I have a coworker whose favorite saying is “if it’s for free it’s for me”. Everyone likes a freebie, but when it’s a particularly useful freebie, it just feels like a bonus somehow…like you find a bill on the sidewalk and bend over to pick it up expecting it to be a $1 but it turns out to be a $5.
I remember when BlindSquare came out several years ago. We were SO excited to have an app that not only told us what was around, but wasn’t another piece of equipment to lug around and have to keep updated with maps
And then a few years ago, Nearby Explorer came out. That was, in my opinion, a better app because it didn’t connect to FourSquare to determine what places were in your general vicinity. This meant fewer “false leads” like coffee shops that had closed five years ago or (my personal favorite) Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in three different locations in a five mile radius.
There have been other free navigation apps such as “Around Me” and “Over There” just to name a couple. So how does Lazarillo stack up?
To start off, it should be noted that Lazarillo is available on both iOS and Android devices. This article was written from the point of view of a VoiceOver user on an iPhone 6S.
When you open Lazarillo for the first time, a tutorial opens. I found navigating the tutorial difficult, but manageable. For some reason, at least on my phone, it ws difficult to navigate among the pages of the tutorial and also to exit it. I’m not sure how I managed, but it worked out in the end.
The main screen has several buttons. Here is a description of each in the order that VoiceOver will detect them along with a description of where they are visually on the screen.
- Start/Stop Exploration: At the top left of the main screen, or home screen, is the start/stop exploration button. This button starts or stops spoken feedback provided by the app as to what is around you at any given point. When enabled, the app will announce upcoming intersections and points of interest coming up and where they are in relation to your current location.
- Around Me:This button, when pressed, will search for your exact location. The results will show up in the User Location area (see below).
- Search: The search box allows you to search for a specific location or business.
- Filter Results: You can filter results that will be announced by the app while in exploration mode based on whether you are walking or in a vehicle (this is determined automatically by the GPS based on the speed at which you are traveling). For example, you can set the app up so that while you are walking, the app will announce only food places and pubs but while you are in a vehicle, the app will only announce public buildings.
- User Location: As stated above, once you have pressed the “Around Me” button, your location will appear here. It will change as you travel. If your location has not been specifically determined, the word “searching” will be displayed here.
- Speech History: When you are traveling, you may miss any announcements made by the app. This button will allow you to navigate the most recent places that the app has announced. VoiceOver can be set to navigate the word by character if you require the correct spelling for some reason.
- Categories: The area below these buttons and comprising the majority of the screen, contains several categories such as health places, food places, stores, public buildings, etc. If a category is activated, a list of places will be listed. If a place is selected, a screen containing the distance from your current location, a tracking button, and the address of that business. In addition, there will be four buttons that allow you to choose how you wish to navigate to that location (walk, bus, car, or Uber). More information can be found below under “Navigating to a Location”.
- Exploration Tab: The first tab in the list, located at the lower left of the screen, will take the user to the main home screen, all of which have been discussed at length in the above paragraphs.
- Favorites Tab: This tab will list any locations you have marked as “favorites”.
- Social Tab: Though one might imagine this tab would connect you to various social media outlets, it actually only contains one option, which opens up an email to the developer.
- Settings Tab: This final tab, located at the bottom right of the screen, contains settings that control the volume, pitch, and speed of the app’s voice as well as the synthesizer used. It also allows you to change the layout of the exploration screen (grid vs list view), change the unit of measure that the voice announcements use (feet or meters), and gives you the option to open the tutorial or contact the developer.
Navigating to a Location
Traveling to a specific location can be done in a variety of ways.
The first way is via the search feature. If you search for “McDonalds” for example, you will be presented with a list of McDonald's restaurants. You may wish to narrow the list by adding the city you are searching in.
Once given the list, choose the one you wish to travel to. You will then be taken to that location’s “page”. At that point, you may choose how to travel to that location (walking, bus, car, or Uber). Once you make your choice, you will be asked what app you wish to use to navigate with. Examples may include Google Maps, Apple Maps, Moovit, Waze, or others you have installed. How you proceed from here will depend on the app you choose to open.
The second way to navigate to a location is to choose a category from the main screen rather than search for a specific location. Once you select a category, and from there select a location, you will be taken to that locatin’s “page. At that point, you will navigate there much the same way as described in the paragraph above.
Tracking a location is a very useful way to have the app announce where you are in relation to that location when it is close to you. In a way, it is like telling the app to keep you informed of where that location is in relation to your current position. It will give you more specific directions to that location or let you know if you have passed it. Location tracking can be easily turned on and off. If Lazarillo is running at the same time as your navigation app, it will give you extra “sound cues” relating to that location. Tracking will be turned off once you arrive at that location or it can be manually disabled in the app.
Let’s start with the obvious advantage. The app is free and is available on both iOS and Android.
Additionally, the maps used are very accurate, at least where I used it (Janesville WIsconsin). As I rode the bus in town, the app announced each intersection as we crossed it as well as the street we were traveling along.
The app is also quite easy to navigate and the layout is intuitive. If you have received any training on Nearby Explorer or BlindSquare, the interface is very similar and you should be able to pick up how to use the app in no time. This is of particular significance and especially useful when teaching a student using one of the aforementioned “paid” apps, but the student cannot afford to purchase that app for his/her own device. Lazarillo can be downloaded free of charge and the student can use it without a steep learning curve.
Drawbacks and Suggested Improvements
As with BlindSquare and other apps, one of the major drawbacks is that many of the businesses listed in the exploration mode or under the categories are either out of business or are actually not businesses at all. I am not sure what maps are used by Lazarillo, but it would be nice if there were a way to, at least in your own app, delete locations that are no longer available or that you do not have any interest in. The perfect example, in my opinion, are the various “Schools of Witchcraft and Wizardry” that pop up...there are only so many of those you want or need to hear about, so it would be nice to be able to eliminate those from being announced every time you enter that neighborhood.
One way of addressing this issue is to always perform a search in Google or another browser to see if you can locate the business and get an address or phone number. This is especially advisable when you are navigating a new area or city since there is no way for you to know that Java Joint has been closed for three years and is now a tavern or laundromat or even a vacant lot.