While there are a few fully featured (and therefore fully priced) navigation apps available on the Apple App Store, there are also a few bargain apps available as well. Some of them are simple map viewers, while others aim to compete with much higher apps such as CoPilot and Navigon, but for a fraction of the price.
This roundup contains several navigation and mapping apps that you might want to add to your own iPad arsenal, plus one app that will help you find your friends, or vice versa, no matter how lost you might become during your urban adventures.
CityMaps2Go (currently on sale for 99 cents, universal)
If you don’t need full GPS services, but can’t stand the thought of dragging a paper map out of your glove compartment when you travel, then you need CityMaps2Go. It includes a comprehensive database of cities for which you can download maps, so all you have to do is download the cities you want to your device before you hit the road. Once the maps are on your device, you don’t need an internet connection.
The maps are well detailed, with POI information from OpenStreetMap, a free online service with user-generated content. Don’t expect exhaustive listings with reviews and contact information–what you’ll be getting here is a pin on the map. Even with that limitation, I found some interesting stuff with the Search Nearby feature, and I actually like this approach better than some I’ve seen, because the maps aren’t cluttered with too much detail–I don’t need every single doctor’s office in town, for example, but I do want to see the major hospitals and pharmacies. If I need something specific, I can narrow down the categories to find only hotels or restaurants, banks, entertainment, schools, post offices, etc.
The regular price for this app is $1.99, but it’s currently on sale for 99 cents. Whichever price you pay for it, CityMaps2Go is a steal and definitely should not be missed. Install it, download a few maps for cities you visit often, and you’ll always be ready to go.
This app takes all of your contacts from the built-in Contacts app and puts them on a map for you. You can see all of them at once, choose to view people with or without company names, and limit the distance to 10, 25, or 50 miles, or unlimited distance. You can also view your contacts as a list, with your approximate distance from each listed on the right side of the screen.
This app is aimed primarily at sales professionals, but it can be useful for anyone. One of the best uses, especially in these days of sky-high gas prices, is to plan out your trips to minimize backtracking and maximize efficiency. Whether you’re a sales rep planning your store visits or a soccer mom planning a carpool, iMap HD can help you get things done more quickly.
It can also prompt you to clean up your contacts, because the results can sometimes be interesting if you don’t have enough information. One of my co-workers ended up in Wichita on the map, because I had only her building and office number in my address book. That happened with one other contact for which I had only an intersection, not a street address, but all of my other entries were perfectly located on the map.
While I counsider iMapHD to be somewhat expensive for what it does, it does perform well and can be of great value to the right user. Anyone looking to get from Point A to Point N and everywhere in between as efficiently as possible should definitely check it out.
MotionX GPS Drive HD ($2.99, subscription required for enhanced features)
If you want one inexpensive app that magically transforms your iPad into an all-in-one navigation device, look no further than GPS Drive HD. All of the controls are laid out logically, with large buttons and clear labels. I didn’t have to spend any time reading a manual or trying to figure out how to use the app, I just went right to work, selecting my destination and tapping the Navigate button when I was ready to go.
You can select your destination in a variety of ways, from choosing one of your contacts, searching for a specific point of interest, or even using the TapTap Destination Tool, which allows you to choose your destination by tapping on the map instead of laboriously entering in the address. If you enter multiple waypoints, the app can optionally create an optimized route that is the fastest route among all of the points you specify, saving time and gas.
If you want voice-guided directions, you’ll have to pay a subscription fee. Thankfully that fee is quite reasonable, just $2.99 a month or $19.99 a year. If you take just a couple of trips a year, you can pay for the app when you need it; if you’re a road warrior who’s always on the road, the annual subscription offers the best value.
There are some nice extras here as well, such as the ability to control your music while the app is directing you to your destination. There are a variety of map view modes, such as aerial and 3D maps, and you can choose how much space is used to store your maps on the iPad–handy if you’re running out of room.
MotionX GPS Drive HD is one of the most popular apps on the Apple App Store, and for good reason. It’s inexpensive, it packs in a ton of features, and it’s very easy to use. Some of the POI information was surprisingly out of date (such as the listing I found for both a restaurant that has been closed for several years and the new restaurant that opened in the same location a couple of years ago), but it was generally accurate. That’s a relatively minor quibble, and I’ll definitely be using this app on my next road trip.
PD Maps (Free, universal)
Like CityMaps2Go, this is primarily a mapping app with a few extra features. POI data is extremely limited, but the maps themselves, which come from a variety of sources such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo, are very detailed. Expect to find most buildings named in downtown areas and on hospital and college campuses, for example, including 3D buildings, plus bus and train stops for public transit.
Map pins are drag and drop, when you want to map out a trip, and you can search for street names or local businesses. Local weather forecasts and traffic congestion overlays are also available. Oddly enough the distances on the map and in the search results are listed in meters, with no way to change that setting, but when you actually map out a trip, the directions and turns do show up in feet and miles.
The user reviews in the App Store are mixed, and for good reason: PD Maps works well, but the user interface is rather arcane and will take some work to figure out. Also, the app works only in portrait mode, though I’m not sure what the reasoning is behind that limitation. Be careful to watch your battery level as well, since neither my iPad nor my iPad Touch went to sleep when they should have, as long as PD Maps was running. And even though PD Maps is a free app, there is a $2.99 Premium User option available via an app purchase. It adds the ability to view maps offline, as well as priority support.
Even with a few quirks here and there, PD Maps is definitely worth a download, though I wouldn’t suggest upgrading to Premium User status without giving the app a thorough workout first. It’s free to try, and if you spend a few minutes with the user manual, you just might find that it meets your needs. Not everyone needs full GPS capabilities, and most of the time a simple map will do. But PD Maps covers the entire globe with no gaps, and once you get the hang of it, it works well and provides a good level of detail. It’s also a lot easier to fold than a paper map.
Route Here (Free, universal)
Route Here is an extremely simple app with one purpose–to help you find your friends, or be found yourself. When you open the app, it automatically locates you; if the result isn’t perfectly accurate, you can adjust your location as necessary. Then tap Send to choose which contact you want to send your location information to, either via email or text message.
It also works in reverse, which is very handy if you’re meeting a friend for lunch in a new restaurant and you can’t quite figure it out. Tap Find Friend in the top left corner of the screen, choose a contact, and they will be sent an email inviting them to point out their exact location on a map. Once they respond, you get a push notification from the app and you’ll see their location on the map when you open the app.
It’s simple, but it’s free and it works, and in the right situation can be extremely useful. If you’re always lost, or have friends who always seem to be lost, it’s worth the free download, especially since it doesn’t take up much space on your device.
Topo Maps (Free, universal)
If you’re the outdoor type, Topo Maps is the app for you. While it includes basic road maps, the focus here is on topographic maps. You can search for specific addresses or drop pins on the map, with the option to get directions to an individual waypoint or email specific information about the location of a pin to yourself or others. There’s a handy compass at the top of the screen that shows either true or magnetic north.
You can download selected portions of maps for free, to ensure that you have access even when you’re offline. Topo Maps is a good basic app for any outdoor afficionado, and the price is certainly reasonable. If you need more advanced outdoor GPS functionality, take a look at Gaia GPS or Gaia GPS Lite, by the same developer.
Transit Maps (Free, universal)
This isn’t a navigation app per se, though it can certainly be used for navigational purposes if you have your data in the right format. Transit Maps was designed to handle the large route maps published by many major city public transit systems, downloading them directly from a web page. It does a great job of that, opening even gigantic PDF files with ease. But since it works with PNG, JPG, and GIF files as well, it can work with a variety of maps and other graphical files.
This is truly a magical app, in the sense that it’s quite simple on the surface, but performs so well. No matter how large the map, I’ve never been able to crash the app. Zooming in and out, even by a large percentage at a time, is always smooth and practically instantaneous. The graphical detail and quality are top notch, though of course that depends on the source file. The only real limitation is that you can only download maps directly into the app; there’s no way to load your own documents unless you happen to have your own web site and can host them there.
Other than that issue, Transit Maps is virtually flawless, and a must-have. Even if you don’t plan to use it for navigational purposes, the ease with which it handles large PDF and image files makes it useful in a wide variety of circumstances.
Trapster (Free, iPhone version also available)
Do you have a lead foot? Do you have a traffic lawyer on speed dial? If so, this free app may help you to avoid a few tickets, even if it isn’t successful in encouraging you to change your ways. Trapster is an app offered by the web site of the same name, where community members log in to report speed traps, red light cameras, and other “hazardous” conditions.
You can search for a specific intersection and get a list of traps near you, including dangerous road conditions, toll booths, and school zones. You can also create trip journals with photos, get traffic reports, share trap information with your Facebook friends and Twitter followers, and even see fellow Trapster users on the map in real time.
Options include the ability to filter alerts based on confidence level, and you can choose to receive alerts in four different languages and ten different accents/personalities, from New York cab driver to Santa Claus. That’s a good thing, since the app is too dangerous to try and use actively while driving–it requires too many taps to get details on each hazard. You can also use it to plan your route ahead of time, avoiding the worst speed traps.