iOS 3.0 feels like a long time ago, but in 2009 it ushered in the ability for the iPhone to transform itself into a portable GPS unit
(and suddenly made it a lot more difficult for dedicated GPS hardware manufacturers to sell their products).
Since then many vendors have crowded the market place and there are now many apps to choose from, from basic navigation apps that store little information offline to full-blown apps that are, in most cases, more functional than stand-alone units thanks to their constant network connection and frequent updates.
Unfortunately, this is having negative repercussions for dedicated GPS hardware vendors, who are now all reporting declining sales, especially in countries where smartphone penetration is high.
While there are lots of GPS navigation apps now available on the App Store, most of them are powered by one of two providers; Whereis and Navteq.
According to Navteq, it is “a leading global provider of maps, traffic and location data enabling navigation, location-based services and mobile advertising around the world”. Navteq was recently acquired by Nokia and also powers the mapping software on all Nokia phones.
Whereis, owned by Sensis, supplies map data to many car manufacturers for their in-dashboard navigation systems, and also to
app makers who use their maps as building blocks for their own software.
Interestingly, according to Sensis, “Whereis mapping software actually captures between 10,000km and 15,000km of new roads every year.”
While the price of GPS navigation apps for the iPhone continues to fall, there’s still a free option included on your iPhone – Maps.
Maps uses Google Maps data to help you navigate. The app is simple to use and will get you from point A to B. You can choose to view maps as Standard, Satellite or List view and there’s also an option to Show Traffic. In my experience the traffic indicators aren’t particularly accurate, but they are free.
My expectation is that Maps will continue to improve in sync with iOS 5. For example, according to some rumours websites, the latest version of iOS 5 introduces better Maps integration through the system, so you can look up addresses in Maps from other applications like Mail and Calendar. The same sources indicate that Maps in iOS 5 also has some new features, including the ability to easily print a list of directions.
But there are also some other drawbacks in Maps.
Firstly, you’ll need to be online to make it work, and there’s no facility to download a map offline. That’s OK if you’re in the city, but with patchy network connections outside the city you can never quite rely on Google Maps.
Secondly, Google Maps doesn’t do spoken turn-by-turn navigation. This means you’ll need to constantly look at your iPhone while driving, something that’s clearly not advised. This feature may eventually come to iPhone as it is already available on the Android platform.