5 years with OsmAnd!

June 25, 2015

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Hard to believe, but it' s been 5 years since OsmAnd app appeared in the market. To recap the highlights of our work so far, we decided to ask OsmAnd team members how do they feel about working here, why they chose to work on a navigation app and more.

Viktor Shcherb, CEO

What was the motivation? Why OsmAnd is an open-source project?

In 2010, Android OS was young and promising. Unfortunately, there were no good navigation applications out there. Being an opensource fan, recently switched from Windows to Ubuntu, I wanted to contribute to any project instead of paying to non-good proprietary solutions. At that moment I realized that I can' t find the major opensource navigation system, there was Navit, but it was so difficult for me that I didn' t manage to configure it properly on Android and once I configured it, quite a lot of rendering issues appeared. That was hopeless for me. I almost gave up, but in late May 2010 I found an awesome map data service, OpenStreetMap. I decided to start an opensource project in order to make a first step showing how good the data is, thinking that later people will take it and continue the development. In a sense, I was right, we' ve built a great community around OsmAnd: > 50 code contributors and >100 translation and issue contributors. On the other hand, I' m still in charge of running OsmAnd after 5 years.

How OsmAnd+ appeared as a paid application?

First of all, it was always possible to get a full application for free, for example, from night builds. I was always keen on the idea that people who are limited in funds or payment methods should be able to download it from the website. Some operations might be done in a more difficult way, but it should be a fully functional application. Till 2011, only free version existed, there were no ads because ads spoil the application in my opinion. At one point, I realized that I couldn' t do map processing on our machines and payment for the servers was out of my budget. We tried a couple of opensource solutions, but it was hopeless. That' s why we didn' t limit the functionality (it is an opensource), but limited the number of maps to download. It was a very transparent monetization in a way. The server which processes and serves maps needs to be paid regularly. We never asked the customers who bought the app to pay again, because the new users cover all our needs. Today, we still use the same monetization and the servers are still a very significant expenditure from our budget, but we are doing fine! Thanks to all our contributors.

What does #osmandme mean to you?

First of all, it means the favorite map & navigation tool. All the operations I do myself I do with OsmAnd. Before I had a navigation tool, I used paper maps for the most operations and I still love them. Nowadays, I can' t imagine my normal life without OsmAnd, it covers most of the aspects of outdoor activities: hiking, going to restaurant, tourism, boat trips, forest walks and, of course, car travels. Surprisingly, I read #osmandme as ' OSM and Me' and OsmAnd is a tool to use these features. I need to confess, I have a crazy idea to extend OsmAnd and use all the features that OSM data can provide). By the way, it was a conscious decision to put OSM in the name of the product. I believe in OSM and I would like to thank all OSM contributors.

How did you contribute to OSM?

In 2010, I was more able to edit the map because of lots of empty spots there. But I quickly realized that I' m a developer and I love development. So I found a database for all public transport routes and started working on importing it. In the end, I did 10% of work manually, but still used lots of tools around me. After that, I implemented the ' opening hours' feature in OsmAnd and started putting it to the OSM data. Then I found some datasets with opening hours and imported them. I wish I could do more for direct OSM contribution, but I don' t have enough time. So I keep investing in tools in OsmAnd to help other people contribute.

What was the most exciting story with OsmAnd?

There were many of them. Personally, I still remember the moment after 1 year of development, when I got a german magazine delivered by normal mail to Amsterdam and I saw an article about OsmAnd there. The project was still in beta and limited in many functions, but I was very proud that from that moment I could call it a "product" (still in beta).

Hardy Mueller, contributor

Why did you decide to join an osm-based project back in 2011?

I was looking for a way to carry and view maps in an electronic fashion. The system had to be as open as possible so I could later explore adding layers of special interest (hiking, geological, weather, etc.) or my own layers or notes. So the natural choice of open systems was Android and OSM.

So why did you pick OsmAnd as your project to join?

Several reasons: A killer criterion for me was a 100% offline capability, which OsmAnd fully provides. Secondly, OsmAnd uses vectorized map storage, which has enormous advantages over the conventional raster-based visualization, both for map storage and map display. And last but not least, OsmAnd was a very young project at the time, so I saw an enormous potential to participate and make a difference!

What was the biggest challenge when you were starting and what it is now?

When I started, we had many technical challenges: the project was created from scratch and by very few people. So wherever you looked in our code, we needed to work on the very basic functions like the map content, the map visualization, later voice announcements, routing algorithms, and so on.

The challenge now has shifted a little bit: we are one of the most feature-rich apps out there, certainly in the area of map viewing, navigation, OSM editing, trip planning, and lately we have made huge steps towards evolving into an electronic travel guide. So the challenge is to not lose the average user who initially only needs a fraction of this functionality. The challenge is to have one common look and feel across the app and its features, and to create a professional UI, taking the guesswork of "what does this do?" or "how do I do that?" out of all our screens and control panels.

So how do you personally use OsmAnd?

I pretty much use it on all my personal and business trips, and over time it has completely replaced me taking any paper maps with me. So I use OsmAnd both for personal orientation and to test all our new features and builds. I estimate that over the years I have used OsmAnd for at least 120,000 km of traveling, so I can safely say that OsmAnd is a rather well-tested tool! :-)

In your history with OsmAnd, what are the most outstanding stories? Me using it so extensively draws many of my friends' and colleagues' attention, so they try it, too, and come back to me for support or advice. This is a great feedback loop for our development. And, by being involved in the project, I met a lot of new, very interesting people, both virtually and in person. And I learn about ways OsmAnd is used which should make us proud of the project: OsmAnd was used in an earthquake relief aid, in some African development aid programs, and I once met a guy who said he would take it to the Himalayas and probably to the top of Mt. Everest.

What is your funniest experience with OsmAnd?

I once met a guy deep in the North American backcountry, he must have been the first person I saw in 3 days or so. And somehow we started talking about maps, and he really cursed his smartphone-based mapping app, saying it works ok, but the user interface was so messed up he often did not know how to do or undo things, so at times we was at the point of throwing the darned thing into a canyon. Knowing that most people use Google maps, I thought that was my chance to introduce him to OsmAnd, but soon had to find out that he was using OsmAnd! So when I told him I was actually a project member, he felt bad for being such a harsh critic, and I felt bad for recommending such a "questionable" product, and we both laughed heartily. But I also learned the lesson that while many people like to code new features, we need to put a lot of effort into our user interface, or else we will lose the majority of regular non-IT-savvy users.

Leonid (xmd5a),contributor

Why did you decide to join OsmAnd team and what was your background? Was navigation and maps a completely new field?

I started using OsmAmd half a year before joining the team. Certain functions that I needed were missing, such as road surface and smoothness visualization, so I made my own map style, UniRS and then LightRS to introduce these functions. After that, Victor contacted me and granted me the access to ?repositories so that I could include some UniRS features into the basic map style. Then I started working on other tasks, as well.

I' ve been contributing to OSM since 2011. Geography, maps and draftsmanship have been my passion since childhood. OSM has all that. Plus, it' s good for health as I collect data on a bicycle.

What is the most exciting about working on an open-source map?

It' s nice to know that your data helped someone, nice to hear positive feedback on the quality of the map. It drives you to improve it. Also, it' s nice to see someone doing serious work in the area I am currently drawing in. This refers to OsmAmd, as well.

Andre Van Atten, contributor

How did your OSM work begin?

I have always been a fan and supporter of the OpenStreetMap project, and I still am! The other companies that made maps where too much focused on making money, navigating cars, and their own closed format.

Then Victor started one of the first apps that allowed me to walk, bike and canoe with an offline map and searchable database in nature and on holidays without data connection! Not by using gigabytes of tiles, but smart vectorizing and rendering. During the first years, everything was stored at the SQLite databases, this became rather big and slow, so we moved to protobuf streaming. But I still could use the OSM format to crunch my own maps.

It the years following, all the ingredients became more mature: the maps contained more and more detail for walking, biking and public transport, the hillshade maps, contour lines, addresses, and points of interest were added. The software adapted in the same time more features, like navigation, spoken instructions, screen off handling and services, GPS handling, overlay maps, audio, photo and notes, OSM POI handling. The phones became more powerful to support these features.

OsmAnd is a very versatile app. Do you think variety helps people fulfill their goals?

People most of the time do underestimate the effort it takes to create the map and the software. It is an ever-changing project with a lot of different use cases. Some people are focused on the map itself, others are focused on the use of it, but one thing was sure: the possibilities are enormous and versatile and every user has own wishes and use cases. Some of them wanted simplicity and ease of use. It's not an easy task to integrate this in an app. As we know now.