back to article Ordnance Survey to take a poke at Pokémon-style gaming with outdoorsy AR adventure

UK map maker Ordnance Survey is bringing a new concept to the mobile gaming market: not looking at your phone. Setting itself the paradoxical ambitions of getting people out and about while also appealing to new audiences through smartphone gaming, the 300-year-old government-owned company has a balance to strike. Mike …

  1. TRT Silver badge


    Reminds me of a "game" I saw once... where was that? Westherts College I think. It was at a digital media event at what's now the Harry Potter studios near Watford.

    From what I understood it was a virtual reality orienteering game, played in 1x time. Consisted of a 3D model of a figure walking endlessly across a geo-mesh landscape.

    What the flipping heck was that called? It'll come to me as I type... a name I recall involved in it was... erm... Alf Wright! That was it, Alf.

    And the software was called... Wayfinder? Wayfarer? Waymaker? Something like that.

    Anyway, my previous experience of software from OS is mixed. The first mapping product was actually great - scratch off a silver panel, enter a code, download a map. Brilliant!

    Then they launched a Version 2 which worked in a subscription service fashion (Maps-as-a-subscription-service). That was totally bloody useless. Worse than useless - dangerous. It required an always on internet connection, even for the downloaded maps which it deleted with gay abandon at seemingly random times. Not good for people walking in hills and valleys and mountains where the signal was more off than on. You had to hold the zoom at one specific level or it replaced it with a blurred image, so zooming out and in to find specific features and relate those to a wider area was impossible. You couldn't take a compass bearing on a sighted object, like the only farmhouse on a hill or a radio mast, and then use it on the map because the screen was so small that you could only see detail on the map up to about 200m maximum, and any attempt to scroll around or zoom out and back in again reset the ability to see the detailed map that you had bought and downloaded or if the signal went any you HAD a subscription, it deleted the cache. Thankfully they got it sorted out, but it took them over 2 years to do so. Total misunderstanding of how their digital product would be used - monetisation took priority over safety.

    1. Martin-R

      Re: Hm...

      Last time I looked at the OS Maps app, it was pretty horrible to use - limited zoom, dreadful offline capability, printed maps with an inch border all round. People like Anguet do that side of it just so much better - shame about the UX of rest of their app though :-(

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Hm...

        Just checked it again... not used it much during lockdown... It's definitely still improved over the early days of this version.

        Lacking still:

        an ability to put in one's own waypoints,

        to have the "ME" pointer located near the bottom of the map so one can see more of the map showing what's in front of you (essential in the countryside where features may be so far apart they can't be seen on the next level of zoom out),

        to quickly turn the compass on and off so you can get back more screen area,

        to have the 10K mapping series available.

        It really feels like a first GR version of a product. Stable, basic features, but no refinements and minimal field testing.

        1. wiggers

          It's still pretty bad. As you zoom out it suddenly switches from the 1:25k map you downloaded to a 1:100k or something. And offline is still not working. Once you're out of mobile signal you can't go very far before walking off the edge of the visible map. Have had long correspondence with their support for a few years now.

          1. AMBxx Silver badge

            Offline is fine - you plot a route then download. Keeps the map tiles on the phone. If you can't be bothered to plot a proper route, just draw a line through all the areas you're likely to need. Not elegant but gives a full offline map.

            Alternatively, buy a map and enter the map reference to download the entire map.

            Zoom is fixed too - just change the layer from automatic to 1:25000.

            Only area that badly need improvement is 'favourites'. Not possible to group in any way so have to scroll through a massive list of routes to find the one you're looking for.

            Best £20 a year I spend.

      2. ravenviz Silver badge

        Re: Hm...

        I’ve been using GB & Parks iOS app for years, specifically for offline use of OS maps at 1:50k and 1:25k, and it is brilliant, never had any problem with it (and after a considerable amount of hill walking).

        The only frustration are the maps themselves where public rights of way and bridleway overlays quite often do not match the base map or the ground.

        Mind you, getting a reality augmented selfie with Alfred Wainright, Hugh Munro, or perhaps even Muriel Gray, could be an interesting diversion during a particularly tedious bog trudge!

  2. Natalie Gritpants Jr

    Just because your data is valuable, it doesn't mean you should monetize it

    The OS organization seems to have been taken over by rejects from the RIAA that want to squeeze the maximum income from their trove of data. Data paid for by the British taxpayer for centuries, relevant only to the British people (and those planning to invade). The data should be made freely available with no copyright attached. I'm sure the government won't cut off their funding as it is a useful service, but it seems to have been skewed by a desire to show how valuable all that data is.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Just because your data is valuable, it doesn't mean you should monetize it

      I thought the last lot of #10 incumbents had made it all free ? On the basis that the main customer of HM Ordnance survey was HMG and it was costing more to handle the billing paperwork than it cost to make the maps - so they may as well make it free.

      Sadly now living in an off-world colony who think that printing 1:100,000 maps entirely from WWII-era areal photos with no footpaths and roads only marked if somebody officially maintains them - is somehow adequte.

  3. Alan Burlison

    They've not exactly got a good track record, have they?

    Bearing in mind the abysmal reviews of the current OS Maps app on just about every front and their inability to address the issues which go back many years, what on earth makes them think they have the ability to deliver on this?

    OS - fix your current useless bloody app first please, then you might have at least some shred of credibility.

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: They've not exactly got a good track record, have they?

      That's why I go the route that lets OS concentrate on what they're good at - mapping - and go for the software to somebody else who's good at the software. for online OS Landranger and Explorer (1:50K and 1:25K) maps, ViewRanger for mobile OS Landranger and Explorer maps. Data from the people good at making the data, viewed with software from people good at making the software. Not maps from people crap at software, or software with crap maps - or even worse, maps from the software dudes and software from the maps dudes - that gets you Google Maps!

      Ditto, PitneyBowes for plans - 1:5K and bigger. "25inch" and "50inch" in old money. Though even that leaves something to be desired with the modern fancy soft focus, extraneous colours, "get rid of the detail" look. Bring back the 1950-1990 mapping style!

  4. tiggity Silver badge

    Want to get people outdoors exploring more...

    Free the data.

    OS maps app is expensive* (& was buggy & limited in its use & tied you to a phone platform when I tried it, long since deleted, it may have improved since but once bitten twice shy ).

    A paper OS map is expensive* if its somewhere you are just visiting for a few days.

    Given that OS data has essentially been taxpayer funded for decades, give the data to us for free.

    UK has a bizarre approach to excessive efforts to monetize data its citizens might find useful (stares hard at postcode databases) & if free could potentially lead to all sorts of useful bits of software as someone can take a punt on creating a product without being hammered by huge data licencing costs.

    * for those on low income, YMMV

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Want to get people outdoors exploring more...

      TfL service location details e.g. train tracker - Did you know there are load gauges on Tube Trains? It helps the braking for one thing, but it also shows which carriages on which head codes are empty, lightly occupied or rammed to the gunwales. One would have thought this was essential data in the current socially distanced world, but it's only available to a restricted audience.

    2. Plest Silver badge

      Re: Want to get people outdoors exploring more...

      Agree with that!

      There are some interesting sources of data, LandRegistry data is free and TfL do allow API access to the their tube/bus timing data and other interesting data resources, sadly not the Oyster data.

      Sure the O/S could offer some limited dev API data access somehow rather than pushing out another shitty app. Cartgography isn't exactly an easy thing, I've written OSGB converters and they're not easy to grasp quickly, so the O/S must have some bright people they just need to some decent app design talent.

    3. AMBxx Silver badge

      Re: Want to get people outdoors exploring more...

      It's £20 a year! Free if you just want online access.

      1. Muscleguy

        Re: Want to get people outdoors exploring more...

        The mountain rescue people here in Scotland do NOT like folk who rely on their devices for navigation. It isn’t just having/not having a signal. Cold reduces battery power, so your device may simply switch off. They have had to rescue countless people without paper maps.

        By all means take your device but take a paper map and an actual compass as well.

        Oh and your device may not be much help when the whiteout comes down.

    4. Rosietk

      Re: Want to get people outdoors exploring more...

      If you are looking for free OS data try these:

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Want to get people outdoors exploring more...

      It's possible to find OS mapping (1:25k and 1:50k) free (legally licensed) on the internet, if you know where to look. I want more than that. There are some great third party apps and I'd be upset of OS put them out of business by making theirs free.

      I have the OS app but only use it on mobile so when I'm out I have the latest mapping. That said the route/track handling features are rubbish so I use a dedicated GPS device too.

      The desktop app is a load of crap too (but probably quite adequate for the less demanding user) so I happily paid £££ for Mapyx Quo for its vastly improved feature set - although not for everyone, it requires the user to be smart enough to customise it to suit their needs.

      "Taxpayer funded" doesn't mean everything must be freely available to us all. The army is taxpayer funded but they still won't let me go for a drive in a tank.

      OS is "taxpayer funded" and they do make an awful lot of data freely available but my understanding is that it's taxpayer *supported* in addition they earn commercial revenues. They make productive use of sales revenue to offer more than the taxpayer funds alone would provide.

      I'm a taxpayer and I'm quite happy to contribute to access additional features/services.

      The road network is "taxpayer funded", I can walk/cycle on (almost) any public road but if I want to drive I pay extra.

  5. K Cartlidge

    For those saying the OS data should be free ... it largely is.

    For those saying the OS data should be free, it largely is. To quote their site directly: "Develop with free OS OpenData downloads and APIs. For any use including commercial."


    I don't know if it is still available in physical form too, but a few years ago I was able to order (for free) a set of the OS data and map tiles at various resolutions, with gazetteer, on a comprehensive set of DVDs.

    Even their paid plans go out of their way to say the actual base data is free - there is a premium data API behind a paywall, but the base tile data and the standard API remains free.

    1. tiggity Silver badge

      Re: For those saying the OS data should be free ... it largely is.

      @K Cartlidge

      I don't think the detailed footpath data is free -would be delighted to be proven wrong.

      If it was free I would have expected lots of apps out there competing with the (not very good IMHO) OS apps.

      1. Cuddles

        Re: For those saying the OS data should be free ... it largely is.

        "I don't think the detailed footpath data is free"

        I think you're correct. OS OpenData is free, although with rate limits so potentially not great for a popular app. The following link shows what that provides, and what most people would recognise as actual OS maps are notably missing. If you want the proper maps, you have to pay.

        "If it was free I would have expected lots of apps out there competing with the (not very good IMHO) OS apps."

        I don't know if there are lots around, but I've been using Backcountry Navigator for over a decade now. Not just all OS maps, but also equivalents in many other countries along with a variety of other useful maps and satellite views. It's not free (and most of the negative reviews seem to be people whining about that), but it's a one-off payment rather than a subscription which may appeal to some people.

  6. Outski

    Sounds familiar

    It's important to us to build an augmented and geolocation game that encourages people to think about their location, to have a look at what's out there and consider it before they go out the door. And then on their adventure, whether they walk into the picnic spot or the local park, they understand that reaching a location will be beneficial for playing the game.

    Sounds a lot like Ingress

    Icon for what should happen to the Frogs ----->

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Sounds familiar

      Ingress had that companion app didn't it? The one which was focussed on visiting landmarks rather than playing a game. What was it called now? Gah!

  7. AMBxx Silver badge


    Why not just promote Keeps kids entertained while out walking. Plenty of circular walks plotted with caches.

    1. TiredNConfused80

      Re: GEocaching?

      Agree geocaching works. unfortunately (near us at any rate) there are only about 4 within the walking distance of a 7 year old. Once we've done those then you're into travelling further and further afield.

      Ideally this would be something that you can take on the same walk over and over but give different results to keep young'ens entertained...

      1. Rosietk

        Re: GEocaching?

        You could try the Secret Stories OS app until the new one comes out. Free app and some content, with optional paid content.

  8. nijam Silver badge

    > head of mobile games at Ordnance Survey

    I seem to have become lost in an leternate universe.

  9. karlkarl Silver badge

    I used to work with Mike Hawkyard. He is a passionate guy and if anyone was going to get "phone people" involved more with the great outdoors, I think he will be the man to do it!

    In some ways I also like the idea of Ordinance Survey dealing with this stuff. It means it will be around for a while and isn't intended to be a fire and forget quick gimmick. Something cool might actually come out of this.

  10. Eclectic Man Silver badge


    At least the Ordnance Survey should be able to produce routes that are unlikely to kill, unlike Google Maps:

    Although GM is not the only one. I bought a guidebook of walks in North Wales. There was a coastal walk on the Lleyn Peninsula part of which route was submerged at high tide, without any warning in the book. There were alternative paths along cliff tops available, but these were not mentioned in the book, nor was the tide. I alerted the publisher, but received no reply.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Safety

      Spong, Whip-Caplet, Charter and Price? Yes... it's sad what happens to old Whip-Caplet. Went out for an evening constitutional and never came back. All they found was his hat, floating in the bay.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    OS app alternative

    If anyone wants to use OS maps but with an excellent app

    Try Locus

    can use hundreds of different maps from around the world, loads of plugins, offline maps etc

    Android only

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