Last week, I worked my way through all of the currently available iPhone on-board GPS applications. I stuck with just the applications that held all of the maps on-board -- meaning that you didn't need to have a network connection to use the maps or routing. CoPilot came out as our winner as it has the best features, though some very confusing, for it's price.
But we thought it would be a good idea to do a re-cap and compare all 5 of the GPS I looked at last week and include the first iPhone GPS application, G-Map.
[caption id="attachment_17061" align="alignright" width="200" caption="Click, Ignore, Repeat"] [/caption]Taking a look at some of the odds and ends, some of the things that you don't usually think of when thinking about GPS applications, these features can really add to or detract from the value of a GPS application on the iPhone. One example, the annoying legal notice at the start of the application. On a normal GPS app it might not be as much as an issue as it's a single use device. With the iPhone, you might be going to change the music in the iPod, getting phone calls, etc. You might see it multiple times in the course of a single route. We're talking about the little click-through license you see when you start the app that says you agree not to use the application in all of the situations the developers say you should use the GPS app because they don't want to the sued when you crash. Stupid, yes, annoying, yes, but 3 of the six make you click through it every time you launch the app.
[/caption]Taking a look at some of the odds and ends, some of the things that you don't usually think of when thinking about GPS applications, these features can really add to or detract from the value of a GPS application on the iPhone. One example, the annoying legal notice at the start of the application. On a normal GPS app it might not be as much as an issue as it's a single use device. With the iPhone, you might be going to change the music in the iPod, getting phone calls, etc. You might see it multiple times in the course of a single route. We're talking about the little click-through license you see when you start the app that says you agree not to use the application in all of the situations the developers say you should use the GPS app because they don't want to the sued when you crash. Stupid, yes, annoying, yes, but 3 of the six make you click through it every time you launch the app.
What about iPod integration? Well the good news is that some handle it better than the others, but with the latest releases of these apps all of them at the very least let you continue to play music while using the app. Navigon does the best job of iPod integration allowing you to control the iPod and what is playing directly in the app.
Some of the GPS applications that can help include lane assist. This is the inclusion of graphics on screen when you come up to an interchange that tell you which lane you need to follow. Four of the six have this with G-Map, Navigon, and iGo going the extra step of providing detailed enhanced lane assist.
Surprisingly, none of the apps utilize the compass built into the iPhone 3GS to enhance the navigation. Hopefully something we'll see added in the future as more people have the 3GS or future models with a built in compass.
This is where the best apps really stand out. While not important to everyone, enhanced routing can be a useful thing. CoPilot really stands out here with not only the ability to do multiple point routes, saving and loading of routes, but also the ability to include addresses from contacts in those routes. Navigon comes up second in that with great features for editing and saving routes.
These seem like simple functions, but most of the GPS applications just provide routing functions that get you from your current location to a single destination point.
We had no problems with accuracy of the roads and routing on any of the apps other than Sygic. This is something they are apparently working on and should update soon (we hope).
This is the big question. GPS manufacturers are used to a constant revenue stream of updates for maps on their devices. iPhone user aren't used to paying for updates. How will this shake out.
So far only iGo have come right out and said that this version, iGo My Way 2009 will receive quarterly updates through the end of 2010. I'm guessing we'll see the same from others, but so far no other developer have set an actual end date.
I expect iPhone owners to go crazy with 1 star ratings as soon as they have to start paying for map updates. It's the nature of the iPhone beast I guess.
What we want to see
The truth is, each of the applications has their high points but they all left us wanting much more. Here we have a GPS device more powerful than any other in the past. Fast processor, accelerometers, built in compass, and the big thing, network connectivity. We really want to see GPS developers step out of the box and start to create connected services in their applications that really blow us away.
Some of the connected features will likely cost money, as expected, and will likely be worth it. Traffic, fuel prices, if up to date and well done I have no problem paying a bit per year for. Other services, simple ones that improve the parts of the application that are lacking are counter-intuitive to charge for. For example, while CoPilot provides the most services (for an extra $20/year), the idea that you have to pay for their POI search is crazy. This is already built into the Maps application and a thousand other apps. This, alone should be free to make up for their very outdated built in POI database.
G-Map were the first full on-board GPS application for the iPhone. They actually provided turn-by-turn routing before Apple allowed this from applications and had to pull their app from the App Store. G-Map is overall a good application and fairly well featured. The problem is that it currently just feels a little dated. The developers haven't really used the time advantage that they've had to create the killer app they could have. Unfortunate really as they must have known that the big guns would be releasing apps eventually.
G-Map oddly provides their mapping software in parts. You can buy the US East, US West, and Canada separately. They also provide solutions for smaller parts of the US, usually 2 state packs for $19.99. Take a look at all of their different packages on the App Store.
Mobile Navigator was the first post-OS 3.0 iPhone GPS release and it has been very popular. Mobile Navigator continues to be the best selling iPhone GPS application and for good reason. It's a very well done application, easily beating most of the others in features. It does a really good job or routing and has a great lane assist feature.
It's latest version brings the first full text-to-speech engine, which announces the street names as well as turn directions, to the iPhone. It also includes the best iPod integration. Very well done. The only issue is that it's price is rather high and we don't know how long updates will be provided.
Navigon provides versions for parts of the world outside the US as well. Take a look at all of their offerings on the App Store.
TomTom were featured during the WWDC keynote where Apple detailed features of the 3.0 version of it iPhone OS. After that there was some confusion if the hardware they showed would be included with the price of the app. Even once the app was released people were wondering as their price, $99.99 was the highest of all of the GPS apps. I think some people thought that if they bought the app that the bracket would magically appear on their windshield. Well we now know that that the bracket will be an extra $120.
The app itself, while the most iPhone like of all of the apps, is rather short on features. You do get TomTom's excellent maps and routing database. But still, except for the name I'm not really sure it's worth the extra cost.
TomTom also provides versions for many other parts of the world, take a look at the App Store.
The biggest complaint we had with iGo My Way was that it was an obviously rushed port of their software. Absolutely no thought was given on how to make it an iPhone-like application, either in the user interface for features.
That said, it's a competent application for GPS, looks good and is responsive. We just want to see more, feature and integration wise on the iPhone. iGo have done one thing that we like though. They have been very up front with their notice that they will provide map updates through 2010. I like this and hope other will be as up front as well.
iGo is available in multiple versions for various parts of the world. Check them out in the App Store.
Sygic finished at the bottom of our rankings and unfortunately even after an update remain there. While they have added a few missing features with this latest update, their maps and routing remain the most out of date. They do seem very willing to update their app and we expect to see them correct that issue fairly soon.
In the mean time they have reduced the price of their application to celebrate this latest version by $20. They also provide other regions other than the US (including a version with US, Canada, and Mexico) and are available in the App Store.
CoPilot came out on top of our rankings, and rightly so. It easily provides the most bang for the buck for iPhone GPS applications. They are also the first to provide live traffic display in their app, albeit for an additional $20/year. They also provide Live Search (like the location search in Google Maps), and fuel prices search (very limited), for that $20.
If the GPS app is something you use a lot, it is likely worth the extra $20/year. CoPilot is also available for other regions in the App Store.
What we've seen is really just the start. These are the first draft iPhone GPS applications. What we really need for the iPhone is what Dash was trying to do for GPS devices -- but hopefully whoever does it for the iPhone won't go out of business like Dash.
As we stated in our reviews, currently CoPilot has the best features for the least amount of money and is the best option for the iPhone. But we still hope for a lot more from GPS developers and we look forward to the updates that are undoubtedly in the pipeline.