Pathaway Technical Review

By: Dale DePriest - all rights reserved

Pathaway has just released a new version. I will be updating my review based on this version but meanwhile I have included their release notes.

PathAway Newsletter September 2001 - PathAway 1.2 Released!

We are very excited to announce the release of PathAway 1.2.  From your
feedback and further internal testing, we made numerous improvements to
enhance your experience with PathAway. 
Here are some of the new features:

PathAway for Palm Handhelds:
- Supports Palm OS 3.0 and higher. 
        - Includes support for Palm III, Visor, Visor Deluxe etc.
- Support for (1 bit) black and white, and (2 bit) 4 color maps.
        - Reduces memory requirements for maps of low detail.
- More GPS connectivity feedback.
        - Gives you a better indication of how PathAway is communicating
with the GPS device.
- Speed and Course extracted from device (if available)
        - Some GPS devices provide this data which can be used directly.
Otherwise PathAway will calculate the speed and course based on your
position. (This is how 1.0 worked)
- Improved trip metering, including Start new trip.
        - The trip log and track record will now automatically "continue"
from where you left off. You can manually reset it at any time.
        - This means track logs do not reset on Connect/Disconnect.
- New "Point View" screen 
    - A map view with all your points, tracks and routes displayed. 
    - Options to show Position, Proximity, Elevation, Time, Leg Time, Leg
Distance, and Leg Speed.
- Improved Database dialogs
        - more feedback for Join command. Clearer New Route creation.
- Larger fonts for critical information such as - speed, course, elevation.
- More visible position icon
        - Makes for better viewing while travelling.
- Preferences for Proximity and Off-Track warnings
        - Set your level of precision of when you need feedback.
        - Proximity also shows direction to turn after next point is
reached.
- Display local time preference.
- Trial date increased to 15 days. 
        - More free time to evaluate the program!

Icon Manager
- Icon Manager now expands the preview for easier viewing of small icons
 
Map Manager
- Lat/long entries can be made in decimal format (app, and Map Manager)
- Support for (1 bit) black and white, and (2 bit) 4 color maps.
- Support for uncompressed maps (for Palm OS 3.0)
- Bug fix in map width/height in Center and Scale option.
 
Tools for Advanced users, developers, and Content providers:
- Pre-Release availability
- Map importers: command line, and plug-in DLL;
- Route/track/point database import/export: command line, and plug-in DLL;
    - Currently Supports comma delimited import.
 
You can get the downloadable version by going to
PathAway.com.

This review is based on the newly released V1.0 Pathaway product. It provides navigation support for a palm OS unit with an attached gps device. It is also usable without a gps to view raster image maps. As released the product required palm OS V3.5 to operate but the author has released a 1.01 version that has dropped the requirement to 3.3 which is good news from many Palm III users but not quite low enough for many Visor units. A Visor Platinum or Prism is ok. I tested this on a Visor Platinum using a Magellan gps companion and several Garmin standalone gps' via the Visor serial port.

One of the first things that impressed me about this product was how well it worked without any maps at all. The program supports most standard gps features such as waypoints, routes, and tracklogs as well as information on current speed, location, altitude, trip log, etc. Each screen display shows a map of varying sizes depending on the amount of secondary information present and will happily display your tracklog or waypoints with no map at all. You can zoom in and out to display more detail on your log which can be collected automatically as you travel based on a time interval that you choose. You can also set it up to backtrack your trip and it will navigate you back to your starting location. Waypoints support icons and you can define your own if you wish.

Of course most folks who buy this will want to use it for maps. It supports raster scan maps that you will need to get for yourself (unless you live near Toronto, Canada where the author lives). The software includes a pc component that converts the maps to the palm format and provides for calibration. The converter supports Microsoft bitmap images and jpeg images only; gif is not supported which is too bad since most web map sources produce gif file. You can, of course, convert gifs using another program to Microsoft bitmaps prior to import. (Jpeg is not recommended for maps due to the lossy compression algorithm they will not be as crisp as other digital maps.) Each resource database you build with the converter contains one map which will have to be calibrated for gps use by specifying the lat/lon coordinates of the upper left and lower right corners. When imported it is tiled into palm screen size pieces for performance reasons, but it is all one map. You can use a command in the map converter application to save the map already scheduled for import to the palm on the next hotsync. This is a really nice touch.

The current version of pathaway does not switch maps automatically based on your position so you will need to use a map that is big enough to contain the area you are interested in. It will, however tell you if you have another map at a different scale available and you can use the zoom functions to select it. It is a good idea to have multiple maps at different scales since, otherwise, you cannot zoom the map. The zoom function still works but the map will not be displayed except at the zoom level it was built for. A nice feature of the maps is they are display (in different sizes) on all of the screens. For navigation this means you may be able to see the direction for the next turn but it does mean that there is less room for text and thus the data is pretty small. I believe some of the critical data could be made larger which would help a great deal for vehicle navigation. There are four screens of navigation data and you can cycle through them using the address button. These screens are the full screen map view (full width but not full height), the track view, the proximity view and the route view.

Before you can use the application you will need to download it from the web site and I would suggest you also get the sample maps and other databases to get started. There is no documentation in the download stuff so I would suggest you also view the web copy of the manual and then do a save as to make a local copy for reference when you can't be online. Save each image separately and place them in a subdirectory named manual to make them reference properly. Once you have hotsynced the files to the palm you can start the application to view the map screen. Some of the images are used in the discussion that follows.

The map view screen (shown on the left) offers the largest map and typical position solution information, lat/lon, altitude, speed, and heading. All except lat/lon are bold to make them a bit easier to read but are still pretty small. Map scale (zoom setting) is shown in a corner of the map. The next screen in rotation is the track view (shown on the right). It shows all of the same things that are on the map screen and adds Average speed, Max speed, trip distance, trip time, and a UTC clock. (Local time is not display in the product which is too bad.) The trip information is reset anytime you leave the application or lose a lock for any reason. This can be problematic as the current version tends to lose locks on my Magellan gps companion when switching screens but not on any of my Garmin units, however any unit can lose a lock from time to time. Speed and heading seem to be computed by the program instead of being read from the attached gps. They often varied from the settings I read from my attached Garmin and at walking speeds the direction would oscillate between a near correct heading and N (0 degrees) which was so annoying it made it very difficult to use the unit for walking. The problem was less severe for the gps companion which updates each second. At driving speed the direction was more stable but I would trust the speed which was sometime too fast and sometimes too slow.

The other two screen need waypoints to be valuable. The proximity screen (shown on the left) shows 5 nearby waypoints so long as they are fairly close, the same data as the map screen and ETE, estimated time enroute, (called ETA) if you are navigating a route. The final screen (shown on the right) in the rotation is specific to routes. It shows ETE (called ETA), total miles for your trip, miles left and time estimate for your next waypoint and a list that includes the distance to the final destination, the distance to the next destination with arrows showing the direction to both (actually the final destination arrow points to the next destination so they always agree) and cross track error with an arrow indicating the direction you need to steer to correct. This is in addition to the same data shown on the map screen. There is more information later on using this screen for actual navigation.

Note the top line on all four screens is the same. It contains the name of the application, gps status, a waypoint icon, and two icons that allow you to zoom in or out. All four icons can be tapped to execute the functions or you can use the hard coded button keys. The date key is the same as the waypoint icon, the memo key is the same as the gps icon (note they are in reverse order from the icons at the top and the buttons at the bottom) and the zoom icons are the same as the up/down buttons. In addition the zoom icons will change shape to indicate the presence of another map at higher or lower zoom levels. A square shape indicates a map is available while a round shape indicates no map in that direction but the zoom function will still work.

In addition to the four map screens there are pages that can be used to manage the databases, Routes, Tracks, waypoints, and maps. These can be reached from from the options menu on the menu system or the last one used can be accessed directly from the todo button. The option menu also permits calibrating the maps and setting preferences (covered later). Finally there is a gps configure screen to manage the gps serial port settings, which is also considered a preference in this application. GPS operation is supplemented with direct menu commands, the gps icon at the top of the map screens, and the memo button to turn the gps on and off. Note that the 4 buttons only work from the map screen even though it would be nice to have them work from some of the others. The 2 up/down buttons work as expected in all screens that need them. In general these screens are not as intuitive as the map screens.

waypoints

You can easily add a new waypoint by pressing the calendar button or selecting the waypoint icon at the top of the screen to make a new waypoint at your current location as shown on the map. You can also click on a spot on the map to bring up a menu. This permits you to add a point, center the map or zoom. If you tap on a point that has already been created you will be offered extra choices that shows you the point name you selected and a menu choice will let you edit the point. Once you select the a waypoint you will see a text screen that lets you view or alter the name, the lat/lon, and elevation. You can also add a short description and pick an icon for the waypoint from the selection list. Finally you can add it to a route you are working on if you wish or delete it. The screen is a little cluttered with examples of how to enter lat/lon which seems unnecessary since the default data is example enough. The top line is the waypoint name which defaults to an abbreviated version of the lat/lon data. Change it to the name you wish to use. Personally I think it should be lower on the screen along with the description and separated a bit from the location data so that the data you edit is all together, but this is a small point.

The points menu is where you can manage the points. You can reach it from the main menu or from the todo button, and then select it from the pull down on the upper right corner of the screen. This brings you to the database itself. There is support for multiple databases and points can be moved using the add command. You must have the points database highlighted to proceed. You can tap on details which brings up a form that is more suited to routes and tracklogs. I don't know why it is on this form except perhaps to be able to rename the points database or you can tap on Edit points to view the full list of points. Other choices include cancel and new. New builds a new database that you can rename prior to saving.

The obvious choice here is Edit points which takes you to a list of all the points in the selected database. You can do many things from the screen such as rearranging the points, select one and then tap the up/down icons. The screen can be scrolled using the up/down page buttons or the scroll bar. You can edit the point or view it tapping the goto button. Once you view it you are really in the map pages so there is no easy way to get back. You can also add it to a route or add it to another points database. A new button is provided on the screen to record your current map position as a waypoint since the hard buttons do not work from this screen. There are menu commands to delete a point, to beam it (doesn't seem to work) and to sort the database by name, icon, or proximity. OK will leave the screen and place you back in the main database screen where you can select another database from the points or from the menus at the top.

You can use a pc based program to define you own icons for the points to choose from. This can greatly enhance your waypoint database. The same program can define a set of vehicles to allow you to indicate the purpose of the route and tracklogs.

routes and tracklogs

As already mentioned the main database screen is where you find the points, routes and tracklogs databases. Each of these databases have a common menu that can be reached from this main screen. Once there you must select the database you are interested in and then you can do things like edit points, make a new database, delete a database, beam a database, duplicate a database, or join two databases from the main menu. You can also reach the preferences screens (covered later) from this menu except from the points screen for some reason.

The join two databases works for points, routes, and tracklogs but is not particularly intuitive. The way it works is: select the source database, select the join command from the menu, select the destination database, and finally tap ok, which does not leave the form as it normally would. This sequence will append the source database to the destination database and will work for points, routes, or tracks. You many wish to delete the source database after performing this merge which is a separate step. This sequence is not in the documentation as of this writing.

Routes are a very powerful feature and one of the best reasons for owning this software with a gps. A route is a collection of points that tell you how to get from somewhere to somewhere else. You can join as many points as you wish into a route and make as many routes as you wish (limited by memory). The routes names can be modified and the route direction can be reversed so you don't need separate routes. An active route is one that is selected from the route screen. Any added points are always added to the active route so you should have one selected prior to adding the points. The active route will be shown on the map screen. You can move the points in the route similar to moving points in the point list. As a matter of fact the screen looks exactly the same. It is a bit confusing since the add to route entry is on the route edit screen but it you select this entry you will get an error. I guess having the same screen saves a bit of programming.

To effectively use a route you should be on the route navigation screen. It shows a small map and provides route guidance. Note that the current leg routepoint changes automatically but only after you reach it. There is no warning ahead of time. You can use the map view to get an idea about the upcoming route and the direction of the next turn. Remember the map is only North up so you have to visualize the next turn direction based on your current direction. (I wish someone would make a route up map that would rotate in 4 directions for the current leg direction but so far no one has.) In addition the reverse route seems to keep the final destination name from the forward direction so the name is wrong but the destination data is correct. There is a cross track error indication to keep you on the route but it is very sensitive (the author expects too much from gps accuracy) and will toggle around even though you are on the route. Of course this indication will normally be ignored on roads since you will not likely have enough route points to match the road exactly anyway. Once the route has been completed you can turn off the active route by tapping on its name on the route screen to deselect it.

Tracks are better for many things than a route. For one thing they are created automatically but just going somewhere. They provide a visual history or the journey and can be followed just like a route to guide you back home or on a second trip to the same location. New tracklogs are built automatically and if a new one was started when you didn't mean to you can use the join command to combine it with another one. A track can be used as a route by selecting it and run in the forward or backward direction. Once you press ok it will become active. The difference in navigating a track from a route is there are no intermediate waypoints shown on the route navigation page. Once you have reached the desired destination you can turn off the track similar to the way you turned off the route but you must do it on the route page instead of the tracklog page. When you activated the track it temporarily became a route so you need to tap the entry of the track that appears on the route list to clear it.

You can view the points of a track similar to the ability to view the waypoints in a route but you cannot easily convert them to a permanent waypoint in one of the points databases. At least I haven't found a good way so far. They can be added to a route and you can use the add command in the trackpoint list to add regular waypoints to your tracklog. You can also easily view a point, edit a point, or delete it.

More on Maps

You can select the map you wish to view using the Maps entry on the main menu under options, or from the map configuration entry, press the todo button and select maps from the upper right corner pull down. These menus let you work without a gps when you just want to see a particular map and there is a details button that permits you to look at the lat/lon numbers that the map was calibrated with. You can even tweak the values on the palm if you wish to perform a correction or change the map name from this screen.

However if you want to calibrate the map directly on the palm from the beginning this can also be done. Pick two calibration points, one near the upper left and one near the lower right corner and make waypoints containing the correct values for these locations. This can be done by directly entering the values from an external map, or perhaps using a different map that is already calibrated that has the two reference points on it anywhere. Once you have the two reference points you can begin the calibration routine which will prompt you to enter the two points defined above and will then calibrate the map for] you. An interesting feature in the calibration routine is that if you enter the same point for both entries the map will just be shifted to align the point to the spot on the map. This can be useful to correct a slight shift do to a datum difference or a mis-measurement.

Preferences

The preference screens is another set of screens that you can reach various ways from the menu system. There are General, GPS, Time, Map Display, and Tracklog preferences. The GPS preference screen is also called the GPS configuration. Once you get to one of the screens you can reach the others using a drop down menu in the upper right corner. This is no menu system for any of these screens.

General contains the users preference for measurement units and a check box to keep the unit on while tracking. This is important when using the gps. You can also set a preference for how you want the course information to be displayed.

The GPS configuration is where you setup the gps data based on the gps you intend to use. NMEA is the most common but Earthmate, Tripmate are also supported as well as a simulation mode that can be used to learn how the unit works without a gps. There is support for the cradle or the infrared port. I only tested the cradle in serial port mode. Standard Serial port settings can be changed as well but for NMEA mode you will normally set 4800 baud, N parity, 8 bits with 1 stop bit. Finally there is an indication of the connection status. It includes messages about the connection and the number of satellites being tracked. The Screen shows three buttons, ok, cancel and connect which changes to disconnect if you are currently connected. There is very little actual status information about your gps connection and if the serial port becomes hung for any reason it won't tell you about it. If you have any trouble getting a connection to the gps this is not the program to use to troubleshoot it. I would suggest that you first establish the connection with another program and then switch to this one. For the Magellan gps companion there are supplied programs that can be used but there are lots of free programs available that can be used to verify performance and troubleshoot connection problems. Once you have verified your connection and checked the settings on this page you should have no problems with the program.

The time preference is where you configure the time estimates to be used in the ETA calculation. You can set it to use current speed, average speed, vehicle speed, or a speed you specify with or without the current recorded track speed. You will need to experiment to decide which information best fits your driving habits or route.

The Map Display preference determines the kind of detail you wish to see on the maps for routes, tracks, and points. Or you can totally turn maps off if you wish.

The tracking preferences let you set the frequency that the tracklog points will be recorded and the maximum length of the tracklog.

Final Thoughts

I believe this is an excellent first effort and will be a major player in the raster map arena for the palm. There are a few problems that need to be worked out however. These are mostly listed in the text above and there is room for a few new features. The ability to move or correct a waypoint graphically or based on your current location would be a welcome addition as would a more robust gps interface, and the ability to edit the track/route/waypoint data on a pc. But, all in all I would hesitate to recommend this to a user needing a palm mapping program where they want to use their own maps.

I will be adding more to this review over time and based on revisions to the product so keep checking back.