Not just another running app. VIA app – sat nav for runners

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Nooooooooooooooooo, I thought, when I got the email. No, I flipping well don’t want to try yet another running app. Then I read the email properly and thought, well, this is something new – a sat-nav for runners. The best bit though is that it works with iTunes and the audio will work around your music playlist.

The VIA app is the world’s first sat-nav for runners/cyclists. It’s map-based with step-by-step real-time audio directions to talk you through your route. Although it’s a very simple app, it took me a while to work out how to plot a route but I managed to do it eventually by telling it where I wanted it to start and then telling it where I wanted to finish – in my case, exactly the same place where I had started.

Then came the tricky bit. Because it’s sat-nav and not a route planner, it wants to tell you how to get from A-B in the quickest way and so, despite there being pins you can drop in to make it go via a certain point on the map, you only get three pins to use, making it impossible (for me, at least) to get a decent amount of mileage in. I only wanted a four mile route but could only get it as far as about 3.5 miles before giving up trying to place the three allowed pins in strategic places.

I tried the VIA app for the first time on Tuesday and found it a whole heap of fun. The voiceover is a well-spoken older gentleman who I named Brian and imagined him sitting back and relaxing in the non-talky bits by listening to my music. I hope he liked it.

On Tuesday, unfortunately, Brian was having a blond day (in my head he has dark hair) and didn’t seem to know his left from right and I did at one point wonder if I had my phone upside down. This could be because I confused him as he kept saying ‘off-route – recalculating mileage’ and instead of turning round and going the other way, continued until he caught me up. I especially confused him when I went into a field instead of running down the road and after he’d said ‘off-route – recalculating mileage’ about ten times, I thought he was going to start getting angry and shout at me. But Brian remained a perfectly patient gentleman and didn’t shout at me.

At the end of my run when I got home by going the right way and ignoring his requests to turn left when I flipping well knew I had to turn right, a screen came up to show me how far I had ran, the time it had taken, the average speed and the calories burnt. It also gave me the option to be a saddo and share it on Twitter or Facebook. I then learnt that if you go away from this screen, you can’t get it back again as it doesn’t archive anything. Another feature I would have liked is for it to show me the map with the route I plotted before commencing the run, and the route I actually took.

So, on first impressions? Great fun but needs more features and it needs to learn its left from right.

To give it a fairer review (and because it was so much fun to use and having Brian in my ear made the run more interesting), I decided to plot out a route where I would only go on the road and not confuse Brian by going in a field and whichever way he told me to go, I would go and not rebel and go a different way (even though I knew I was going the right way and it was just that Brian didn’t know his left from right).

I switched the sat-nav on, walked to the gate and Brian piped up with ‘off-route’. Hang on Bri, I thought, I’M STILL IN THE FRONT GARDEN, GIVE ME A FLIPPING CHANCE! and I got out of the gate, crossed the road and ran down the road I told him I was going down. After a while I wondered if I had turned Brian off as he was being very quiet. He must have just been kicking back and listening to Calvin Harris

as, after a while he said in 200 yards (or was it metres? I can’t remember) I had to turn right, which was the right way – yay. Brian continued to tell me the right way for the next mile until I had to cross over the road. I’m sorry Brian, but I am not crossing across a big busy roundabout, I’m going to go to the lights to cross over. He didn’t like this and kept telling me I was going off route. Still, we got back on track and I happily ran down the road with Brian popping up now and again to tell me when to turn left or right. He did have a habit though of saying turn right NOW which would usually have had me either going into a) someone’s front garden; b) a ditch; or c) a brick wall.

There was a weird point when he told me to turn right down a road that didn’t exist until I saw it a few yards up on the left but which was a no-through-road, so I ignored him and carried on going and he seemed ok with that.  He navigated impressively through the new housing development until I got through to the other side and he wanted me to turn left when carrying straight on was the way I wanted to go but I thought maybe he knew a shortcut so I went the way he said but then he told me I’d gone off route and so I turned round and went back the way I knew I should have gone in the first place and then I got to the bit where on Tuesday I went along the path that runs parallel to the road but I thought, to be fair to Brian, I will stay on the road and just hoped that he appreciated that it was a road without a pavement and if I got run over it would be all his fault and then I got to the bit of the road where there’s a pavement on the other side and I thought PAVEMENT AHOY! but I was on a bend and couldn’t see if anything was coming and so I had to carry on dicing with death until I got to a straight bit and bombed across the road to get to the pavement and then I went past the primary school and the kids were out playing and I though aah, aren’t they sweet and although people think I hate kids, I’m only not keen on them in public places like supermarkets and restaurants but when they’re safely confined in a playground and huddled together wearing the same uniform I think they’re kind of cute, like puppies in a pet shop, and then I got to the end of the road and Brian said turn right and I’m glad he said that because that was the right way and then I was home and I remembered to take a screen shot of the run I had just done.

VIA-app-screenshot

So, second impressions? I flipping love it! Like I said before, it’s so much fun. If the developers can improve the number of pins you can use to plan your route (unlimited would be good) and have the facility to look back over previous runs and use the routes again, and let you see the route you took overlaid on the route you were supposed to take, it’d be perfect. As it is, unless I didn’t plot it properly, I can’t see how I could use it in marathon training if, for example, I wanted to plot out an 18-mile run. Also, I’m not sure how it would cope if I did plot a long run on it but wanted to also incorporate parks and cycle paths into it (which I will be doing).

But the developers have told me that it is still a work in progress and all the features I’d like to see are things they’ll hopefully be adding in the future.

The VIA app is available in the iTunes store for £1.99 – I’d buy it if I were you, what would you call yours?




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