Over the last 20 years, navigation technology has revolutionised independent travel. But with new apps rapidly entering the market, which ones top the pecking order this summer? RNIB Connect Radio’s tech champ, Steven Scott, road tested three of his favourites.
I met Sean at the train station and together we went to meet Tim for a walk around town.
The app I chose to get me to the train station was the new Soundscape app by Microsoft which is free to download. The app uses audible beacons to direct me, rather than saying left or right, and I could hear steady audio in my ear to tell me what was around.
As the Soundscape app uses audio, you will need to wear stereo headphones or earphones. I like Apple AirPods, the wireless earphones which automatically play audio when you put them in your ears and pause when you take them out. You could also use wireless headphones which work by using bone conduction, such as AfterShokz.
As I walked towards the station, I could hear the direction of the station in front of me. I could hear little beeps in my head and as I got closer, the beeps intensified. The beeping was at its loudest to my left and right to guide me to the door.
Once at the station, and having found Sean, we then needed to catch a train to meet Tim.
The app we used to find the right train was UK Train Times by a company called Agant Ltd. It is a paid app and costs £6.99, but if you do use trains a lot, it’s well worth it. It’s available for iOS, and is totally accessible using VoiceOver.
You can use the app to browse the live departure boards of any station in the UK. You can either search for a specific station or if you’re at a station already, the app will use its GPS to work out what one you’re at, and/or what stations are close by.
The app also allows you to plan a journey. All you need to do is enter where you’re travelling from, where you are travelling to, the date and time, and it will provide the details of all available trains. Not only that, but when you find the one you want, double tap on it for a list of every stop that train stops at.
Sean says: “This feature is really useful because if I’m on a train and I’m not sure what stop is coming up next, I can quickly check the list and it’s updated. So it tells me what stop it’s just been to, and when it’s expected at the next one.”
We used the UK Train Times app to check the departure board and found out the train we needed to meet Tim.
Once we had found Tim, the first thing we wanted to do was find a nice coffee shop. For this, we used the BlindSquare app which works both indoors and outdoors.
BlindSquare gives you information about your current location, and depending on your settings, also about your surroundings such as the restaurants, shops and entertainment venues around you. It costs £38.99 to download and you can filter or mute the information depending on what you want to hear.
There are a number of ways you can search for information using BlindSquare: you can search for specific addresses, look up names of restaurants or businesses, and you can search by keywords. If you decide to look for a place using key words, select from a list of categories like arts and entertainment, food and travel and transport.
Other ways of searching places or knowing what’s around you using BlindSquare:
My Location searches for information using your current location and you can use it by simply shaking your device.
Look Around uses a compass to provide information about anything that you happen to be pointing your phone at.
Around Me gives information about either your immediate surroundings or information about your surroundings within a certain pre-set radius.
Nearby Intersections provides information about intersections near your current location.
The other great thing about BlindSquare is it saves your search history, keeps track of the recent places you’ve visited, and allows you to save favourite places to a “My Places” list.
In the end, we decided to use BlindSquare to search for cafes in the area. Starbucks was the closest and the app showed us the address, phone number and website. We were able to see how far away it was, in what direction we needed to walk, and the directions. We even had the option to order an Uber taxi if we didn’t fancy walking.
The only thing left was to fight over who was going to pay the bill for the coffees!
You can hear more from Steven by listening to Tech Talk on RNIB Connect Radio. It’s broadcast on Tuesdays at 1pm and Thursdays at 9pm and Saturdays at 5pm.