A closer look at Apple iOS 6 Maps and eight alternatives (comparison review)

Summary:Apple's iOS 6 Maps works well for many people, but Tim Cook did issue an apology and offered up some alternatives. Let's take a closer look at Apple Maps and some of these available choices and don't forget to check out the 110+ screenshot gallery.

We have all heard the jokes about the new Apple iOS 6 Maps and I understand that many people have had problems with the software. I personally have had good experiences with iOS Maps and know that many others love the fact they now get turn-by-turn navigation for free. As soon as I heard about issues with Maps, I decided to load up several 3rd party alternatives and try out the browser app options to see if there were any I recommend you try out. I tested iOS 6 Maps, Navigon, CoPilot Live, Telenav Scout, MotionX GPS Drive, and Waze apps while also checking out Google Maps, Nokia Maps, and Bing Maps via the Safari web browser. Apple's Maps gets the job done in most cases and is FREE, but for more advanced GPS navigation needs there are some great alternatives to consider. Honestly, even the free Nokia Maps browser solution is quite good.

Check out my screenshot image gallery for a look at over 115 screenshots of all these options.

Apple iOS 6 Maps

It seems to me that many iPhone 5 owners who previously had iPhones quickly forgot how lame Google Maps really was on iOS prior to iOS 6 Maps. I have always used 3rd party apps since Google Maps could never come close to comparing to a full dedicated GPS turn-by-turn solution since Google kept all the great features locked to the Android platform. Google Maps was OK on iOS for looking up an address or finding points of interest, but it was not very useful for GPS navigation purposes. I think this is one reason my sister-in-law cannot keep talking about how great iOS 6 Maps is on her iPhone 4S. She never did buy a third party client and thus sees the immediate benefit of the new iOS 6 Maps free turn-by-turn solution.

Since Apple made iOS Maps and it is integrated into the OS, you will find that Maps is the default mapping solution when you tap an address in any other iOS 6 application so the experience is seamless. Now, once you tap to navigate to that address then you do get options to open it up in another of the 3rd party applications. One feature I particularly enjoy with Maps is the lock screen support where you can still view the status of your navigation experience with the screen locked (see a screenshot of this in my image gallery). I have not yet found any other client that supports this functionality and Apple may have this locked out from 3rd party vendors.

Like the previous Google Maps on iOS, Apple's Maps appears with a very simple user interface once you launch it. You will see the Maps application takes full advantage of the iPhone 5 long display with control of the program taking place in each of the four corners. The arrow icon in the bottom left takes you to your current location. Tapping it again turns on the compass mode so you can rotate and see the cone move to adjust to the way you are facing. The right icon toggles 3D off and on and you have probably seen the fairly dramatic Superman-view of 3D as you fly through cities. It is admittedly very cool to play with, but not that many of us fly through cities in helicopters to view these parts of buildings. I do like it for matching physical buildings with a location in the city though.

In the upper left corner you find an arrow and when you tap it another screen pops up over it to help you figure out what kind of directions you wish to setup. You can choose from automobile, walking, or public transport. Automobile navigation is the only method supported at this time so tapping the other two icons will lead you to 3rd party options. You can enter your current location and destination manually or view searching. You can tap the reverse button to return to a selected location. There is a route button to tap to get the route.

In the upper right is the bookmark button for you to view and edit bookmarks for destinations. This includes selecting contacts and recent destinations as bookmarked destinations. When you tap the dog ear in the lower right you will see the page "lift up" to reveal options to drop a pin, print your directions, show traffic toggle, list results (rather than showing them on a map view), and view modes for standard, hybrid, or satellite. You will also find settings for Maps within the Settings menu. From within this area you can set your navigation voice volume (or turn it off), select your units of measure, select the language for map labels, and select label size.

When you are using Maps you will see that directions appear on the lock screen. Directions are large and clear on the display and do a great job of giving you the next turn well in advance so you can actually make the turn with confidence. The application is fairly basic in appearance and settings (similar to what we see in things like the camera application), but gets the job done quickly and I like what Apple is doing here. I understand that data has been sketchy for many folks, but am confident Apple will work out those issues. I am not sure if we will see fully controllable offline mapping support anytime soon so I will need to keep a Nokia smartphone on hand or one of these following 3rd party clients to travel overseas and not get nailed by roaming data charges. The partial offline caching of maps that you visit is helpful in speeding up the experience though.

Let's now check out some available 3rd party GPS navigation options for iOS 6.



Topics: Mobility, Apple, iPhone, Reviews, Smartphones


Matthew Miller started using mobile devices in 1997 and has been writing news, reviews, and opinion pieces ever since. He is a co-host, with ZDNet's Kevin Tofel, of the MobileTechRoundup podcast and an author of three Wiley Companion series books. Matthew started using mobile devices with a US Robotics Pilot 1000 and has owned more than 2... Full Bio

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