Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Navigation Apps

If you have a phone with GPS, you have no excuse for getting lost ever again, except when your excuse is "The GPS led me into a ravine." Gone are the days of printing from MapQuest, Yahoo Maps, and (gasp) Microsoft Streets & Trips. Paper maps are a novelty for tourists and people who don't know what the internet is.

Here are three of the navigation apps I use regularly, along with some commentary. Note that these apps are being constantly improved upon and only get better with time and more feedback from its users.

Google Maps

This is my go-to navigation app. I use it when I take public transport, or when I need to walk somewhere. If I had a bike, I would use it for biking routes too. It's also great for planning a long road trip because you can do research on your desktop, plan your routes and identify locations and points of interest and save them in your Google profile and they will be available when you open the Google Maps app on your phone. If Apple would just let users select a default mapping application (without jailbreaking), then I probably wouldn't ever use the Apple Maps at all. How is what Apple doing any different from Microsoft and their Internet Explorer browser "monopoly"?

  • In addition to driving directions, you also get walking, biking, and public transport directions
  • You can view Google Maps and your saved locations from any device with a browser
  • Street view lets you familiarize yourself with an area before you go there (hint: if you see drug dealers, it's not a good neighborhood)

  • What's Google doing with all the data it's storing of our trips?

Apple Maps

Despite all of the complaints and jokes about Apple Maps, I haven't had many major problems (other than what I'll list below) and it's actually easier to use than Google Maps in some respects. It integrates seamlessly with iOS so if you need to go to a contact's house, it's as easy as typing in that https://www.google.com/search?q=nba+finals+2012&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:unofficial&client=firefox-acontact's name into the map app or opening up the Contacts app and clicking on the contact's address. Google Maps can kinda do this too if you keep your iPhone contacts always synced with Google, but it's smoother with Apple Maps. I use Yelp a lot so when I get directions to a new place, I just use Apple Maps because that's just the default. It gets the job done and is actually a good navigation app but I still just prefer Google Maps overall.

As for the interface, it looks great, maybe even better than Google's... especially the hybrid 3d maps, but seriously, who's gonna leave that turned on all the time? The battery life on my iPhone 5 is already bad enough as it is and not all of us are getting LTE signals everywhere we go....

  • Integrates seamlessly with your iPhone contacts and Yelp
  • Looks and feels great.
  • 3D hybrid mode looks awesome but practically I turn this off to save battery and data usage for everyday driving.

  • Only good for driving directions (no walking or public transport)
  • Unnatural, robot voice directions compared to Google or Waze.
  • Sometimes leads you into a ravine or off a cliff
  • It used to say "you have arrived at your destonation (sic)" but I think they fixed it. I just wanted to mention it though because it was super annoying.


As a new(er) kid on the block (STEP BY STEP OOH BABY), Waze doesn't have the corporate juggernaut power of Google or Apple but it has a lot of users providing a wealth of traffic information (I've only used it in the US so I'm not sure how well it works internationally). I found it to be pretty good at what it does--getting you to your destination during rush hour. Google Maps and Apple Maps are great for getting you to places you've never been to before, while Waze is an app dedicated to getting you to and from a place you're already familiar with (ie., home to work). The cool thing about it is that it uses real-time data and tries to figure out alternate routes while you're driving to get around traffic, accidents, road hazards, police traps, and red light cameras (not that I would ever run a red light). Apple and Google Maps are supposed to reroute too, but so far in my experience neither of them have changed my route to avoid traffic. It has been especially useful for me since I'm in a new city and only barely know my way around. By leaving Waze turned on while I drive to and from work, I discover new routes and become more and more familiar with the city (STEP BY STEP OOH BABY GONNA GET TO YOU GIRL)

  • Redirects you around traffic
  • Makes driving to and from work almost fun!

  • Searching for places by name instead of address isn't as good as the other apps. It's lets you search Yelp and other search engines though so that helps
  • Voice recognition isn't as good as Google or apple's. In fact, sometimes it's extremely irritating and frustrating to use.
  • It sometimes tells you to do stupid things like go up a hill only to lead you back down it again when you could've avoided going uphill in the first place. A common problem in SF.
  • Stubbornly tries to route you back to a road you want to avoid unless you mark it as "closed" or tell it you want a new route... which is KINDA DIFFICULT TO DO WHILE YOU'RE DRIVING.
  • Announces your location to the entire world unless you explicitly set yourself to be "invisible," which you have to do every time you turn on the app.

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