AMITIAE - Friday 2 March 2012

A Limited Russian Oddity in the iTunes App Store: Rambler Maps

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By Graham K. Rogers

From time to time, I scan through the App Store that we access here in Thailand seeing what has arrived that is new or interesting. I was a little surprised this week to see an app in the New & Noteworthy section with Russian characters beneath the icon. There was also the word, Navigation, in English.

A full view of the app information was not much help as the entire description was in Russian. Although I have a Russian colleague where I work, this is Friday and I am not going to be able to chat with him until after the weekend. I am on my own.

I tried the developer website first which took me to what looked like a Russian version of Google Maps. The center of the map, if I got this right, was focussed on Ekaterinburg, and the three buttons available were Search, Metro (that was clear enough) and what appears to be roads. Forgive me, I am somewhat in the dark here.

There was a description initially above the map which Google Translate put into passable English (far better than it does with Thai): "Now Rambler-Cards can be taken on the road! You have already downloaded our free navigator?"

I had not. I did.


Rambler The app name uses Russian. It is called Rambler Maps in its native form. It was listed as the last in my apps list in iTunes. This is a minor point, but I had to look for it first before adding it to the devices. I tried first with the iPhone.

It installed on the iPhone with the name, Maps and (as many do) asked to use my location, although it is shown in the iTunes menus with the Russian name. An agreement in Russian asked me to agree or disagree and I guessed right there. Some more instructions saw me clicking agree again and I downloaded a file.

Once installed there was another agreement -- perhaps a Yes/No to opening the file -- and a small menu (in Russian) appeared. I recognised the top entry as Search from having viewed the online map. A Cyrillic keyboard was revealed, but (mercifully) there was also EN. I switched the more familiar keyboard and entered Bangkok. The keys were a little narrower than I am used to, so I made more typing errors. The English and Russian for Bangkok were displayed with three symbols at the bottom of the screen, but the Russian for Moscow was also in the panel and that was the map that was displayed.

Rambler Rambler

The first icon, looking like an eye, took me to the map with a number of additional help items displayed over the screen. Two of these were on the previous screen: an "A" icon and a looped directions icon. But the map was something else.

We are fairly familiar with the colours and form of Google maps so to see territory displayed in a new colour scheme and with a different type of accuracy was interesting. What was missing of course were street names that I was able to read, so navigation was not straightforward at all. However, an interesting effect was the way the names floated above the roads as the map was moved about: left to right, up and down, or with the pinch to enlarge.

Other icons on the map were: a dot (which revealed a page of Russian text when pressed, which seemed to be a warning suggesting this was not going to work; an icon with a Russian letter that did nothing when I pressed it; an "i" icon, which gave me a couple of panels in Russian that appeared to be about Bangkok; a Star for adding as a favourite (a flag was dropped) and the directions icon. A time display at bottom left of the screen showed the time in Russia, some 5 hours after the time here.

Rambler Rambler

When "Directions" was pressed the map changed to a different view with a car icon for navigation. Owing to difficulties of identifying data (and perhaps using my location as a starting point). I could not make this work.

When the maps were displayed, the screen stayed on all the time which would be useful for navigation purposes, but might drain the battery. I could not find the setting to turn this off. I could not find the settings.


The main difficulty for most users outside of the former Eastern Bloc will obviously be the difficulty in reading any instructions. It would perhaps be useful if English were available in a future release. It is, whatever its current value to users here, a reasonably well made app.

A further check of the site which I had earlier linked to suggested to me that it was a news site called Rambler, but there were no English links to confirm this: just the content and images.

This is an app that has a very limited use for those outside Russia although as far as I can tell it covers the whole of that country, from Murmansk in the far north to Vladivostok in the far east, with roads at the edges of the Caspian and Black Seas also shown.

The app, for all its uniqueness, is likely to have a limited use for most users outside the areas which it covers. I did not in the end install it on the iPad.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.



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