What3words iPhone app review

Clever idea alert! What3words is a mapping service - complete with free iPhone and iPad app, which we're looking at here - that divides the globe's surface into almost 57 trillion 3x3m squares, and gives each one an easily memorable co-ordinate made up of three common words. (English by default, although you can also switch to Spanish, Russian or Swedish at present.)

That gives the service a neat advantage over the two most common location tools we use at the moment. It's more accurate than a postcode (and available for wilderness - heck, even mid-ocean - areas and new builds that haven't got postcodes yet). And it's far more verbally practical than GPS co-ordinates because it can be almost instantly committed to memory.

You can look up your location, or a location you're interested in, on the map, and the app (or online tool) will immediately tell you the three words that describe it: my seat, for instance, appears to be at 'rider.juror.boat'. Then you can send that set of words to a friend or colleague over email or social media - but the real benefit is that can say it to them verbally and they don't have a long string of numbers to remember. If they can hang on to RIDER, JUROR and BOAT for long enough to get to a computer and look it up with the What3words service, they can find you with exceptional precision.

It struck us that the odd thing about What3words is that in certain respects it would have been far more useful if it had been invented 15 years ago, when most of us didn't have smartphones on us most of the time. Nowadays you don't really have to use verbal communication, and an actual memory, very much; mobile access to email and social media makes sending a complex location code to someone on the move less of a pain than it used to be.

What3words iPhone app review

But that doesn't stop this being an extremely clever idea, and one that, if enough people adopt it, could make locational labelling a lot easier. And more fun, too, as you'll discover when you start combing the locale for funny combinations. (You can try typing in random word combinations, too, just to see where they take you.)

Oh, and if you're wondering what What3words' angle on all this is (it's a free and apparently ad-free app, after all), well - one of the ways the company stands to gain from widespread adoption of the system is through its paid-for OneWord upgrade. A business or civilian can spend a few quid to buy a single word that they can apply to any location they like, and move it around at will. I could call my location *davidsdesk, for instance. (A OneWord always starts with an asterisk.)

What3words iPhone app review

OUR VERDICT

As with most social services, weight of adoption will decide What3words’ future. It’s a neat, practical and surprisingly entertaining idea, and if it can pass the tipping point, we could see this becoming the de facto standard for social mapping; but that’s quite a big if. Still, the service is free and rather fun, so we would encourage you to download the app, or head over to the website, and give it a try for yourself.

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