Screenshot of Apple Maps route from Perkins School for the Blind to Watertown Diner.

Using Third-Party GPS Apps in Conjunction with BlindSquare

Instructions on how to plan a route using BlindSquare and Apple Maps or Google Maps.

BlindSquare can be used in conjunction with number third-party apps offering turn-by-turn directions. This allows you to use the navigation app best meeting your needs. This could be the app that is most accessible, has the best maps for your area, offers offline maps, whose style of giving directions you like best, or which is low-cost. In this article, I will discuss Apple Maps, which is part of the iOS operating system, and Google Maps, which can be downloaded at no cost from the App Store. Please note that this guide applies to iOS 9.2, Google Maps 4.15.1, and BlindSquare 3.41.

When learning how to use a new GPS app, I would strongly recommend trying the app in a familiar environment first. This allows you to see how the app behaves in different situations. For example, does the app announce turns early in advance or only when you are just at the turn? When you leave the route it has suggested, does it warn you and does it recalculate the route automatically?

If you plan to use BlindSquare with another GPS app, it is easy to prepare the trip from the comfort of your home. Apple Maps and Google Maps let you read the turn-by-turn directions in advance. For travelers who are blind or partially sighted, it may be a good idea to compare the routes suggested by GPS apps beforehand, to select the easiest route or the route that has the clearest turn-by-turn instructions. It may even be worth it to compare suggested routes of different apps. BlindSquare makes this incredibly easy, because it can send a starting location and a destination to any supported GPS app installed on an iOS device, even when you are not at the starting location.

Preparing Your Trip

When using BlindSquare and a third-party navigation app, both apps may speak at the same time. Because BlindSquare does not know that another app is also talking, it cannot announce points of interest or intersections just when speech from the other app pauses. To reduce chatter, I suggest applying one of the filters in BlindSquare to limit the information spoken automatically. Additionally, I recommend selecting a voice in BlindSquare that is clearly distinguishable from the voice of the third-party navigation app.

For the purposes of this guide, I will assume that you want to know how to walk from the Perkins School for the Blind to Watertown Diner. You can follow these steps to prepare this route regardless of where you are. Of course, they are just an example and you can insert your own starting location and destination.

Searching for Your Starting Location

Screenshot BlindSquare with focus on Search button in top left corner.If you already are at the Perkins School for the Blind, you may continue searching for your destination as described in the next section. Otherwise, you will first need to search for your starting location and open its Place Summary screen. To search for a location, you can either use one of the categories on the main screen or the BlindSquare text search. If you would like to use the latter, open the Search screen by tapping the top left button on the main screen and enter ”Perkins School for the Blind”. In general, search terms can be an address, part of the name of a venue, or the name of someone in your contacts whose address information you have saved there.

If the location you are looking for is listed in your search result, tap it to open its Place Summary screen. The Place Summary screen is the screen displaying all of the information available about a place. This may include a phone number, website, or, if it is a restaurant, even the menu might be listed. The information available always depends on what has been entered about a venue on Foursquare.

screenshot BlindSquare with focus on simulate this location.


You will also find the Simulate Location button on the bottom of the Place Summary screen. When you simulate a location, BlindSquare behaves as if you really were there. It will show places near the simulated location, and all of the distance and heading information refers not to your real location but to the simulated one. Activate the Simulate Location button so you are at the Perkins School for the Blind as the starting point of your route.


Searching for Your Destination

Screenshot BlindSquare with focus on Watertown Diner



You can now search for your destination using either Text or Category search. If you tap the Food category on the main screen while at the Perkins School for the Blind or while simulating it, Watertown Diner will appear in the list of restaurants.



screenshot BlindSquare with focus on Favorites button.



You can tap it to open its Place Summary screen. Before you look at the navigation options, you may want to save this place on the My Places list. To do this, just check the Favorite button on the Place Summary screen. You can access the My Places list from the main screen of BlindSquare. Saving your destination in advance will help you to save time when on the go, because you can simply go to the My Places list and do not have to search for your destination when you want to initiate turn-by-turn directions.

Screenshot BlindSquare with focus on Plan a Route.




You may now activate the Plan a Route button on the Place Summary screen. This will open a menu containing all of the BlindSquare supported third-party navigation apps installed on the device.




Using Apple Maps to Preview the Route and Receive Directions

screenshot BlindSquare with focus on Walk.Apple Maps should always be one of the listed apps, because it is part of the iOS operating system. When you tap it, BlindSquare will send the coordinates of the starting location (Perkins School for the Blind) and your destination (Watertown Diner) to Apple Maps and open the App. You can see that the School has already been entered as route origin and “214 N Beacon St” as the destination. Below you should set the navigation mode you would like to use. By default, Drive is selected, so make sure to select Walk if you would like to walk. In this example, Apple Maps has only suggested one route; sometimes it will give several options.



Screenshot BlindSquare displaying route directions.

The Details button next to the suggested route will open a list of the turn-by-turn directions Apple Maps will announce when you begin navigation. This allows you to read the instructions before walking the route. When you have finished reading the instructions, you can return to the previous screen. If you are at your starting location and would like to begin navigation, tap the Start button in the bottom right corner of the screen. If you are using spoken turn-by-turn directions for the first time or if Apple Maps does not give spoken directions, you should also check the Navigation Voice settings. By default, Apple Maps does not speak when Walk mode has been selected. For a few seconds after tapping the Start button, the Navigation Voice button is visible among the buttons in the bottom right corner of the screen. If you did not catch it fast enough, you can tap the bottom of the screen to display the buttons again.

screenshot BlindSquare with focus on Low Volume.


Tap Navigation Voice to open the volume settings for the navigation voice. Set it to the volume you like and make sure that the Pause Spoken Audio button is selected. If this option is not active, the Apple Maps voice will fade out when VoiceOver or BlindSquare speak, making it hard to hear the turn-by-turn directions. Once you have closed this screen, you are ready to walk this route hearing both spoken turn-by-turn directions from Apple Maps and information from BlindSquare.



Using Google Maps to Preview the Route and Receive Directions
Screenshot BlindSquare map with focus on 5 minute walking time.

If the free Google Maps app is also installed on your device, you may want to compare its directions with the ones given by Apple. To do this, delete Apple Maps from the App Switcher and search for your destination in BlindSquare. When you have tapped the Plan a Route button on the Place Summary screen, select Google Maps from the list of navigation apps. BlindSquare will now send your starting location and your destination to Google Maps and launch the app, while continuing to run in the background. Ensure that you select the navigation mode you would like to use.



Screenshot BlindSquare with Google Maps' first direction.


Using the Preview button, you can read the turn-by-turn instructions before you travel. VoiceOver users can touch the first instruction and flick up to hear the next one, continuing until they have heard all of them. If you are at the Perkins School for the Blind and would like to walk the route, tap the Start button to hear the first instruction.





The example route in this article is fairly simple. However, when routes are longer, different apps may provide different route suggestions. Some routes may be easier for a traveler who is blind or partially sighted than others. I find that the Google Maps instructions are often clearer than Apple’s. However, this may also depend to a large extend on the quality of the map data for your area. I would encourage you to try several options and to find the app that works best in your area and whose directions you find easiest to follow.

Combining BlindSquare with a third-party navigation app gives you the best of both worlds. You can hear information about intersections and saved landmarks mainstream apps do not announce automatically. At the same time, you can choose among about ten supported navigation apps and use the app providing the best maps and instructions for your area.

By Sandra Pilz

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