Apple Maps just doesn't cut it for everyone, so there is a rich market of GPS alternatives for the iPhone. Many are good. In this review we test Google Maps for iOS, Navigon USA, Gokivo, MapQuest, Scout, Nokia HERE Maps, Waze and even Apple Maps.
Word on the street is that Apple Maps leaves everything to be desired... still. Some of the errors in its satellite views and routing instructions are serious. Some have been classified as life threatening, especially in Australia where iOS users have been strongly urged by national and regional law enforcement to use another product so they don't get lost in deserted areas. Other users, in other parts of the world, aren't bumping into the problems.
This leaves those of us who are chronically, directionally challenged with a bit of a dilemma on the iOS side of the world – which GPS app should I use on my iPhone (or mobile broadband enabled iPad)? Thankfully, there are a number of different GPS apps available in the iTunes App Store. Last year's roundup addressed the lack of a native navigation tool in Apple's mobile OS. This year, I hope to explain why Apple Maps 1.0 became infamous and what Apple must do to fix it; as well as identify some new navigational choices. You will see one or two apps from last year make a second appearance due to major programmatic updates.
First, let's talk about the different type of GPS apps on the market. There are currently three different kinds. A brief description of each can be found below.
Maps on Board When cell signals are in short or spotty supply, the Maps on Board GPS app like TomTom USA is what you need. With a GPS app of this type, all you need at that point is open sky...and about 1.5GB of free device space, as the app and its data come over as a single component. You are free and clear to navigate with or without a mobile broadband signal.
Maps on Demand When storage space is at a premium and you're in an area with solid mobile broadband coverage, a GPS app that provides map data as you move into a specific geographical area gets the job done without eating up a gig and a half of space. As long as you have at least a 3G signal on your device, it should be able to access the appropriate map data it needs to get you safely and accurately to your destination with always the latest version maps at your disposal.
Hybrid (Download and Retain Regional Data) For those times when a little bit of both is needed – cell coverage is spotty and you don't have a lot of device space to give up, but can spare just the right amount to the task, a hybrid solution provides the best of both worlds. This uses up bandwidth only when it needs to download new data, but will likely only eat up 250-500MB of storage at a time. Most users blow that much or more just by having Facebook on their iDevice.
Secondly, I'd like to say something about map data, map subscriptions and in-app purchases.
Only as Good as the Data As with Apple Maps, it really doesn't matter how awesome the program or its UI are. Mapping and navigation apps are only as good as the data they provide. If the built-in info is bad, the app is going to be abysmal, no matter who wrote or published the thing.
Map Subscriptions are a Good Thing If you like an app, purchasing a map subscription is likely a good idea. With a data subscription, you're always going to have the latest and greatest on-board maps at your disposal. However, updates to Maps on Board apps will likely be large, and you may need to wait until you have a reliable Wi-Fi signal to download the update.
Roads change all the time. Instead of waiting 2-4 years to issue a new set of maps like many companies used to do at the early days of consumer GPS, a map subscription can get your local, regional or national OTA updates as often as once a month to a couple times a quarter.
In-App Purchases Equate to Margin Dollars Most apps that have map and/or data subscriptions (these include traffic and radar/red light cameras) offer them via in-app purchase. In many cases, Navigon excluded (as far as this roundup is concerned), the app is either offered for free or at a nominal price. Map and other in-app purchases that make the app truly functional are offered to you after you download and install the app.
Unfortunately for developers, Apple takes the same 30-percent cut of all in-app purchases as it does with App Store purchases. But at least the app vendor has the user locked into the app and can offer additional functionality as long as it's compliant with Apple's In-App Purchase Guidelines.
I'd also like to remind everyone that distracted driving is a definite no-no. If you do use any kind of GPS device or navigation application on your iPhone or other smartphone, please make sure that you download apps and set up your phone for navigation before you start driving.
All screen shots associated with this roundup were taken while I was a passenger in a moving vehicle.