Soundscape FAQ

Soundscape FAQ

A map delivered in 3D sound


What is Soundscape and how should I use it?

When should I use Soundscape?

Soundscape has features and benefits that span a variety of scenarios and time scales. Furthermore, Soundscape’s value to you may evolve over time so how you use it today may differ from how you will use it in three months. People often think about apps in terms of “what problem is this app good at solving?” Soundscape certainly can be used on a case by case basis when you have a specific information need – such as keeping track of a destination as you make your way there, helping to orient yourself when you emerge from a metro station, getting your bearings when exiting a car, or finding the street names for, or distance to, the next intersection. However, the philosophy behind Soundscape is one of “lighting up your world with sound”, designed to be used anytime you are out and about to provide ambient awareness of your surroundings, such as keeping you aware of the names of the streets you are on, the direction you are heading, and the names of businesses you are passing. In this use mode, our users have referred to Soundscape as a “nice companion app”, which supports “serendipity”, to “fill in the gaps in your mental map” and provide more “confidence when walking”. Here are some other examples of how our users are incorporating Soundscape into their life:

  • “Soundscape helped me get back on track after I got off the bus and headed off in the wrong direction.”
  • “Even in the town where I have lived for 3 years, I have built an improved picture of what is around me [with Soundscape].”
  • “The 3D sound enhances my experience of a walk, as I feel more connected to my environment…I am more likely to try a new route now that I have the app to use.”
  • “I miss the serendipity of walking around and noticing things. Having Soundscape is nice – it requires no effort to hear about things around me. The relational information is useful and is a great app for situational awareness and exploring commercial corridors.”
  • “[I used Soundscape] to locate a pub in the middle of York. [I] used a range of its options to first locate and then actually find it. It took me to within 3 meters of the door – brilliant!”

What does 'My Location' do and how do I get the most out of it?

The “My Location” button quickly gives you information that helps you figure out where you currently are. “My Location” tells you about your current location including things like the direction you are facing, where nearby roads or intersections are, and where nearby points of interest are.

“My Location” is useful when you need to figure out where you are or what cardinal direction you are facing.

As with all four of the buttons at the bottom of the home screen, hold your phone with the top of it pointing in the direction you are facing before you press the “My Location” button. This acts like a compass telling the app which direction you are facing. Simply, tap the “My Location” button and listen.

What does 'Around Me' do and how do I get the most out of it?

The “Around Me” button tells you about one thing in each of the four quadrants around you (ahead, to the right, behind, and to the left). “Around Me” is intended to help you orient yourself to your surroundings.

When you are trying to get your bearings, and orient yourself to your surroundings, use “Around Me” to hear about the things around you.

As with all four of the buttons at the bottom of the home screen, hold your phone with the top of it pointing in the direction you are facing before you press the “Around Me” button. This acts like a compass telling the app which direction you are facing. Simply, tap the “Around Me” button and you will hear four points of interest arranged around you.

What does 'Ahead of Me' do and how do I get the most out of it?

The “Ahead of Me” button tells you about five things ahead of you. “Ahead of Me” is intended to help you explore the way ahead of yourself when you are learning about a new area.

When you are walking down the street, try using “Ahead of Me” to discover the places and things coming up on either side of the street ahead.

As with all four of the buttons at the bottom of the home screen, hold your phone with the top of it pointing in the direction you are facing before you press the “Ahead of Me” button. This acts like a compass telling the app which direction you are facing. Simply, tap the “Ahead of Me” button and you will hear several points of interest all roughly ahead of you.

What are Markers and how do I get the most out of them?

Markers are places that you have saved. They could be places that are discoverable within the app, or they could be entirely new places you have added yourself. You can save your current location as a Marker by selecting the “Mark Current Location” button on the home screen, or by going to the “Manage Markers” page from the menu. From the “Manage Markers” page, you can select the “Add Marker” button in the top right corner to either add your current location, or an existing place from the list.

What does 'Nearby Markers' do and how do I get the most out of it?

The “Nearby Markers” button tells you about up to four markers that are closest to you. “Nearby Markers” is intended to help you orient yourself using places you already know about.

When you are trying to get your bearings and orient yourself to your surroundings, use “Nearby Markers” to hear about the locations of places you know of.

As with all four of the buttons at the bottom of the home screen, hold your phone with the top of it pointing in the direction you are facing before you press the “Nearby Markers” button. This acts like a compass telling the app which direction you are facing. Simply, tap the “Nearby Markers” button and you will hear about up to four markers near you.

What are 'Destination Beacons' and how do I get the most out of them?

Setting a beacon on a nearby destination allows Soundscape to keep you informed of its location by playing an audible beacon sound coming from the direction of that destination. This beacon can be muted or unmuted on the home screen. Additionally, Soundscape displays information about the destination on the home screen including the distance to it and its street address if it is known.

Setting a beacon is useful when you want to keep track of a familiar landmark as you explore a new area or when you are going somewhere and want to be informed about your surroundings along the way. The beacon feature does not give you turn-by-turn directions, but it does give you an audible beacon that tells you the direction to your destination, relative to where you are currently located. Using the beacon, your existing wayfinding skills, and even your favorite navigation app, you can choose how you want to get to your destination yourself.

To set a beacon: tap the “Set a Beacon” button on the home screen. This will load a list of nearby places ordered by distance. Either step through the list or use the search bar at the top of the screen to find the place you wish to set the beacon on. Tapping an item in this list will return you to the home screen and turn on an audible beacon coming from the direction of the destination you selected.

To clear the current beacon: simply press the “Clear Beacon” button on the home screen.

To mute the audible beacon: tap the “Mute Beacon” button underneath the destination address text on the home screen.

What are 'Automatic Callouts' and how do I get the most out of them?

Soundscape can tell you about things around you as you approach them by calling out their name from the direction they are located in. The app will do this automatically for all sorts of things like businesses, bus stops, and even intersections. You can configure what the app automatically calls out on the “Manage Callouts” screen, and you can turn all callouts off when you want the app to be silent.

Exploring a new area: Turn automatic callouts on and walk around to hear about all of the different stores, restaurants, and the like as you pass them.

Going to a destination: When you are on your way to a destination, automatic callouts for intersections can be particularly useful. Intersection callouts tell you about the layout of intersections as you approach them and confirm the road you are on when you leave them.

When you need silence: When you are about to cross a road or just need the app to be quiet, you can turn callouts off. When callouts are off, the app will only tell you information if you manually tap one of the “My Location”, “Nearby Markers”, “Around Me”, or “Ahead of Me” buttons.

Turning callouts on or off: Callouts can be turned on or off in the “Manage Callouts” screen which is accessed from the menu. Tap the “Allow Callouts” toggle to turn callouts on or off. Turning callouts off will silence the app.

Managing which callouts you hear: To choose the types of things Soundscape will automatically callout, go to the “Manage Callouts” screen using the menu on the “Home” screen. The “Manage Callouts” screen contains a list of types of things the app can callout. Each item has a toggle button that you can turn on or off. If you wish to turn off all callouts, tap the “Allow Callouts” toggle at the top of the list.

What countries is Soundscape available at and when will it open up in other countries?

At initial launch, Soundscape was available for download only in the UK and US and has since been released in Australia; however, if you are traveling to other countries Soundscape will continue to work, but please be aware of carrier charges if not on Wi-Fi. Regarding opening to other markets, we are working hard with partners and other organizations to determine the most effective way we can do this and will provide updates on our website as we have them.

How do I get the best out of Soundscape?

What can I set as a beacon?

You can set a beacon on any business, place, point of interest, address, or intersection as long as it appears in Open Street Map, our mapping system, or you have added it as a Marker. When you open the “Set a Beacon” screen, there will be a list of up to 100 of the closest named places, in proximity order, from which you can choose. Some categories of place, such as addresses, are not listed by default, but can be found using the search field. You can search for named places beyond the 100 listed, up to 1 kilometer away by default, or further if you have visited that location before. There is no distance limit on the street addresses you can search for, but you must explicitly select the search button to retrieve the list of addresses that match your search terms. Selecting an item from the list will place an audible beacon on it to keep you aware of its location relative to you. The name of the place you selected along with its distance and physical address, if available, will now be displayed on the main app screen.

How do I use a beacon like a pro?

You can think of the audible beacon as a “lighthouse for the ears”, notifying you of where your destination is relative to your location, as the crow flies. Like a lighthouse, it does not tell you how to get there – you may need to make many navigation choices along the way, just as a sailboat will have to make many strategic “tacks” to get closer to the lighthouse. The continuous rhythmic sound of the audible beacon is spatialized from the direction of the destination, and helps you stay aware of the location of the destination relative to you as you walk. When you are walking directly toward the destination, or you point the phone toward the destination, a higher pitched “ring” sound will be heard. This feature allows you to pinpoint the direction of the destination since the direction of the rhythmic sound can sometimes be difficult to perceive in loud environments. When searching for the higher pitched “ring”, hold the phone flat and sweep the phone slowly; turning your head to point in the same direction of the phone will ensure that you have the best spatial audio experience.

The lighthouse metaphor for the beacon’s design has several natural implications:

  1. There is no “correct” direction to travel when using the beacon, instead, with Soundscape you choose how to get there;
  2. The higher pitched “ring” helps you pinpoint the direction of the destination only – it is not an indication of how you should get there;
  3. If you generally know how to get to your destination, you may wish to mute the beacon for the majority of your trip and turn it on only as you get closer to your destination.

Why does the audible beacon disappear sometimes?

Soundscape’s audible beacon is fundamentally a directional cue, telling you where your destination is relative to the direction you are facing. When Soundscape is uncertain about what direction you are facing, it lowers the volume of the beacon. Most often this occurs if you have been walking with the phone stored in a pocket or bag, and you stop moving, such as to cross a street. The beacon will get louder once you start moving again, or if you hold the phone flat and point it in the direction you are facing.

Can I set a beacon on an address?

Yes you can. Addresses are not listed by default but can be found using the search field. To save this address so you don’t need to search for it again, you can add it as a marker from the home screen by selecting the “add to markers” button, or using voiceover actions on the beacon on the home screen.

How do I set a beacon on my home?

Soundscape supports setting beacons on addresses. To set a beacon on your home, or any other address, select the “Set a beacon” button from the main Soundscape screen. You will be taken to the “Select a Location” page. Navigate to the search button at the top right of the screen and select it. A search bar will open where you can enter your address. When you are done, select the “Search” button on the iPhone keyboard; this will perform a search and return matching addresses. You can browse the list of returned items and select the one that matches your search terms, or return to the search field to refine your search. To save this address so you don’t need to search for it again, you can add it as a marker from the home screen by selecting the “add to markers” button, or using voiceover actions on the beacon on the home screen.

What places are in the list when setting a beacon?

Named points of interest within 1000 meters are listed by default on the Set a Beacon screen. They are ordered from nearest to furthest.

When I set a beacon on a destination, how close will Soundscape get me to the destination?

Soundscape can determine the location of your destination to within several meters, but not less. This is due to the practical limitation of GPS accuracy, which is affected by several factors, including satellite positions, atmospheric conditions and barriers to the signal, such as buildings and overhangs. When Soundscape determines that you are close to your destination, you will hear a final callout that your destination is nearby, and the beacon will turn off to allow you to use your mobility skills to complete your journey.

Can I turn the beacon back on when I am close to my destination?

Yes, you can turn the beacon back on once Soundscape turns it off by selecting the “unmute beacon button”; however, given the low precision of the GPS signal under 10 meters, we cannot guarantee the behavior of the beacon when you are within a few meters of your destination.

Why does Soundscape call out road names twice when I approach an intersection?

To accommodate a variety of intersection configurations, Soundscape describes intersections as segments of roadways that depart from a common point. Soundscape uses spatial audio to indicate the name of the road that goes to the left, the name of the road that continues straight ahead, and the name of the road that goes to the right, in that order. If the description of the intersection begins with the road you are on rather than one to the left, then the intersection is a T with the road you are on continuing ahead and a road intersecting from the right. Similarly, if the description only includes a road to the left and to the right, you will know that the road you are on ends at a T ahead of you. This method of describing intersections also supports the case when a road changes name at an intersection.

Why doesn’t Soundscape announce every business that I pass?

Soundscape is designed not to be too chatty. In addition, it uses Open Street Map as its back-end data source. Open Street Map (OSM, is a community-developed and edited map of the world, relying on individuals, to enter and curate the data. If a business or point of interest is not announced by Soundscape, the most probable reason is that the business has not been added, or in some cases updated, by a member of the OSM community yet.

Why do some callouts stop when I'm in a vehicle?

In order to stop the number of callouts becoming overwhelming, some categories, such as intersections, are not announced automatically when you’re travelling in a vehicle.

What if I don't understand a callout or miss it because of ambient noise?

Soundscape now displays your 40 most recent callouts on the home screen, along with more information such as when the callout happened. You can use this list to repeat the callouts and, for some of them, you can set a beacon on the places mentioned using Voiceover actions.

How does Soundscape work?

What phone does Soundscape run on?

Soundscape is currently available for Apple iOS, running on iPhone 5S and later.

What headset should I use with Soundscape?

Which headset you use with Soundscape is a matter of personal preference, and each option comes with benefits and trade-offs. The only specific requirement is to use a pair of stereo headphones so that you can take advantage of Soundscape’s 3D spatial audio callouts

How do I use the buttons on my headphones with Soundscape?

If your headphones have a media control button, which is typically used to control music apps, then you can use this button to control Soundscape. This method of interacting with Soundscape may be helpful when your phone is in your pocket or out of reach. Not all headphones support the full set of commands, but if your headphones do support the full range, these actions will be supported:

  • Play (single tap) – Mute any callouts and the beacon if it is set
  • Next (double tap) – “My Location”
  • Previous (triple tap) – Repeat last callout
  • Skip forward (double tap and hold) – Toggle callouts on and off
  • Skip backward (triple tap and hold) – “Around Me”

How does Soundscape impact my iPhone’s battery?

Battery life varies significantly depending on which iPhone you own and how old it is. The biggest drain on your battery is having the screen on, so to maximize the battery life of your phone you should keep the screen locked whenever possible. To help minimize the impact on your iPhone battery Soundscape now has a Sleep Mode and a Snooze Mode. To further reduce the amount of battery you use, when you aren’t using Soundscape, you should force close it via your iPhone’s app switcher. See here for Apple’s instructions on how to do that.

How do I use Sleep Mode to minimize Soundscape’s impact on my phone battery?

To put Soundscape in to Sleep Mode select the “Sleep” button in the top right hand corner of the screen. When you select this Soundscape will stop using GPS and mobile data until you choose to wake it up again.

How do I use Snooze mode to minimize Soundscape’s impact on my phone battery?

To put Soundscape in to Snooze Mode select the “Sleep” button in the top right hand corner of the screen. Once Soundscape’s in Sleep mode, select the “Wake up when I leave” button and Soundscape will go in to a low power state until you leave your current location.

How does my choice of headset affect the battery life of my phone?

In our tests, the battery consumption of Bluetooth headsets is comparable to wired headsets and should not be a significant factor to consider when selecting a headset. That said, both earbud and bone-conducting headset have wired and wireless model options.

How does running Soundscape in the background impact battery life of my phone?

Soundscape is a location-based app and uses the publicly available GPS infrastructure to determine your location. In our tests, Soundscape does not consume any more battery than the average GPS-based application; but if you are concerned about battery consumption when using your phone, the following are a few tips which will help lower usage:

  • Turn the screen display off as much as possible when you are not interreacting with the app.
  • When not using the app, close it down. Soundscape uses location services continually when it is running so that it always knows your location, even when you are not moving. Don’t forget to restart the app when you resume your journey.
  • In cold weather, keep your phone warm as batteries perform more poorly in colder temperatures.

How much mobile data does Soundscape use?

The amount of mobile data used depends on how you use Soundscape. We have designed Soundscape to use only a small amount of data when you’re out and about by doing things like saving points as you walk around so you don’t need to download them again every time you go back to somewhere you’ve already been. To reduce the amount of mobile data you use, make sure you are connected to Wi-Fi whenever possible, particularly to download the app and new voices. When you are not using Soundscape, you should force close the app while you’re not using it. See here for Apple’s instructions on how to do that.

How is Soundscape different from other GPS or map apps?

Soundscape provides an ambient description of your surroundings in aid of exploration and way-finding. Using spatial 3D sound, Soundscape will call out points of interest, parks, roads, and intersections from the direction they physically are in your immediate environment as you walk. For example, if you pass a shop on your right, you will hear the name of the shop sounding from your right. As you approach an intersection, you will hear each road name sounding from the direction it goes in, beginning to your left, ahead and to the right.

Instead of turn by turn directions as often provided by traditional GPS or map applications, Soundscape will play an audible beacon in the direction of your destination, empowering you to make your way there on your terms using your increased awareness of your surroundings and the location of your destination. Soundscape is designed to run in the background, enabling you to use a turn by turn directions app, all the while continuing to provide environmental awareness as you make your way to your destination.

How do I use Soundscape with a wayfinding app?

Soundscape is designed as an awareness app to help fill in details about your environment that you may not be aware of otherwise. While it is not designed as a turn-by-turn navigation app, it can be used alongside such apps to provide complementary information. To use Soundscape with these apps, start your navigation app first. Then, move over to Soundscape and set a beacon on the same destination as in the navigation app. At this point, both apps will be running and you will hear walking directions from your navigation app, while getting updates on points of interest, intersections, and your distance to your destination from Soundscape.

How do I control what I hear and when I hear it in Soundscape?

Soundscape provides several ways to control what you hear and when:

  1. Immediately stop all audio: Double tap the screen with two fingers to immediately turn off all audio, including any callout that is currently playing and the beacon if it is on. Callouts will resume automatically when you approach the next intersection or point of interest, but the audible beacon will not. Select the “unmute beacon button” on the main screen to resume hearing the beacon.
  2. Stop automatic callouts: When you are not traveling or have reached a destination, you probably will not need Soundscape to continue to notify you of things around you. Instead of exiting the app, you can put Soundscape in to Snooze mode and it will wake up again when you leave, or you can put Soundscape into Sleep mode and it will stay off until you choose to turn it back on. Alternatively, you can select “Manage Callouts” from the menu and choose to turn all callouts off.
  3. Stop the beacon: There are several scenarios for which you might set a destination, but not need the audible beacon on. For example, you may know exactly how to get to your destination but want to get automatic updates about how far away you are from your destination. Or, you may know roughly how to get to your destination, and only need the audio beacon as you near your destination. Whatever the case, you can choose when to hear the beacon by toggling the “mute beacon”/”unmute beacon” button on the main screen.

Do I need to hold the phone in my hand all the time?

No! While walking you can put the phone away in a bag or pocket or wherever is convenient. Soundscape will use the direction you are walking to figure out which callouts to announce to your left and to your right. When you stop moving, Soundscape does not know which direction you are facing. If the audible beacon is on, you will notice it get quiet until you start moving again. You can pull the phone out to press the location and exploration buttons at the bottom of the screen at any time but make sure to hold the phone with the top of the phone pointing in the direction you are facing and with the screen to the sky. In this “flat” position, Soundscape will use the phone’s compass to determine which way you are facing and provide accurate spatial callouts. If the beacon is on, you will also notice that it returns to full volume.

In what ways can I personalize my Soundscape experience?

Soundscape allows you to customize three key aspects of the callouts you hear as you are walking:

  • Voice: You can choose whether you want to hear callouts in a male or female voice, as well as the speed at which callouts are spoken. From the Menu, select Settings, then Voice & Language to adjust the Speaking Rate and Voice settings.
  • Distance Metric: Soundscape allows you to hear all distances in either feet or meters. From the Menu, select Settings. The Units of Measure section allows you to toggle between two options: Imperial (feet) and Metric (meters).
  • Markers: You can mark your world with anything you care about. You can mark things that are personal and relevant to you like your home, your office and your preferred grocery store. Then Soundscape will automatically call out marked places as you walk by or approach them, or you can also use the Nearby Markers button at the bottom of the Soundscape home screen to hear a spatial callout of marked places around you. These markers will remain personal to you and will not be available to anyone else.

In addition to the above, the following VoiceOver settings can influence how Soundscape behaves:

  • Voiceover Tips: When VoiceOver tips are turned ON, you will hear more information about all the buttons on the primary Soundscape screen. You can turn on VoiceOver tips by navigating to the iPhone Settings, General, Accessibility, VoiceOver, Verbosity, Speak Hints setting and set the toggle to ON.
  • Audio Ducking: Soundscape is designed to work with Audio Ducking turned OFF. When Audio Ducking is on, automatic callouts can be difficult to hear if VoiceOver is used simultaneously. We recommend turning Audio Ducking off to make it easier to hear all automatic callouts that occur as you are interacting with the phone. Audio ducking can be turned off in VoiceOver settings or via the VoiceOver rotor.
  • Touch ID to Unlock: Setting your phone to unlock using Touch ID will make unlocking the phone fast and easy, and in turn, allow you to access the My Location, Around Me, and Ahead of Me buttons as quickly as possible when you are on the go. Set up Touch ID unlocking from iOS Settings, Touch ID & Passcode, iPhone Unlock ON.

What does the Bluetooth Beacons in the Callouts refer to?

These refer to Bluetooth beacons which have been tagged in an indoor environment and are available through Open Street Map. Setting the toggle switch on in Soundscape will allow these beacons and the information associated with them to be picked up and called out. However, please note that currently there are very few places where these beacons have been tagged in this way.

What is Open Street Map and why do we use it for Soundscape?

Soundscape draws on geographic map data to provide the information callouts in the app. The primary map source we use is Open Street Map ( which is a rich community generated mapping platform, that enables organizations and individuals to improve the quality and granularity of the information provided and the accessibility of their spaces using Open Street Map map authoring tools.

Get the Soundscape app

Download in the App Store