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I'm in charge of development of a cross-platform, mobile device self-guided tour app using Google Maps. We have three options for showing users visited vs. unvisited locations:

1) Just show the places that a user has or has not visited with dropped pins of different colors.

2) Also draw a light path on the map that shows where the user has been, along with a heavy path showing the route to the next location. (This risks getting messy if the user wanders around, which some may do and which we do not want to discourage.)

3) Let the user manually turn on/off the path-tracing feature.

Which would be best?

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You could add the path they followed from location to location following the route and show a very thin transparent line every time they went off route and went somewhere else. –  Barfieldmv Mar 5 '12 at 9:29
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Just changing colors of pins probably won't do it, unless all your colors are high contrast and pass all color blindness tests. Pins could be different for different types of paths - like squares, circles, x's - or let the user select whether pins should be varied by shape or color. –  Susan R Mar 5 '12 at 14:19
    
@SusanR good point. Didn't even consider colorblindness. –  Philip Mar 5 '12 at 23:19

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

By default, I would say just a pin, along with a representation of where they currently are (assuming your app has been given geolocation access). As you say, you don't want to discourage wandering and exploration.

That being said, user needs may shift over the course of the tour. Consider: "I'm hungry, let's grab a bite someplace nearby and pick up where we left off." "We're running low on time, what's the fastest way to the next location." Now the user needs to find the optimal route to a given destination.

If these tours are linear, this could be toggled with the press of a button (labeled appropriately, of course; perhaps "Show Route"). If tours can be non-linear, you might allow users to select pins and plot the fastest location to them, instead. Either way, this should also be accompanied by a "Hide Route" toggle for those who want to resume wandering.

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Fastest-route-to-location was planned; hide future route toggle is a good idea. Interestingly, I was only asking about already-seen locations; I didn't even think about hiding the route to future locations. Your answer raises some good issues; thanks. –  Philip Mar 5 '12 at 23:21

Nice idea for an app. :) It's something I would surely see myself using.

With regards to your options, I would say the choice of just showing visited and unvisited places is a good choice since you are giving the user the choice of where to go next and not forcing them to go along a regular path.

With regards to your second choice, I am against it as it could real messy and people might not clearly understand what the legend is (i.e. what does each line stand for). However an option you can add is having a shortcut which when clicked highlights the routes from where they are currently standing to the nearest locations of interest. However the call you will need to make is how many different close locations do you want to show because too many lines emerging from a path can be frustrating to decipher. Or you could just take the easy way out and show the user a list of options and let him choose one and then show him the path.

3) Let the user manually turn on/off the path-tracing feature: I would find this feature useful of the simple reason that I am assuming your app using the GPS feature built into the phone ,GPS runs through the battery real fast (atleast on my phone) and I would be really annoyed if I find out that my battery is out half way through the walk just because the GPS was being used.

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Interesting; we hadn't even considered not using GPS. That seems to turn the app from a tour app into a static map app, but I suppose it's a good option to implement. Thanks! –  Philip Mar 5 '12 at 23:23
    
Maybe I wasnt very clear,by turning off the GPS,you can still store the details of the nearby places and if the person wants guided directions to them then he can just turn on the GPS.This feature would allow users to just see what are the points of interest near them –  Mervin Johnsingh Mar 6 '12 at 6:25

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