August 13, 2005


London Underground Maps for iPod

I rarely get drawn into iPod-tinkering trends but this latest craze of republishing transit system maps for color iPods has caught my attention. I’ve specifically been impressed with and the progress they’ve made getting a whole bunch of maps available for download in a short period of time.

I was particularly pleased to see that a set for the London Underground was posted, which I downloaded and synched to the ‘Pod. A couple of things about the podmap experience jumped out at me:

  1. On any given slide it’s difficult to tell what your spatial relationship is to the rest of the map. Particularly if you’re not familiar with the transit system, it’s very hard to tell where you are in the map.

  2. There is a lot of overlap on each slide. This added to my confusion as to the position of the current slide in relation to the others as well as which slide I was currently looking at.

  3. The slide ordering is just plain wrong. As you scrub forward through the slides (by moving your thumb clockwise around the click wheel) you move vertically down the map, then jump to the top of the column. This completely confused me.

The slides for the central edition of the Tube map, for example, were ordered:

01 03 05 07 09 11 13  
02 04 06 08 10 12 14

When you scrub the Library or an album on the iPod, you go forward by moving horizontally left to right, then jumping to the beginning of the next line. Just like reading. This would be the obvious way to arrange map slides:

01 02 03  
04 05 06  
07 08 09

Another solution I considered was a spiral arrangement beginning with a slide in the center, then spiraling outward in a clockwise fashion, directly mimicking the user’s physical click wheel interaction:

07 08 09  
06 01 02  
05 04 03

I spent so much time thinking about this, I had to spend a couple hours and develop my own set of London Underground maps for color iPods. They’re based on the Tube maps available from the Transport for London site.

There’s a Linear and Spiral set available. They each include the same set of slides, just with different ordering. There’s a cover slide and a key slide and some Silkscreen thrown in there for flavor. There’s no overlapping on the slides but there is a visual indication of the current slide’s spatial relationship to the full map.

To install them, simply drop the “London Underground” folder onto the Source pane of iPhoto 5. (That will create an album with all the images in the appropriate order.) Then sync your color iPod using iTunes.

(This is what I do instead of actually preparing for our trip.) =-)

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