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

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.

 

 

3rd party GPS navigation solutions

The iPhone has never had native turn-by-turn voice navigation so 3rd party developers were free to come up with solutions and there are several available. I remember paying $99 for software when they first launched on the iPhone and today you can purchase one of these solutions for less, although purchasing all of the in-app options may get you close to this figure. They each seem to have their strengths and are different enough from each other that you should be able to find one that meets your needs and works for you. Let's take a bit closer look at these 3rd party solutions. Keep in mind that there are even more options available in the App Store as well.

Navigon

Navigon is a Garmin company with a reputation for solid navigation solutions. They make apps for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 7 so if you are a multi-platform user then you may like the consistency of the user interface across clients. One of the main features of Navigon that has proven to be valuable for me over the years is their lane assistance capability where you see realistic layouts of the roadway with specific lane directions. I still remember using Navigon years ago on a business trip where there were left exit lanes that I would have missed without the software. When you are driving in new areas, functions such as lane assist are very important. Navigon was one of the first to launch with support for the iPhone 5 and full longer display in version 2.2.

In addition to the excellent Lane Assistant Pro functionality, you will find real road sign support, speed assistant to help you from getting a speeding ticket, 2D and 3D map views in portrait and landscape orientation, text to speech playback of street names, and more. There is support for mass transit, walking, and driving, but as listed next some of this functionality comes at more cost to you. Navigon uses NAVTEQ map data, which is owned by Nokia, so the data is quite comprehensive.

The user interface is easy to use and appears in just a few colors to keep the focus on functionality of the software. You can download one state at a time, really saving you on space for offline navigation. For offline navigation needs, Navigon is one of the best available options and supports worldwide maps too. There are quite a few settings, but they are not overwhelming and once you have the software setup how you like it then you should be good to go.

Navigon is sold in the US in four variations; all of North America, East, Central, and West. If you don't travel around the country, you can save some money by purchasing specific regions. The full North American version (iTunes link) is $59.99, Navigon USA is $49.99, and each region (East, Central, West) is $29.99. Unfortunately, Navigon doesn't make it a one stop shop with several available in-app purchases for added functionality. For example, traffic live is another $19.99, panorama view 3D is $9.99, USA speedcams is $4.99, cockpit mode is $5.99, urban guidance (transit) is $4.99, and many more available fee-based options. I could not get the panorama view 3D to ever download and noticed this same comment in the customer ratings so that is an issue. Navigon is one of the most expensive options, especially if you add the extras. With iOS 6 Maps being free and onboard the iPhone, it may be tough to justify the cost of Navigon unless you need serious offline navigation.

CoPilot Live

CoPilot Live, from ALK Technologies, is another one of the applications I purchased for my Windows Mobile device way back in the early days of mobile and it has continued to evolve over time. The current version is extremely full featured and offers a nice UI with a great option for alternative routes. CoPilot Live has also been updated for iOS 6 and the iPhone 5. You get offline navigation, 1 year of traffic, and much more.

CoPilot uses more color than what you see in Navigon and the main menu is a bit busy, IMHO. You can choose from different places to travel to, including an address, favorite places, points of interest, contact, browse the map, coordinates, and even where you previous took and geotagged a photo. Routes can be planned in advance and include options for traffic (additional cost) and vehicle preferences. Offline map support, including maps around the world, is provided along with the ability to download maps by region, or the entire US (1.2 GB) to save on storage space. Washington and Oregon is a 70.4 MB download.

CoPilot Live has a ton of settings, what appears to be more than any other GPS application I looked at, so you can really setup the software to your optimal preference. Weather is integrated and I personally love the parking utility that lets you mark and save the location where you parked your car quickly and easily. An integrated music player is provided and you can also check in to Facebook from within CoPilot.

CoPilot Live is priced MUCH less than Navigon, but again there are also in-app purchases. The Premium HD USA version (iTunes link) is $12.99, the Premium USA version is $9.99, and the Standard version is only $3.99. There are several options for locations around the world too. You need the Premium HD version for full iPhone 5 support. In-app purchases include ActiveTraffic for $9.99/year, fuel prices for $7.99/year, and more.

Telenav Scout

Telenav Scout (iTunes link) is a very focused application and works well on the iPhone 5. Unfortunately, it does not yet take advantage of the full longer display. Scout is FREE and for a limited time they are offering their Scout Plus version ($9.99 value) for free as well. Even at $9.99 per year, this is one of the cheapest voice guided navigation solutions for iOS.

When you launch Scout you are taken to the Dashboard and not to a large view of a map like you see in most other apps. This is OK though since Scout is designed to help you get somewhere with quick options to drive to work or home, along with common places. The next tab over, accessible at the bottom, gets you to the map where you can search quickly or find where you are now. Voice control is also a major deal with Telenav and the center button lets you control your navigation experience with your voice.

I love the POI support in Scout, in particular the Movies support that shows me what movies are playing at the theaters and what the reviews are on those movies. You can find gas (including prices), coffee, parking, WiFi hotspots, and much more with Scout. Extras include the offline maps, traffic rerouting, speed traps, and lane assist. You can download maps for the US in zones (one only allowed on your phone at a time). West is 834 MB, Central is 1565 MB, and East is 1323 MB in size. WiFi is needed for these downloads. You can also change the icon for your car within Telenav Scout.

I liked that Scout gave me up to three alternative routes and performed quickly every time I navigated around. I look forward to full iPhone 5 support and continued improvements.

MotionX GPS Drive

Motion X is another navigation solution for the iPhone and iPad and has millions of active users that are quite happy with the software (ratings show it at 4.5 stars for the latest version. It is an interesting GPS navigation solution thanks to the search user interface. MotionX-GPS Drive has not yet been updated to support the full screen of the iPhone 5, but that is surely coming in a future free update. It is inexpensive at 99 cents, but again there are quite a few in-app purchases. At least with this application they are less expensive ($9.99 for a year of Live Voice Guidance) and it does come with a free 30-day trial.

I like that INRIX provides the traffic data and that you get a handy parking spot marker (similar to CoPilot Live). The Search wheel is interesting and gives you a fairly quick way to search for destinations. Tap the Menu button on the right to bring up menus on the right and left for quick navigation around the app. A compass is one of the utilities, along with the settings option that gives you access to a number of settings to customize the software.

MotionX GPS Drive stores your most recently used maps (you can set the limit on how much is stored locally), but you cannot selectively choose regions for advanced navigation planning. Offline storage is used for speed and improved performance, not really for full offline navigation.

In-app purchases include 99 cent voice modules so you can change up who is guiding you in your car. I could not find an public transit routing, but they do have pedestrian navigation capability. Visual lane assistance, local speed limits, social networking, and more are supported in MotionX GPS Drive.

Waze

One of the applications Tim Cook mentioned in his Apple Maps apology letter was Waze (iTune link) and this is one application that is very heavily focused on the social experience. Waze can be used hands-free and is focused on the community helping out others to get the best navigation results. There is no support for offline maps that I could find, but then again this application is completely free so you can't really complain.

Like most of these GPS navigation apps, Waze is not yet updated for the full iPhone 5 display so the experience is letterboxed. It is VERY highly rated by users and does appear to be quite useful in daily usage. There are quite a few customization settings and as people see things on the road they can report it. This means traffic jams, police, accidents, cameras, gas prices, and more. Foursquare checkins are also supported by Waze. Waze learns your driving and traveling habits to help optimize your route and alerts and is quite intelligent.

NEW ENTRY: MapQuest

One of my readers suggested I include MapQuest and even though that was one of the first mapping solutions I ever used on my computer years ago I didn't even consider checking them out since I thought they went the way of the dodo. It turns out that MapQuest was actually in the Tim Cook Apple Maps apology letter and it is still a current service. The MapQuest application for iOS (iTunes link) is solid and while it does not support the full display of the iPhone 5 yet it does offer FREE voice navigation, very easy toggling of POI categories and both driving and walking directions. 

MapQuest provides traffic status, contact integration, and more. There are ad banners and the display size is limited, but for a free solution it is definitely worth consideration.

Can you get by using free Safari-optimized websites?

 

Safari browser apps

Back when the original iPhone launched in 2007 there was no support for 3rd party apps and everything you wanted to do outside of what Apple provided was through the Safari web browser. Browser apps and optimization for the browser has come a long way and for some people accessing their favorite mapping service via the Safari browser may be perfectly acceptable. I still think for most people that iOS 6 Maps is more capable than these browser solutions, but if you live in an area with poor map data then you can try these out for free too.

Google Maps

Google may no longer have a dedicated iOS application (I understand this is being developed), but their web utility is quite good and even has an icon to add to your home screen that makes it seem like you have a Google Maps application on board. People seem to think Google Maps was awesome before iOS 6, but it was fairly limited and Google is able to provide much of the same functionality right from within the Safari web browser. 

You have an upper right drop down arrow that lets you sign in to your Google account and view all the places you have previously saved or starred. You can toggle layers for satellite view, traffic, and bike routes. Directions are supported for vehicles, buses, walking, and cycling. Similar to the iOS 5 navigation experience you do not get voice guided navigation, just a blue dot that moves on the map. There are zoom in and out buttons and pinch and zoom is also supported. 

Nokia Maps

Nokia Maps is powering the new map solution on Windows Phone 8 and iOS users can enjoy Nokia's maps as well via the Safari web browser. Like Google, you can login to your Nokia account and see all your favorites that you have setup through your Nokia account. One interesting aspect of Nokia Maps is that you can save an area of the map for offline usage, which is pretty incredible for a web-based application. Another very cool feature is support for audio directions!

You can view maps on your phone in map, satellite, public transport, and live traffic views. Layers include accidents, construction, congestion, and other traffic incidents. You can setup a route via automobile, walking, or public transit. The area of your turn is zoomed in right on the display and I almost swore I was using a real application and not even in the browser.

Bing Maps

The main thing I like about Bing Maps is that it uses nearly the full display of the iPhone 5. It is a very basic application with support for vehicle, transit, and walking directions, traffic status, and road, aerial, and bird's eye views. It is snappy and the directions appear to be accurate. I do like how you can slide the directions up or the map down to optimize the view of the directions.

There is capability to login to your Bing account so you can get previous search results and I found the search part pretty powerful. It is pretty clear to me though that the Bing Maps solution is the weakest of the three web-based methods I tested out. 

Summary and conclusion

As you can see, check out my full image gallery , there are plenty of options available for iOS 6 and iPhone 5 owners. I personally use iOS 6 Maps first, but also want to have an offline solution for those times when I do not have an available wireless connection. I am leaning towards CoPilot Live as my favorite dedicated application. Navigon is right up there as well, but is really quite pricey when you get a free solution on the iPhone 5. I am not a big fan of Waze and MotionX GPS Drive even though they have serious fans and am more of a traditional GPS navigation user. Scout is quick, easy, and offers some great additional functions like movie times and reviews.

I thought I would never use a Safari browser app because they would be too limiting and other 3rd party clients are much better. However, they are actually quite good and Nokia Maps is almost as good as a regular app with downloadable sections of maps and audio directions. Google Maps in the browser is also a solid choice, but Bing Maps is a bit too basic for my needs. I can see how a person could easily go for an all free solution of iOS 6 Maps and Nokia Maps on the iPhone 5.

Apple is already working to improve the map data and performance of Maps and I agree with my colleague, Jason Perlow, when he wrote that the iOS 6 Maps flap is just a mere speed bump and imagine in a couple of months this will be water under the bridge, much like Antennagate and other things that had people up in arms on the iPhone.

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