Tech Spotlight on Nearby Explorer

Whenever I travel to a new place, I like to learn about my surroundings; the layout of the streets, the businesses, and restaurants that are in the area. The new Nearby Explorer app from the American Printing House for the Blind is a great way to retrieve this information and much more!

The cost of Nearby Explorer is $80 in both the iOs and Android app stores, I have only used it in iOs. When you first purchase and open Nearby Explorer, you are asked to agree to the terms of service. Once this is completed, you are prompted to download the maps. Keep in mind that these maps take up approximately 4 GB of storage, so they would consume a good chunk of your space if you are only using a 16 GB iPhone. Thus, it is probably best to be connected to Wi-Fi while downloading the maps. Once the maps are downloaded, you should hear the app announce your location, and you are ready to go.

The app has four tabs on the bottom of the screen, Home, Map, Settings, and Help. On the home tab, you will first find a Pause button that pauses all GPS function. Next, is a Geobeam switch, which when turned on, will cause the app to announce places and streets in the direction that you point the phone's camera. Then, you will find many toggle switches. These switches are Country, State, County, City, Zip Code, Heading, Street Number, Street Name, Approaching, Guidance, Nearby, Nearby Position, Watch, Speed, Altitude, Accuracy, and Vertical Accuracy. When turned on, these items will be announced as they change while you are moving. You can lock the screen, and it will continue to give you feedback while running in the background. You will then find a streets button, which allows you to explore the streets that are around your current location, or any location that you search and set as your virtual location. When you double-tap on a street, it's like you have virtually turned onto it, and you can flick through the other streets that intersect it. it's like you're using VoiceOver to look at a map!

The Search button lists all of the points of interest within a certain radius of either your current or virtual location, and it also has an option to set the radius. There is also a text field in which you can search for any business within 30 miles of your current or virtual location, or type in a city and state, select the correct option, and search within that city. Once you have searched for a place, you have the option to save it as a favorite, get directions, or virtually go to that location.

The transit button lists the nearest transit stops to your current or virtual location. When you activate this button, you will be prompted to download the transit schedule for the city or region. Once you have downloaded the schedule and double-tap on a transit stop, you can view the next lines that stop at that location in order by time. Once you activate a specific route and time, you can view all of the stops along that route.

The Map tab is a visual map of your current or virtual location. The Settings tab allows you to adjust options, such as Voice person, rate, and pitch, options for Metric distance units, settings for highways and tolls when calculating routes, and address and search provider. Nearby Explorer can use FourSquare, Google, or On Board Maps when searching for places and either On Board Maps or Apple when providing your current position. The Help tab enables you to access the user guide which can also be found at tech.aph.org/ne.

Overall, I would highly recommend Nearby Explorer, but beware that it's brand new technology, so there are some bugs. For instance, when virtually exploring, it may tell you that a road ends at the edge of town or at a county border, when in reality, it continues on. I have also found that it does not always announce route numbers when getting driving directions. APH will continue to improve the app and update the maps as they are available. If you desire, while traveling by car, you can use Nearby Explorer for location information and use a more mainstream app, such as Google Maps, in conjunction with it for better directions. I also think that it's important to note that any GPS app does not supplement good orientation and mobility skills, and any GPS app is limited in its functionality in the sense that it may not tell you the exact address of your location, and it certainly does not know all of the sidewalks and shortcuts that you use on a college campus. Yet, it is a great tool to use as a pedestrian or as a vehicle passenger who wants to learn more about their surroundings and/or direct a driver.