As we explained in 2016 in Why does dwMap not have, well, a “map”? the core goal of dwMap is to offer fast and effective route and navigation information on your Garmin GPS watch. We addressed the question of why do we not show a rich “Google Maps” type of visual map behind the route line, in terms of the limitations of memory, CPU speed, data communications speed and screen colors that the Garmin watches have.
Time moves on, and in the 18 months since then Garmin have released watches with more memory, faster CPUs and better screens, plus new tools to take advantage of them. (Note the absence of “data communications speed” from that list — we’ll be coming back to that.) After much work through the early part of 2018, we’re proud to announce the Background Maps feature of dwMap Premium!
The updated tools from Garmin are as much a part of this story as the new watches. We wanted to maintain our goal that all Garmin Connect IQ capable watches should be able to run dwMap. The new developer feature (Garmin calls it “Jungles”) let us add the new map program code to the watches that are able to support them, while keeping the code small and compact across all the other watch models.
Detailed information on using the new maps is available in our Help Center.
The watches that support background maps are those that run the 2.x version of Garmin Connect IQ and allocate 128kB of memory to each app:
- Garmin Vivoactive HR and Vivoactive 3
- Garmin Forerunner 645, 645M, 735XT and 935
- Fenix 5, 5S, 5X and Chronos
- Garmin Approach S60, D2 Charlie and Descent Mk1
Some of these watches, like the Vivoactive HR, are already popular and widely used, and some of the newer ones like the Fenix 5, Forerunner 645 and Vivoactive 3 are selling fast, so the percentage of the dwMap user base able to use the maps is already significant and growing.
The watches that run Connect IQ 1.x and only assign 64kB to each app are not able to run the maps feature. This unfortunately means that popular watches like the Forerunner 235, Fenix 3 HR and Vivoactive (original model) are excluded. We worked really hard to make it work for them, but it was possible to fit them in while keeping the core route and navigation features of dwMap. We are fully committed to the core feature set of dwMap on these watches, so no worries there. (The Garmin Epix may be a sole exception — that watch model is becoming increasingly difficult to support.)
Although the new Garmin watch screen can display up to 64 colors, the colors tend to be more muted than we’re all used to on phones and computers because they are optimized for long battery life and sunlight-readability. To work around this we designed a custom map “style” that has a restricted palette that matches the exact available colors on the supported watches and maximizes the visibility of roads and paths.
This simplified style is also more compressible to help improve download speeds.
We also offer Google Maps, satellite and OpenCycleMap (OCM) style choices, although you’ll be seeing them with the limitations of the watch’s screen and color palette.
This is where we come back to the “data communications speed” item mentioned above, as the map images need to be downloaded as needed from the Internet. (This is the only feature of dwMap that requires a live connection during use, and all the other features continue to be designed to work “offline” once you’ve downloaded your current active route.)
The slow data speed on the low-power Bluetooth connection between your watch and phone means that background map images will update more slowly than the other details on the dwMap map screen. This is very noticeable when you start the app, or change zoom levels, but as you move during an activity dwMap incrementally downloads new map files ahead of you for the current zoom level, and you should nearly always have a map beneath your current position arrow.
We’ve observed the download speed is highest when Garmin Connect Mobile is running in the foreground on your phone (is the one visible on-screen), and recommend doing that when getting the initial map display and choosing your initial zoom level, then you can lock and pocket the phone as usual, and the incremental downloads as your move should be ok.
More information on using the maps is available in our Help Center.
dwMap Core Features
We consider the background maps to be something of a “bonus” feature for dwMap right now, and all the core route display, offline use, data fields and other free and Premium features remain our focus, especially as those features are available across all our watches.
We’re learning a lot about the use cases for maps though as we use them ourselves and are getting feedback from customers, so who knows what might be next for them!