Adding GPS Data to Maplets

I had really high hopes that Maplets would be great for hiking in Portland. Sadly a key component of the app is really half-baked.

My complaint is rooted in the fact that the maps I tried did not have GPS data baked in. Without GPS data, the maps are basically useless for hiking. I want to have the map on my phone and be able to fire up my phone’s GPS to show where I am on the trail. A common use-case, I think.

A map without GPS data is no big deal, though, because the Maplets website lets you add GPS data to any of their maps. This is where the problems start. Specifically, I wanted to edit the GPS data for the Portland Forest Park map. Before I visited the Maplet GPS Editor to see how it works, I assumed you could simply drop points on the map and set the GPS coordinates for those points. GPS data for all other points on the map could be interpolated from the data you gave it.

No such luck.

What you actually have to do is perfectly align the Maplet map layer over Google Maps. If you have to rotate the Maplet map layer for any reason, which I did for Forest Park because North does not point directly up, you need to turn on Google Earth mode. That’s problem number one because the Google Earth plugin is basically dead. 64-bit Chrome and Safari both don’t support the 32-bit Google Earth plugin. By the way, there are no warnings about this in Chrome or on the Google Earth plugin page. The plugin just doesn’t work. Safari gives you a fairly useless error message when you try to use the plugin. However, the plugin does still work in Firefox. Yipee.

So in Firefox I now have the unenviable task of aligning the Maplet map of Forest Park over the Google Earth view of Forest Park and its surrounding area. This is maddening. You can get it fairly close, but it’s impossible to get perfect. Why? For starters, the Google Earth plugin area is too small on the webpage to work with comfortably. Getting the alignment right is an endless cycle of:

  • zooming in to check alignment
  • then possibly zooming out and repositioning the map so you can adjust the Maplet layer position on Google Earth
  • if you want to scale the Maplet layer, you have to zoom out or reposition the map to find a Maplet layer handle to drag to adjust the scale

Repeat those three steps endlessly. And add in rotation adjustments from time to time.

Beyond that slow and painful workflow, I had to two other big issues. First, I really needed to use the Full Res version of the Maplet map, not the Thumbnail version. There isn’t enough visual info in the thumbnail to be sure it’s aligning properly. But the full res version is ~20MB and took forever to load from Maplet’s server. So I gave up on that. I suspect that trying to work with a 20MB layer overlay in the Google Earth plugin would prove difficult anyway. Second, the only way to scale the Maplet layer is by dragging the handles of the Maplet layer. In addition to forcing you to zoom out enough to see a handle, there is zero precision with this method. It’s impossible to adjust the size in small amounts. Once I discovered that, I gave up on setting the GPS data and gave up on Maplets entirely.