One of the best things about mobile phones are their ability to get you around from place to place. Navigation apps are many and varied on all mobile platforms, and so I thought it’d be a good idea to continue this series with a piece on helping your less tech-savvy friends and family get the most of this valuable feature in their phones.
Please don’t mess with your phone while you’re driving! And please stress this with those who may not have a lot experience with these apps. They’re fantastic aids, and getting better by the day, but let’s face it; frustration happens. Messing around with them, especially ones that aren’t fully voice-controlled, can be as bad as texting while driving. If you have to fiddle with settings or change your destination, pull over.
Pick your Navigation App
My first instinct is to recommend sticking to the navigation app that comes with the phone, since this is an easy choice for those who are less tech-savvy. The problem with that recommendation is the iPhone. Apple Maps has a bit of a reputation problem. While it is true that Apple is putting an admirable amount of work into improving it, it’s also true that Apple Maps still has more than its share of issues. Given how many high quality, free alternatives there are, it’s worth looking at some of them.
If you’re helping less tech-savvy friends and family with navigation, it’s important for them to understand something about data usage. These apps use GPS navigation, which does not use your phone’s data plan. However, they also may use data they pull from the Internet, and that does use the phone’s data plan. These days most apps are thankfully aware of data use issues and have offline modes to eliminate it, or use compressed data to minimize it. Google Maps in particular
Popular Navigation Apps for iPhone
My top pick is easily the king of navigation, Google Maps. A few months back, Google Maps returned to the iPhone after a long exile. For the first time on iOS, it finally has turn-by-turn navigation, so there’s really no reason not to have it on your phone.
There is one regretable limitation of Google Maps Navigation on the iPhone, and that is that it isn’t fully voice-controlled. I’ll get into that more in a bit.
Some other free possibilities include:
Cali Lewis covered a few of the top mobile navigation apps for iOS on My Mobile Life episode #73. Google themselves put up a post on their official Google Blog on getting the most out of Maps for iPhone.
Popular Navigation Apps for Android
Some good news is that most of the popular navigation apps are available for both iOS and Android, including of course Google Maps. Even better, Google Maps is standard on Android, as you’d expect, and is fully voice-controlled. It is my top recommendation on Android.
All the same alternatives exist for Android as for iPhone, except for Apple Maps itself. Waze, Yellow Pages, MapQuest, TomTom, Garmin, Navigon; if for some reason you aren’t happy with Google Maps Navigation on Android, there are plenty of others to check out.
Cali Lewis covered a few top navigation apps for Android as well, in My Mobile Life episode #74.
Launching Google Navigation
On Google Maps for the iPhone, you do everything navigation-related through Google Maps itself. Android gives you a second app called Navigation, which gives you quick and direct access to that feature. You can still access navigation through Maps on Android, of course.
Setting Your Destination
To set your destination on the iPhone, tap the search field. You can enter the destination manually, or can speak your destination. You’ll then have to confirm it from a list of possible matches. There’s a Directions button that you press, and off you go.
One nice thing to know is that Google Maps doesn’t require you to know the exact name of where you want to go. It can use the internet and Google search to figure out where it is you’re going if you’re not specific enough.
For instance, if I wanted to visit the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto but couldn’t remember what it’s called, just that I wanted to check out the dinosaur skeletons there, I could enter or say “museum in Toronto with dinosaurs” and it’ll figure out what I want. I’ve actually done this exact thing before, it’s pretty fun.
Tips & Tricks
Many of us in the geek world are plenty familiar with the alternate uses for navigation like walking directions and indoor maps, but people not as into tech who are maybe familiar with Garmin or TomTom devices from a few years back may not be aware that this stuff is possible. Why not show these friends and family members how they can use modern mobile apps to get around without a car? Malls, museums, theme parks, and many more locations often have indoor maps available to easily find particular shops or attractions you’re looking for, and using the walking or transit directions option will give you different results than the standard automotive directions mode.
If you launch Maps on the same account you use on the desktop, your Google account will remember recent searches you’ve made in Maps. Tapping that remembered search will bring you to it in Maps, and then one more tap will take you to Directions. This is a pretty handy way to locate a destination at the desktop/laptop/tablet and have quick access to them on your phone.
Street View has been available on mobile for a while now, but if you’re just introducing someone to mobile navigation, they’re probably not aware of it. It probably feels passe to most of us who’ve been using it for years now, but it’s still a real head-turner to those just learning about it. Key points to get them enthusiastic about Street View are its uses both before and during a trip; scout out the route and get familiar with your destination’s area before you go, then have Street View handy to recognize it when you get there.
What’s your preferred mobile navigation app? Do you use Google Maps, Waze, Navigon, TomTom, or even Apple Maps? Maybe something I haven’t written about here? Let us know about it in the comments!