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G4 is out

posted Nov 28, 2013, 11:00 AM by Michael Schollmeyer
G4 has just been released!

GPS Essentials version 4.0.3 is now available for public beta testing. A new major release number, and it really deserves it! For those who don't want to read lengthy blog posts, go to http://www.mapfinity.com/help:gpse and download it. Still here? Umm...

The first thing you'll notice when opening G4 ist that while the start screen is almost the same, the default configuration shows a light theme now. Don't worry, when you love the dark shades of Holo theme, you can switch back in settings. And while you open settings, you can adjust track, route and a few more colors.

Well, these custom colors are actually just a side effect of a much deeper change in the way GPS Essentials stores its data. While there have been routes and tracks before, G4 works with a much more general concept called a "stream". A stream stores "nodes" in a structured way, much like chapters in a book (though we call them categories, not chapters). A node, in turn, can be pretty much anything that is located somewhere, like a waypoint, a photo or a point of a track.

A stream is also the smallest unit you can export and share. A few months back I started Mapfinity.com as a sharing backend for GPS Essentials, and Mapfinity now supports all these new concepts, too. You can use Mapfinity to work on a stream from multiple devices and view the stream on the web at the same time.

The new data model also impacted export and import capabilities. While G3 supported a very limited subset of KML, G4 now has folders, polylines, polygons (but no fill color), ground overlays (if your device can handle the size) and custom icons. You can even stuff it all into a KMZ file!

The portable map has a few improvements, like a scale or the new dial menu (tap on the bottom right corner to open it). Pictures have their own viewer now that can zoom in, but most of the user interface changes happened in the new stream view. This is the unified view that shows streams and since routes and tracks are actually some sort of a stream, there is no different view for them. The difference between "Routes", "Tracks" and "Streams" on the start screen is just a different selection from the drop down filter in the action bar. Waypoints, Pictures and Messages are just predefined streams now, when you tap on "Streams" on the start screen (and those streams are not empty) you'll see them in "All Streams", too. I guess one of the upcoming releases will clean up the start screen from these artefacts.

The new stream view is probably the new center of gravity in G4. The action bar on its top shows the structure of the stream, so you can move quickly between categories. On top of the list, you can add "cards" which show condensed information or let you work with the stream in a special way. Tap on "Add" to add new cards and fling them off the list to remove. You can also fling nodes to remove them, but they end up in a (per stream) trash before you erase them (You may have guessed it: The trash is yet another category of your stream). You can reorder nodes by long pressing them and then dragging them to a different location. If you select "Style" from the options menu you can change the presentation of a category, like line width and color.

I hope you take the opportunity and test drive the new version. I've written a brief tutorial to get you started with streams and sharing. I'll add more. Storage space on Mapfinity.com is also very limited right now, it can handle about 100 photos per user account.

A final remark to those who expected a different set of features: I know there are (too) many things I had to omit this time. The dashboard needs a redesign for different widget sizes, and I would really want the map and the compass as a widget in the dashboard. Universal grid support with custom coordinate systems would come in handy for those who work with them. Finally, an automation API to connect pulse sensors, smart watches and all kinds of other external hardware would be great. The decision not to do all these thing this time doesn't mean they will not come.

I'm eager to hear what you think, so please post on Facebook, Google Groups or send me an email when you found a bug or you think that something is not as it should be. I have rewritten tons of code from the ground up and I expect a few bugs. You should do the same.

Enjoy!
Michael

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