In a nutshell, My Tracks is an Android app that uses your phone or tablet's GPS receiver to trace a journey: a drive, hike, bike ride, or whatever. Once you have completed the route, you can choose to save or export it in a variety of ways (Figure 1). One of the options was to export it to Google Maps. This was trivially easy to do. You just chose a single menu option, and a few moments later your route appeared on the map. Perfect.
In the latest version, you can still export the map, but it now goes to the new Google Maps Engine. Despite the similarity in name, this is not the same as Google Maps (which is now called Classic Maps). The new tool has several advantages over the classic version, but there are a number of reasons that I – and many other people – prefer not to use it.
One of these is the fact that you now have to pay a monthly subscription to get features that used to be free – for example, the ability to add your own icons to a map. This might not be a problem for business or academic users, but it's a definite turn-off for someone like me who just wants to post his routes on a blog. Another difficulty is that, if the person viewing an embedded map does not have an up-to-date browser, part of the map will be obscured by a prominent banner message stating that fact, and this cannot be dismissed or removed.
With these difficulties in mind, I decided to look around for an alternative approach. I settled on another Android app, named The Traveler, from Ball State University. It can track a route in much the same way as My Tracks, but it still supports export to Classic Maps.
The Traveler is more sophisticated than My Tracks – not least because of its focus on capturing images, audio and video for embedding in your maps. It's also harder to use. Setting up a route, and subsequently editing it, takes more steps, and the process is much less intuitive.
I was prepared to live with that problem. But I also encountered a more serious issue. Occasionally, The Traveler would simply fail to record part of my route. I would finish a hike or a bike ride, then open the map, only to see chunks of it missing. I don't know for sure if this was a fault with the app itself, the GPS signal, or my GPS receiver. I only know that I could record exactly the same routes with My Tracks without any difficulty. Although the problem didn't occur very often, it was enough to discourage me from relying on The Traveler.
If you would like to try this approach yourself, here are the steps in more details:
- Use My Tracks to record your route. This is as simple as pressing the big red button at the bottom of the app's home screen.
- When you've finished recording, press the Stop button (the right-hand button at the foot of the screen). You can now optionally enter a name, activity type and description for the route. (In practice, I find it easier to do this from within My Places on the PC.)
- Click the Save button.
- From the app's main menu, select Export. Then select "External storage" and "GPX (MyTracks gpx)" and then click Export (Figure 2).
- Next, fire up your favorite Android file manager app. (I use Astro File Manager, but there are others. You could also connect the device to a PC or Mac, and use Windows Explorer or its equivalent for this next step.)
- Navigate to the MyTracks/gpx folder. Open the folder and locate the file that you saved in step 4. If you didn't rename it in step 2, you will recognize it because its name will reflect the date and time that you started recording. Still in the file manager, copy and paste the file to the traveler/gpx folder.
- Now you need to fire up The Traveler. Go to its Paths screen. From its main menu, select Import Paths. Then select "All GPX from /traveler/gpx" and click OK.
- You should now see your route as a tile in The Traveler's Paths screen (it will probably be right at the top). Click the little menu button (represented by three dots) in the lower-right corner of the tile. Then choose Export. Set the location to Google Maps, and click Export again (Figure 3).
After you have successfully exported the map (and preferably backed up the gpx file), I suggest you delete it from the traveler/gpx folder. That's because The Traveler's import function always imports all the files that if finds in the folder, even those that have already been imported. This can be time-consuming.
You might be wondering why I don’t simply transfer the GPX file directly from My Tracks to My Places. This is because – for a reason I have never discovered – the import function in Classic Maps only picks up the first hundred points of a route. If your route has more than that number of points (and most routes will), some of them will be discarded. This problem doesn't arise when you use the method I've described in this article.
One final word of warning. Google are clearly trying to encourage us all to switch to the new Google Maps Engine, which means that sooner or later Classic Maps will be phased out. Personally, I intend to use the classic tool for as long as possible. But I'm prepared for the fact that one day I will have to switch to the new version – or find an alternative way of plotting and sharing my hiking and cycling trips.
Further information: My Tracks and The Traveler are both available from the Google Play store. Both are free.