December 2012

Volume 27 Number 12

Touch and Go - A Touch Interface for an Orienting Map

By Charles Petzold | December 2012

Charles PetzoldWhenever I’m a bit lost in a shopping mall or a museum, I search for a map, but at the same time I often feel some anxiety about what I’ll find. I’m pretty sure the map will feature an arrow labeled, “You are here,” but how will the map be oriented? If the map is mounted vertically, does the right side of the map actually correspond to my right and the bottom correspond to what’s behind me? Or does the map need to be mentally removed from its mount and twisted in space to line up with the actual layout?

Maps that are mounted at an angle or parallel with the floor are much better—provided, that is, they’re oriented correctly to begin with. Regardless of one’s mental agility with spatial relations, maps are easier to read when they’re parallel to the earth, or can be swiveled forward to align with the earth. Prior to the age of GPS, it was common to see people grappling with paper road maps by wildly twisting them to the right, left and upside down in search of the proper orientation.

Maps that are implemented in software on phones and other mobile devices have the potential to orient themselves based on a compass reading. This is the impetus behind my quest to display a map on a Windows Phone device that rotates relative to the phone. Such a map should be able to align itself with the surrounding landscape and potentially be more helpful to the lost among us.

Charles Petzold is a longtime contributor to MSDN Magazine, and the author of “Programming Windows, 6th edition” (O’Reilly Media, 2012), a book about writing applications for Windows 8. His Web site is

Thanks to the following technical expert for reviewing this article: Thomas Petchel