Alternatives to Apple Maps

October 4, 2012

Those who miss Google Maps on their iPhones have something to celebrate this morning. Google has added Street View to its mobile Safari site, returning some of functionality iPhone users lost when Apple swapped out Google’s maps app for its own.

After updating their iPhones to the iOS6 mobile operating system over the last few weeks, many users were dismayed to find that their Google Maps icon had been replaced by one that has since become notorious — and ridiculed — for navigation errors and inaccuracies.

Still, the adoption rate for iOS 6 has jumped dramatically, according to data from Chitika, showing that software bugs haven’t dampened the enthusiasm of Apple’s most faithful customers.

Apple has scrambled to improve Maps. MacRumors said the company has reportedly asked its retail employees to chip in and find errors in the new app so they can fix the problems as quickly as possible.

The backlash over the tech giant’s decision to replace Google Maps was heated enough for Apple chief executive Tim Cook to offer alternative map applications in his apology to customers. Here’s look at his recommendations, plus an extra app option for good measure:

MapQuest: Months before Apple added turn-by-turn directions to its mapping application, MapQuest was offering the feature in its app. And MapQuest also builds in layers to its maps, so that you can take a quick look at hotels, restaurants, gas stations and more that pop up along your route.

The app isn’t perfect. More often than not, you have to spoon-feed it the address you want, rather than simply using the name of the building. It’s also a driving-only app, so don’t consult it for walking, biking or transit directions.

Waze: Waze works by culling reports on things such as traffic and roadwork from all those who make their commute as the app is running.

While Waze got a sizeable bump from its mention in Tim Cook’s letter, potential users should always remember that it’s a crowd-sourced app, meaning that its quality depends on how many people use it.

That said, it’s a plus for drivers because it pulls data from others driving in the area, the information is responsive and it’s quick to alert the driver to sudden traffic slowdowns caused by something like a burst water main on Maple Street.

The app doesn’t always send users down the best path when it suggests rerouting, but the data itself tends to be solid. Plus, if instills a small sense of camaraderie — as the app says, Waze users are beating traffic, together.

GPS by TeleNav: This app gives users offline access to maps, which is a big plus for those who don’t want to use cellular data. But it doesn't include turn-by-turn directions in its free build — the feature comes as an in-app purchase for 99 cents for $9.99 per year. In fact, unless you buy that package you also won’t have access to real-time traffic or the locations of speed and red-light cameras.

From a mapping standpoint, the app is fairly solid. Users can set favorite locations and get strong directions, while also taking advantage of features that show nearby points of interest.

Google/Nokia maps: Most people are familiar with Google and Nokia Maps, but there are a couple of features worth mentioning here.

Nokia is among the most underrated map services out there, but it offers everything that users want most: traffic, 3D imaging, walking and transit directions and good, clear maps. Users can also choose an area of a map to save offline on the iPhone.

Google Maps is familiar to most users, and the addition of Street View in Safari is a welcome one. One Google Maps feature that isn’t often mentioned enables signed-in users to have access to their Web searches on their mobile device and vice versa. There’s no turn-by-turn on Google’s mobile maps for the iPhone, but it gives directions for many types of transportation — including bicycling.

To get easy access to Google or Nokia Maps on the iPhone, users can convert the sites into what’s called a Web app (which can be done for any Web site). To do that, open the mobile site in Safari — maps.google.com, in this case — and tap the share button (the arrow coming out of the square). Select “Add to Home Screen.” A bookmark should appear on the phone’s main screen.

Bing : Bing is a credible also-ran in the Maps race, especially since it pulls pieces of its data from Nokia’s service. Bing Maps doesn’t have quite the depth of Google Maps but has good bones and is meets basic maps needs. Sometimes, however, Bing Maps doesn’t quite pick up on building names and requires the spoon-fed address instead, and that can be annoying at times.

Related stories:

Apple CEO Tim Cook apologizes for Maps app

Google waiting for Apple to move on maps, Schmidt says

Apple Maps vs. Google Maps: Which is better for getting around D.C. region?

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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