Introducing the Directions Tool

The Light Phone
Published in
7 min readAug 31, 2021


Directions is a simple step-by-step navigation tool. Select your mode of transportation, search for your destination, and follow along. Directions make it a little easier to go light with the peace of mind of navigational assistance.

The Directions Tool in the Light Phone II’s Customizable Toolbox Menu

Live Navigation (GPS Mode)

Create Route

By default, the Directions tool will use live navigation, which we call GPS Mode, for walking & driving trips. The GPS follows you along the route, updating your distance until the next turn, and recalculating automatically if you make a wrong turn. GPS Mode also has a voice command option.

Step-By View for Live Navigation

From the main step-by view you can access settings, check the current time, remaining trip time/distance, battery, and the next step with a distance meter and text description. You can view a list of all of the steps or a map.

Map View During Live Navigation (Road View)

Map View

There are two ways to view the map, “road view” which is zoomed into your current location, and “route view” which gives you an overview of the entire trip trajectory.

Due to the nature of the E-ink screen, we created a formula for managing the rate of screen refreshes based on the speed of your movement. The screen will increase its refresh rate as you move faster. Driving in a car means a refresh about every two seconds; if still, the refresh rate will be closer to ten seconds.

(tip: to force a manual screen refresh of the map, toggle the volume buttons)

There is no way to move around on the map. It is fixed to either the ‘road’ and ‘route’ views, and you can’t pinch to zoom, which would not work well with the E-ink screen refresh rate.

Map View During Live Navigation (Road View)

Offline Mode

Offline Mode is an option for using the Directions tool without the GPS. You can choose Offline Mode in the settings for when you’re concerned about saving battery or data. Offline Mode works great as a simple reference.

Offline mode opens to a list of steps for your trip. There is still a map view, but it is a slide show of the different steps of the trip displayed on the map, rather than following your pin.

Offline Mode Map View (slideshow of the steps)

Offline Mode is also the fallback for when the phone is unable to get a GPS lock. As long as you have a data/wifi connection, you can create offline routes. When you install the tool on the dashboard, you are asked to select a default “search origin” which stores locally on the phone so that if there is no GPS, you can still search for directions of local establishments/addresses.

Public Transit

Selecting Public Transit as your Mode of Transportation is like using the Offline Mode setting. The GPS is only used to find your initial location, but not for following you along the trip.

Public Transit List View

Public transit routes will include subways, regional trains, and bus lines. The arrival time of the train or bus will be displayed under its icon in the left column. The estimated time of arrival is displayed under the current time.

(August 31st note: For the initial directions launch, public transit map view is not yet available, and neither is the option to pick which route you’d prefer to take. These two features will be coming in an update shortly thereafter.)

Public Transit List View

Searching Destination

You can search by the name of an establishment, an address, or more common words like “cafe”, “pizza”, or “gas” for instance. Select your destination from the search results, confirm your mode of transportation, and press START to begin calculating the route.

Search Results

Voice Commands

We’ve added a voice library for the LightOS so that tools like Directions or other future tools/features can use voice functionality.

Testing the Voice Commands when Driving

The First Time Using Directions

When you first download the tool or power on your phone, the GPS is coming from a “cold start” and will take some time to get an initial connection. We begin priming the GPS once you install Directions. This means the GPS will download details of the position and timing of location satellites so it will quickly get a lock on your position when you open Directions (this would be called a “warm start”). This process happens in the background automatically, assuming your phone has sufficient charge.

TIP: It works well if you leave your phone on, and connected to the charger overnight. Once primed, as long as the phone remains on, the GPS will remain in this “warm start” state and will be ready to use with the Directions tool.


Many of the ‘free’ apps for navigation thrive off of user data. We build all of the tools for the LightOS ourselves to ensure a thoughtful and private experience. Choosing to install the Directions tool is the first time that your Light Phone II will be using the built-in GPS. It was important to us to make sure we worked with a navigation partner that would support building our tool privately, and we’re working with HERE for the navigation logic. HERE is behind many built-in car navigations as well.

Light does not have access to any logs of your trip/location history, and these are not stored on the device either. Trips are handled privately without user identification using our navigation partner.

The Directions tool is the best example of the potential for the LightOS thus far. Even though it’s not free for Light, since there is a monthly cost per user to build the tool in this way, the directions tool is something we consider to be an important aspect of owning a Light Phone II. Our users will not pay anything to download and use the tool, and they will not sacrifice their location data for the convenience of free navigation.

Once your phone wirelessly updates to the latest LightOS, log into your dashboard and install the directions tool on your phone to give it a try! We really hope you enjoy this milestone for the project as much as we do.

Further Reading…

An Animated Overview of the Directions Tool

Visit our support page:
For a more in-depth look at Directions, some tips for using or troubleshooting, you can visit our support page.


The Directions tool has evolved a lot from our initial concepts. We always hoped we could add maps eventually in some capacity, but our initial wireframes and prototypes did not have this functionality, and we were hesitant to promise that to our users. In testing, we quickly realized this would actually become a pretty critical aspect of the directions tool.

Early Beta Testing Realizing Importance of Map Option

In the example above, I was standing outside Union Sq station, but because I’m standing in the middle of a park, the listed steps don’t have street names (i.e. “pedestrian walkway/alley”), and it was not always clear which way to go. The idea of a super simple, only text and icon tool was nice in theory and in mock-ups, but impractical in actual use.

Testing Two Beta Phones Simultaneously in Simulation Mode

The process of debugging required getting creative as well. Using a simulation mode, we’d watch trips progress across the different view modes simultaneously on different devices, filming them, and looking for confusing moments to try to improve or for instances that caused bugs to occur. In real-life testing, we’d create similar rigs for filming how the phone responds along a trip and sharing specific logs with a unique button press combination.

We used Logflare to log events so we could test the accuracy of the location services as well as the navigational events as they lined up with the trips we were documenting. We wanted to be able to view those on a map, so we built a quick internal app to parse through the JSON exports and view them visually.

Custom Tool for Viewing Logs on a Map During Development Process


There are a few features and refinements we’ll continue to roll out for the directions tool in a series of smaller updates. This includes options for picking routes, a shortcut to blue tooth settings, and public transit maps. We’d love to hear your thoughts once you begin using it!

Thanks for checking out our project, and as always, we seriously appreciate your time and attention.

Much love,