waypoint, or reverse-geocoding the nearest address based on the waypoint’s coordinates. Not sure how well the Photo feature works – on at least one occasion, a photo seemed to become “disassociated” with its waypoint (may have just been a random glitch). Reverse geocoding, on the other hand, worked perfectly, though this will require an active data connection. You’ll get the same screen when you edit an existing waypoint.



There’s a reasonably healthy default choice of icon graphics, but the app author describes a simple process by which you can use your own icon graphics for waypoints.


Finally, the author has recently added an augmented reality (AR) plugin that will superimpose a waypoints name/icon and “radar screen” on your Android unit’s camera view. My screenshot utility doesn’t capture the camera view, but just imagine a real-world view substituted for the white above. The radar screen shows the waypoint, but it’s so small and indistinct that it’s difficult to pick out. The Free version limits you to one minute of AR view; the $5.50 Pro version makes this unlimited.


For tracks, you have two options: either record your current movements as a track, or draw a track on the map screen. Both options are accessible from the right toolbar. If you choose to record your movements as a track, you’ll get a new toolbar at the bottom that lets you Start/Pause/Stop track recording …



or pull up an info window with current track statistics.


By default, tracks are saved with the current date and time, and there’s no way to change that immediately. However, if you go to the Data manager above (accessible from the top toolbar), you’ll be given the option to manage/edit your tracks. This Data manager also lets you create/edit/delete categories, gives you direct access to the Point manager for handling waypoints, and lets you Import/Export data in GPX or KML format. If you choose Tracks …


You’ll get a list of all the tracks stored in the app. Unlike waypoints, tracks aren’t assigned to a mandatory user-definable category, but are instead assigned a Locus-specific category that you can change. The controls at the bottom are the same as for waypoints, except for the missing “Add” option, not relevant here. Checking/unchecking a track determines whether it’s visible or not on the map display. Tapping on a track name brings up options to show a stats screen, export it directly as a GPX or KML file, show it on the map, delete it, or edit it …



One of the biggest advantages of Locus over OruxMaps is the customizability of waypoint icons and track colors. OruxMaps only has one waypoint icon, and while you can adjust the overall track color and width, you can’t specify different colors/widths for different tracks. Locus starts out with more waypoint icons, lets you add your own …


and also lets you specify different colors and widths for individual tracks, making them easier to identify on-screen.


The right toolbar also has an “Add track” button that lets you draw a track on screen, and then save it. Pressing this button brings up another toolbar to help with this function. The “+” button adds a track point at the current center map position, and the “-“ button removes the last track point added; the green check finishes the process and saves the track, while the red “x” aborts it. The center button, with the “right turn” logo, is interesting. If you specify two points on a track, the start and stop, then press this button …


… you’ll be given the option to automatically generate a routed track between those two points, for various forms of transportation. When you choose the desired transport …


You’ll see the route plotted, along with the direct-line connecting the start/stop; saving the track will only save the routed track, not the direct line.

Other issues: Apart from an occasionally-stubborn Bluetooth GPS connection, which could be resolved (see Part I), didn’t have any serious problems with the app.

Final thoughts: There’s no question that Locus is an outstanding Android map app. It works as it should, the interface is clean, map selection is good, and feature set is solid. In some aspects, like track/waypoint management, it’s vastly superior to OruxMaps; on the flip side, OruxMaps has a more customizable interface, and it’s easier to add additional online map sources to it. The one feature where OruxMaps is clearly superior to Locus is in your ability to add your own digital map imagery for viewing in OruxMaps; this is a feature I need all the time, and one not currently well-supported in Locus. Fortunately, with free/cheap versions of both apps, I don’t have to choose; I can see myself switching back and forth between the different apps on a regular basis, depending on what my current needs are. You’d be crazy not to have at least the free version of Locus on your Android unit (OruxMaps, too), and probably ultimately coughing up the $5.50 Pro registration fee to get rid of the ads.

Horizon Profiles With HeyWhatsThat

Application Name: HeyWhatsThat

Description: Mobile-enhanced web app that shows the horizon line at your location, and identifies peaks

Publisher’s website: HeyWhatsThat

Cost: Free

Version/date reviewed: NA; 2-27-11

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2

Mobile web app

Main website (for desktop PCs)

This isn’t technically an Android app, as it will also work on the iPhone (for those behind the curve), but the HeyWhatsThat website has a mobile version that will show you the horizon line from your current location, with named peaks identified. Go to the mobile website address (


If you haven’t gotten a GPS fix recently, tap on “Update my location”, and it will fire up your GPS to get your current coordinates. Then tap on “Show me the view from here” …


The app will show you the coordinates it’s using for the calculation, and the nearest reverse-geocoded address. While the app says it may take up to 2 minutes to generate the horizon view, I’ve usually gotten the results in about 30 seconds or less …


The site comes up in Panorama view, with peaks identified on the horizon view with red triangles. Tapping on the single arrow buttons moves the line cursor from one peak to the next, with the name/bearing/distance/altitude given for each one. Tapping on the double arrow scrolls the panorama view to the next part of the horizon. Panorama locations are saved by the website, so that you can pull them up again instantly with the “A View I’ve Requested Before” option from the main screen. By default, it’s saved with the address as the label, but you can rename it to whatever you want using the Rename function at the bottom; you can also remove a saved location there as well.


Tapping on the List tab brings up a list of all the peak summits visible in your area; the app takes into account blockage by terrain, but not vegetation, buildings or atmospheric conditions. Tap on a peak in the list, and you’ll be returned to the panorama view with that peak selected.


The Details tab brings up information about your current position, and the panorama view. In the view above, the vertical relief is significantly exaggerated (7.7x) so that you can identify peaks more clearly. Unfortunately, the site gives magnetic bearings instead of true bearings, but it also conveniently gives you the magnetic declination here, so that you can manually correct for it. The link for a web view is nice, but it’s not an active link, so you can’t select it, or copy/paste it for notes,

How does this compare with Peak.AR, another app for identifying peaks on the horizon? Peak.AR is certainly more interactive and visually striking; you get peaks superimposed on a camera view, and the view changes as you rotate the camera. However, it identifies all peaks in a specific direction, and doesn’t calculate which ones are and aren’t visible from your location. And, as I’ve posted about, the older version of Peak.AR (which I vastly prefer) has been superseded by a newer version which I’m not crazy about. I use to use Peak.AR primarily, but even with its limitations, I find HeyWhatsThat makes it easier to figure out which peak I’m looking at.

The author of HeyWhatsThat has indicated that he’s working on an Android-specific app that will take advantage of the built-in compass, and change the view depending on which direction you’re looking in. There’s a test/sample version of the app available in .apk format here; it shows only sample views from a few specific locations, but the views change as you rotate the camera. If you download the test app, choose a location using the “Surprise me” option, then tap on the “Off” text in the view to turn on the compass.

Orientation-Stamped Imagery And More With GeoCam

Application Name: GeoCam (originally Theodolite)

Description: Augmented reality app that shows compass direction, GPS coordinates, orientation on camera view, plus much more.

Publisher’s website: None

Cost: Free ad-supported version; paid version removes ads, adds video recording and KML export.

Version/date reviewed: v.1.63  /  2-22-11

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2

Android Market (mobile app only)
Android Market (browser)

Multi-purpose apps can be a mixed blessing; it’s nice to have multiple functions in a single app, but sometimes each individual function is inferior to that in another app dedicated solely to that function. Ulysse Gizmo has been the biggest exception to that issue I’ve reviewed so far, in that all that functions are well-executed. I’d now include GeoCam – it has a lot of functions, some rarely found on other apps, and performs most of them well.


The primary function of GeoCam is to show you the compass direction you’re pointing, GPS coordinates, and phone orientation/tilt, superimposed as an augmented reality (AR) view on the camera display. You can then take a photograph of that view with the additional data superimposed, to have it for your records. When I saw this in an earlier beta version, the one thing I had hoped for was the option to take a picture without all the superimposed data …


… and the app’s author apparently read my mind, because this feature showed up in a later release.


Here’s the view on the camera screen, minus the actual camera input (which doesn’t show up on screen captures). The red square is a guide to getting the phone aligned correctly; when the phone has zero tilt angles, that red box will turn green and align with the green box in the center of the display.

In addition to the information/data displays, there are buttons/sliders to access various controls. The blue magnifying glass at upper left …


… brings up a data screen with position and orientation data. The icon immediately to its right turns on/off adding the AR data to any photos you take The red slash on the icon signifies that no AR data is added to the photo, and tapping on that icon will remove the red slash and put it into the mode that includes orientation data as an overlay on the photo.’

The camera icon at the upper right takes a photo, but you can also use your phone’s hardware camera button as well. Red icon in the lower-left exits the program, though the Back button seems to work as well. The blue “i” brings up a reasonably-comprehensive in-app help screen. The flag/map buttons at lower right? I’ll save those for tomorrow.

The yellow-highlighted arrow at the right brings up a settings/menu screen if you tap on it; you can also bring this screen up by pressing the phone’s Menu button.


There are three settings tabs, Cam (for camera settings), Geo (tomorrow) and Set (which lets you modify the color and font used in the AR orientation overlays). Above is Cam, with the Brightness subsetting selected. You can adjust the photo’s exposure by sliding the numbers at left to highlight the desired over/underexposure with the red line. For my Droid X phone, the view in the camera display always seems to be brighter than the final photo taken, so if I adjust the exposure to be lower, the resulting photos are too dark; YMMV with your phone.


The next camera subsetting lets you modify the picture tints for monochrome, sepia, negative, solarize, and various tints. At least for me, this doesn’t really offer any useful functionality.


The final camera subsetting supposedly lets you select the photo resolution from all the phone’s supported pixel sizes, but on my Droid X, you only get one choice; the author says he’s working on figuring that one out.


In the Set section, you can choose the color of the orientation overlay for best results. Bright sets it to pure white for darker background images, Light (seen above) sets it darker for light images, and Cockpit (seen in the first pictures above) sets it to green. I’ve found that Cockpit is the best all-around choice, as it’s clearly visible under most circumstances.

Other issues: Compass direction is magnetic; I would really hope that the option to set that to true direction is added soon. For now, you have to manually correct for the magnetic declination. And I hope support for all camera photo resolutions will be fixed eventually.

Final thoughts (Part I): If this were all GeoCam did, it would be a must-have app. But it adds some additional AR geographic functionality, plus some measurement capabilities, which I’ll cover tomorrow in Part Two.

The Inception Effect

Application Name: Inception: Mobile Architect

Description: Duplicates the “landscape-bending” effect from the movie Inception on your Android unit.

Publisher’s website: Inception: Mobile Architect

Cost: Free

Version/date reviewed: v.1.0  /  12-20-10

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2


Android Market link (mobile app only)
Android Market link (browser)

In the recent movie Inception, there’s a prominent special effect where the landscape on the horizon bends up into the vertical position. The Inception: Mobile Architect app tries to duplicate this effect on your Android phone, with limited success.


Figure 1: To set up the bending parameters, hold your phone in portrait mode, and tilt it until the horizontal white line lies between the two ticks at the left. When aligned properly, the background behind the spinning top will be green; incorrect, the background is red. Press the top when you’re ready. Why a top? See the movie to find out …


Figure 2: You’ll get the bending music/sound effects from the movie, then an image from Google Maps (georeferenced using your GPS) will bend upwards from the horizon line, duplicating the movie effect.

Other issues: As you can see from the picture above, the app isn’t perfect. It tries to discriminated foreground objects from the background, and isn’t always successful. And for some reason, it uses the hybrid Google Maps view with streets/labels displayed, which ruins the effect somewhat. You’ll get better results with a view that has foreground objects clearly distinguishable from the background sky, and I’d guess the best result will come using urban landscapes rather than the natural landscape near my house.

Final thoughts: Use it with the right view, and it’s a cool show-off app for your phone. No useful functions, just a fun demo app.

3D Augmented Reality Compass

Application Name: Compass3D

Description: Displays a 3D compass rose in the camera view.

Publisher’s website: None

Cost: Free; claims to be ad-supported, but no ads showed up while I was using it.

Version/date reviewed: v.1.4  /  12-20-10

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2


Android Market link (mobile app only)
Android Market link (browser)

This is a one-function app; it creates a floating 3D compass rose in your phone’s camera view, with magnetic north indicated by the red color:


The red North arrow can sometimes be obscured by the other direction arrows; however, the rose stays “horizontal” in augmented reality as you tilt the camera, so that you can see the direction arrows more clearly:


Other issues: On my Droid X, the arrow sometimes doesn’t show up. Exiting the program and starting it again usually fixes this issue.

Final thoughts: This is pretty much a demo app, to impress those unfamiliar with smartphones or augmented reality apps. Might prove useful in a few instances where you need to find the relative direction between objects in your field of view. In any case, the price is right.

GPS Essentials : GPS/Orientation Readout And More

Application Name: GPS Essentials

Description: Displays GPS/orientation data, satellites, map; customizable data readout

Publisher’s website: GPS Essentials

Cost: Free; $2.81 donation plugin.

Version/date reviewed: v.1.0.2  /  12-13-10

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2


Android market link
Android Market link (browser)

Like the previously-reviewed GPS Test and GPS Status, GPS Essentials monitors and displays information from both your GPS signal and compass direction.


Figure 1: There are six screens available in this app, plus the settings screen (accessible with the menu button) that lets you set options like units and preferred coordinates.


Figure 2: The Dashboard is the killer function for this app; it displays more information than any other GPS dashboard I’ve seen on any other app. Plus, the items displayed, and their position, is fully configurable. Choose Add from the menu, and select from 30 different data options.


Figure 3: Press and drag on a data item to move it to a new position, or drop it on the trashcan icon at the bottom to delete it.


Figure 4: The compass display is pretty basic. What’s more, even though there’s an option to set either true or magnetic north in Settings, that option isn’t functional – the app always uses magnetic north. You’ll need to correct for your local magnetic declination to get the true direction.


Figure 5: Camera view displays a level horizon line, and the magnetic direction you’re facing at the bottom. Can’t quite figure out the significance (if any) of the central circle.


Figure 6: Map view displays your current location, with a compass indicator at top left showing which direction you’re facing.  You have the standard Google Map layers to choose from (roads, terrain, aerial, hybrid). You can also plot the local addresses of people on your contact lists, or select a contact and have their address plotted. Finally, you can use the Waypoints menu function to add waypoints either by tapping on the map, or selecting your current location.


Figure 7: The Satellites screen gives a standard view of the GPS satellites above the horizon, and how many of them are being used to determine your current position.


Figure 8: Finally, the Waypoints screen gives you a list of saved waypoints. Tapping on one brings up a screen that lets you edit the name or coordinates, geocode it (find the nearest address), change the icon, show it on a map, delete it, or set it as a target to navigate to.  There are also Import/Export buttons available on the Menu button for this screen, but they don’t currently appear to be functional.

Other issues: No problems with crashes or closes.

Final thoughts: The best screen on this app is the dashboard – no other GPS app on Android comes close. For that alone, this app is worth installing. The other screens also offer useful functions, but there are better apps for most of these. The lack of a working option to set true north instead of magnetic north is a big drawback, and I hope a future version will fix that.

Augmented Reality Direction Grid With Compass Ball

Application Name: Compass Ball

Description: Overlays a compass direction grid on top of a live camera view.

Publisher’s website: jthuniverse

Cost: Free

Version/date reviewed: v.1.3.2  /  12-12-10

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2


Android Market link (mobile app only)
Android Market link (browser)


Figure 1: Compass Ball is a one-trick pony; it overlays a grid representing compass directions on top of the screen view generated by your camera. The picture at left is from the app page, to give you a general idea of the view it creates; screenshots from my Android phone don’t include the camera view.


Figure 2: The grid can be viewed in either portrait or landscape view; I think landscape is usually a better choice, because you get a wider view.

Other issues: Generally works well, but there are a couple of quirks.

  • It may take the grid a few seconds to show up on-screen, so be patient.
  • The app uses magnetic direction, rather than true direction; you’ll have to manually/mentally adjust for the magnetic declination in your area, the offset between true north and magnetic north.
  • The display can get stuck in an entirely incorrect direction reading. If you “wobble” the phone around, rocking it both left/right and back/forth at the same time, this seems to get the grid to move to the correct orientation.
  • It can take the grid a few seconds to drift into the right position, especially when you change directions.

Final thoughts: Cool little app, nice for finding the general azimuth angle distance between features. The option to set the grid to true north, rather than just magnetic north, would make it even more useful.

Identify The Peaks In Your Area – New (And Not As Good) School

Application Name: Peak.AR

Description: Maps peaks close to you, and identifies them in an augmented reality view.

Publisher’s website: Peak.Ar

Cost: Free

Version/date reviewed: v.2.0.2  /  12-5-10

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2


Android Market link (mobile app only)
Android Market link (browser)

So yesterday, I reviewed the older version of Peak.AR, a really cool app that identifies hill/mountain peaks in an augmented reality (AR) view. Today, I’m looking at the newer version, or more specifically why you should get the older version and skip the newer one.


Figure 1: The older version displays all the peaks in all directions …


Figure 2: … while the new one only displays peaks in the direction the phone is pointed. It also only displays those peaks within a specified distance range, and has oddball range circles beyond that point that change as you change the direction you’re pointing.


Figure 3: You set the distance range with a hidden control at right, that pops up when you tap there. Drag to change the distance range at which peaks are displayed; you have no control over the distance ranges, but have to use the presets.


Figure 4: In augmented reality mode, the older version had a slider that let you set the distance range for viewing peaks. The maximum number of peaks visible in AR view is 10, so it filtered out smaller/less-visible peaks to get the displayed peak number down to no more than 10. It also had a “radar” view that showed the direction you’re pointing, as well as the peak positions in all directions. Note: my screenshot app doesn’t show the camera view; in real life, you’d see the peaks superimposed on the actual camera display.


Figure 5: The new version of Peak.AR only displays peaks within the distance range you’ve set, but doesn’t show what that distance range is; you have to tap on the right side again to bring up that control and see what the distance range is. In principle, this will let you identify any peak you can see, just by changing the distance range until it shows up in the AR view. In practice, this is a pain in the neck to use. You’re also most likely only interested in the most prominent peaks, and this approach makes those more difficult to identify. The radar view is also sorely missed. Finally, peaks have a tendency to disappear/appear from view with even a small 1-2 degree shift in your phone’s orientation.

Other issues: None.

Final thoughts:

I strongly urge you to try the older version of Peak.AR first – it’s a lot simpler to use, and works a lot better IMO. You can then try updating the newer version, to see if you like it. But I’m guessing that you’ll quickly uninstall the new version, and go back to the old one when you get a chance.

Identify The Peaks In Your Area – Old School

Application Name: Peak.AR (older version)

Description: Maps peaks close to you, and identifies them in an augmented reality view.

Publisher’s website: Peak.Ar

Cost: Free

Version/date reviewed: v.1.04  /  12-5-10

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2

Old version no longer available on Android Market, but you can download the .apk file for the old version from the Peak.Ar FAQ page, and install it directly on your phone. Just don’t update it unless you really want the new version (and I don’t think you do).

This is going to be a bit odd – I’ll be reviewing the same app twice over the next few days. Today’s review is of the older version of Peak.AR, which is no longer on the Android Market, but the .apk program file for this older version. can be downloaded and installed directly on most Android phones as long as you have Unknown sources enabled in the Applications setting for your phone. Why review two versions? Because I really like the old one, and have some reservations about the new one.


Figure 1: Start up the Peak.AR app, and it gets your GPS location, loads in a database of local peaks, and plots those peaks in a Google Maps interface that you can scroll through; the compass at upper left points towards true north.


Figure 2: Tap on a peak in the map view, and get an info page with the name, location, height and distance.


Figure 3: The real magic happens when you hold the phone horizontally; the locations of peaks are plotted in an augmented reality (AR) camera view, so you can line up the peaks with the actual view (which the screen capture can’t show). The slider at the bottom lets you set the distance range for viewing peaks. The radar at lower left shows the direction you’re pointing in, and the number of peaks within the distance range you’ve set. The app only shows a maximum of 10 peaks in the view to keep the app from slowing down too much, and filters out shorter/less-visible peaks from the AR view to keep within that limit of 10. Tap on a peak in the AR view, and you’ll get an info page like the one in Figure 2.

Figure 4: Here’s a screen shot from the web app page, with the camera view visible, to give you a feeling for how it actually looks.

Other issues: Earlier versions used magnetic north instead of true north, which could result in a considerable misalignment of the labeled peak with the true peak in the augmented reality view. The final release of the older version seems to have fixed that.

Final thoughts:

This older version of Peak.AR is two tons of awesome in a one-ton bag; a must-have app for showing off what your Android phone can do. Oh yeah, there’s also an iPhone version available.