Map App Wars

MapAppProduct reviews are not generally the fodder for time management newsletters. However, recent events accorded me an opportunity to test three popular map apps for my smartphone. The test focused on which app saved me the most time while trying to get to a new location in an unfamiliar city. (As a technical note, this test was conducted on an iPhone 5.)

The Contenders

1. Maps – Apple – Free. Apple introduced its map app in the iOS 6 release. Although the app included some interesting new features, like titling and the ability to “flyover” areas, it experienced some core mapping failures that many feel was the first crack in Apple’s post-Jobs armor.

2. Google Maps – Google – Free. Google’s map app is the mainstay for most mobile device users. Shortly after being relieved of its duties in the Apple pre-installed software lineup, Google released its latest version for iOS. The clean interface and feature-rich functionality immediately made it a top download for iDevice users everywhere.

3. MapQuest – MapQuest – Free. MapQuest long ago released its mobile app, which is a companion to its popular mapping web site. Of the three apps tested, MapQuest is largely focused on those seeking directions. The User Interface is the least attractive, but once the basic functionality is learned, it’s easy to use.

The Vignettes

1. New York, New York – Apple Maps. On a recent trip to New York, I arrived the evening before my speaking engagement. This trip had me staying in lower Manhattan, which I don’t know well. My speaking engagement was first thing the next morning, so I wanted to determine how long my transit time would be to ensure I arrived with plenty of time to prepare.

When I put the venue address into my Apple Maps app, it indicated that my speaking engagement was up on 23rd Street! Having selected my hotel for its proximity to my client venue, I was astonished at this result. After several attempts to refresh the result, I turned to another map app contestant and found the correct location – at the very southern tip of Manhattan – dozens of blocks away from where Apple Maps would have taken me!

2. Clearwater, Florida – Google Maps. After a conference engagement in Tampa, we stayed a few extra days to enjoy the nearby beach community of Clearwater, Florida. Throughout our long weekend, we used Google Maps to provide us with voice-guided, turn-by-turn directions to our destinations of interest. This included two golf courses and several restaurants. Though the Google app seemed to draw very heavily on the battery, more so than the other contestants here, it did get us to the correct locations very accurately. The only hiccup came on our last night.

We were headed to our dinner destination some ten miles away, using Google Maps to guide us. We entered Clearwater proper and came to an abrupt stop. The local Seafood Festival had created a traffic nightmare. We inched forward for twenty-five minutes before calling the restaurant and cancelling our plans. Disappointed, we turned around and were lucky to get a table at a less-than-terrific place on that busy Saturday night.

Google Maps didn’t adjust our route based on real-time traffic conditions. This will seem nitpicky until you read the next review.

3. Greensboro, Georgia – MapQuest. My latest trip took me to the Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro, Georgia. Greensboro is seventy-five miles east of Atlanta and is most easily reached using Interstate 20 East. I landed in Atlanta at 10:30 pm and headed to the rental car center. The weather was overcast and drizzly. Having had battery drain problems with Google Maps, I elected to load my destination information into MapQuest. It’s a little more techy to use, so caution is the watch word when one is headed into the Georgia wilds in the middle of a stormy night!

The first “wow” experience occurred about twenty minutes into the drive when the voice-guided, turn-by-turn MapQuest app instructed me to take an exit off the freeway. This seemed odd until I noticed the road construction signs and huge traffic backup as I exited off the freeway. MapQuest then expertly guided me down several local streets until I reentered I-20 East traffic free.

The second “wow” experience occurred the next day on my return trip. The weather had worsened overnight to a cold, low-slung gloomy and rainy day. Leaving the hotel I was informed there was a huge traffic jam right at the onramp to the freeway that I needed to use. To see if MapQuest “worked” on Saturdays, I plugged my return destination into the app and was immediately shown an alternative route suggestion based on traffic conditions! The reroute worked brilliantly and I arrived back at the airport with no increased stress from sitting in a traffic jam.

The Conclusion

Second Runner Up – Apple Maps. Not only does Apple Maps contain unnecessary features like tilting and flyover, its core features don’t work very well. No voice-guided assistance is available at this point and, maybe worse, it can’t be removed from any iOS device. I’ve moved it to my “Unused Apps” folder where the other irrelevant but persistent iOS apps reside.

First Runner Up – Google Maps. The refreshed interface of Google’s app is the best of the bunch. However, the apparent lack of real-time traffic management and the significant battery drain leave a lot to be desired. When looking for a new location in an unfamiliar place, the last thing we should be concerned about is battery life and traffic problems!

Winner – Mapquest. This app is a little too feature rich, which makes it cumbersome to get started with the directions. However, the real-time rerouting based on live traffic situations is by far the most impressive. This app rerouted me on a Saturday afternoon away from a traffic accident ninety miles outside of Atlanta! The only thing they could do better is to refresh the interface to a Web 2.0 simple menu system that slides in/out like the others.

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