Chip's Technical Blog

Tech commentary of thoughts, challenges, how-to's, and the mundane.

GPS iPhone Apps

I have received a number of requests from people interested in lists of worthwhile Apps for iDevices (iPhone, iPad, etc.). Underlying this is of course a question about whether I like my iPad. I do. I rate it as a “fun toy”. It is good enough that many evenings I do not need to use my computer – because if I am just consuming content (reading news, shopping, etc.), then there is no need for my laptop. It’s only (like tonight), when I’m doing a lot of typing that I need my laptop. As an added bonus, the iPad is easier to use in bed, and never gets hot.

In any case, today I want to focus on one particular kind of App – the GPS app. Around Thanksgiving last year, we (Kristina and I) tested out several GPS Apps on the iPhone. These included Navigon, CoPilot Live, and MotionX GPS Drive (in opposite order).

In rating GPS Apps, we identified a few key factors:

  • Maps: downloaded on-the-fly, or as part of the app itself. This impacts map freshness, app size, and mobile data usage. Including the maps in the app means the maps will be more stale, and makes the app around 2GB. Downloading the maps as you go makes the maps more fresh and keeps the app small, but uses more mobile data, and doesn’t work well in areas of poor coverage.
  • Live Traffic: Useful for routing around accidents and such.
  • Routing: TTS (Test-to-speech), for reading street names aloud. We found this feature very important to avoid looking at the screen too often. Some apps read only street numbers or numbered streets: you actually want one which can synthesize street names.
  • Polish. How elegant is the App.
  • Price
  • Map Data: there are two main map providers NavTeq and TeleAtlas. They have different qualities, strengths, and weaknesses. This turned out not to be a major issue for us (I forget which one we’re using anyway).

The apps rate as follows:

  • MotionX GPS: This is the cheapest of the options, but comes with a subscription model instead of a pay-for-the-app model. Maps are downloaded on the fly. The app was reasonably impressive, but in the end we decided we needed the maps included in the app. At the time, it also did not support TTS, though I think that may have changed.
  • CoPilot. CoPilot worked just fine – with the features we wanted, but was rather unpolished. However, in exchange it was cheaper.
  • Navigon. This was the most expensive app we tried, and in our opinion, you get what you pay for here. It has TTS, live traffic (add on charge), and also includes the maps in the app. All this, and a very polished interface as well.

While I have not tried the newer Garmin App, it downloads the maps as you go, so it doesn’t really fit the criteria we needed. In our opinion, Navigon was the best choice. I do, however, recommend looking for times when the app is on sale. You can use something like AppShopper to see the history of pricing on an app. Note also, with Navigon, you can pay different amounts depending on how much maps you want. If you don’t need Canada – get the US only version, etc.

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