Ordnance Survey, the UK’s national mapping agency, is eyeing an international expansion as it launches its first app in Australia.
In the UK, OS Maps was first released in 2016. The free app, aimed at walkers, cyclists, and campers, lets users plot detailed walking, running and cycling routes, and also follow ones laid down by others.
The app is built on open-source data provided by OpenStreetMaps, an independent project that aims to build a Wikipedia-style free map of the world. For an additional monthly fee, users can access the entire range of Ordnance Survey maps, including the Explorer maps, which cover Britain in 403 maps at a 1:25,000 scale, as well as save maps for offline use – perfect when heading to remote areas.
There is no such equivalent map for Australia, however, and so the organisation has instead partnered with the federal government and a number of state governments to incorporate their large-scale maps into the service.
The Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains. Photograph: OS Maps
“It has been a big challenge to launch an app in a new market while we are going through a global pandemic,” said OS’s managing director for leisure, Nick Giles. “From the research we have conducted, we discovered how Australians share similar behaviours and habits around enjoying the outdoors as we do in Great Britain, with an insatiable appetite for living outdoor active lifestyles much like ourselves.
“We believe outdoor enthusiasts in Australia are not served well enough by the market for discovering and planning walks, runs, cycles or hikes both on and off the beaten path. OS Maps will give them the ability to plan their own routes or discover and download thousands of readymade ones all over the country.”
However, Australian hikers should not leap into the outback just yet. Although GPS-enabled mapping apps can make locating yourself a breeze compared with awkwardly triangulating with a paper map, and the ability to use a few landmarks and a compass, a phone can run out of battery and leave its owners in the lurch.
The fragmented nature of the Australian state also means the coverage, at launch, is less complete than in the UK. Hikers in New South Wales, for instance, can access a relatively detailed map of state parks, suitable for rough way finding. But cross the border into the Australian Capital Territory and the coverage in effect disappears, replaced with a map so vague it would be hard to navigate even main roads.
If the launch is successful, Ordnance Survey hopes to expand further, to Canada, the US and New Zealand.