Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Mapping a new course with smartphone apps

Published:Monday | September 19, 2016 | 9:00 AM

When it comes to map apps, consumers are finding plenty of fresh paths to digital navigation, thanks to Google, Apple, and a whole host of rivals.

Here WeGo, Waze, MapFactor, Mapquest, Scout GPS, Maps.Me and InRoute are just some of the apps that are challenging Google Maps and Apple Maps, which dominate smartphone mapping services by focusing on new and novel features.

Google and Apple, though, aren't content with staying in the slow lane of innovation. Both have added new features to their map apps in recent months, including enabling users to add interim destinations to go along with the ultimate stop on a trip. Google's changes rolled out in an update to Google Maps this summer; Apple's is included in iOS 10.

"Just open the app, enter a destination, tap the corner menu, and then click add a stop," Google says in a blog post. "To rearrange the order of your stops, tap and hold the three-dot menu to the left of Add Stop and drag it to the position you want."

The Apple Maps service has new features that seek to meld activities and services associated with a trip.

"Apps like OpenTable can integrate bookings right into Maps," Apple says on its website. "Services like Uber and Lyft can make it easier for users to book a ride without ever leaving the Maps app."

 

Global Positioning System (GPS) Devices becoming obsolete

 

And while this navigational arms race shifts into high gear, it's become apparent that the original stand-alone GPS devices are becoming stranded by the side of the road.

The proliferation of smartphone apps has reshaped a market once dominated by the stand-alone machines, such as TomTom, Garmin and Magellan. According to market research firm Berg Insight, worldwide shipments of personal navigation devices have decreased from 40 million units in 2008 to a projected 11 million by the end of this year. That number is expected to drop to just 7 million in 2019 less than a tenth of projected smartphone map app users in that year.

"Most consumers are using their smartphones as their primary navigation and map system," said Ben Bajarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies, a market researcher. "Retailers, in a lot of cases, don't really promote the stand-alone devices anymore."

The established map apps from Google and Apple offer a wide array of features, with the centerpiece being turn-by-turn navigation. And while the emerging apps also typically offer turn-based directions, they all attempt to offer niche features that also can go beyond the basics of the apps from the tech titans.

 

Here are some options to consider for your mapping apps

 

- GOOGLE MAPS

What's new? The ability to add interim stops to a destination, as well as estimates for how much time the detour will add to the trip.

- APPLE MAPS

What's new? Apple upgrades include an interim stops feature; users who want a reminder of where they parked their car can use a pin drop as a target.

 

The challengers

 

Here are some free map apps that attempt to challenge, or, at least, seek to address some shortcomings of the two primary programmes from Google and Apple.

- WAZE

What's new? A cleaner and fresh look with quick access to frequent destinations; a new way to share your estimated time of arrival (ETA) with others.

- MAPQUEST

What's new? Users can get speed limits to appear on their screens, including if you're in a school zone. The route ahead is shown in what is called '2.5D', which Mapquest calls the "Perspective View". Distance to a location now automatically updates.

- Here WEGO

What's new? Now easier to pick a destination and scroll to the mode of transportation. The app also offers ride-booking company Car2Go, as well as info on taxi services.

- MAPFACTOR

What's new? Better alternative route calculation; improved Google searches; the icon highlights when searching for a point of interest.

- SCOUT GPS

What's new? Although turn-by-turn navigation is available, the app focuses on social interactions. Among the new features: You can send messages to friends and family; drive to the location of friends and family; share your location, route and real-time ETA; and ask a friend to pick you up.

- MAPS.ME

What's New? The navigation elements take up less space; speed is now displayed; and an autozoom element has been added; bicycle riders can see terrain data; search results show hotel ratings and prices.

- INROUTE

What's New? Custom routes that let people avoid the heat on a summer road trip, or for those towing a trailer, ways to avoid steep hills; users can also chose routes with a lot of curves.

- TNS