Making Mapping Apps Even Better

May 16, 2014

in App Reviews

  • SumoMe

Google-Maps-logo.jpgSmartphone and tablet mapping apps, such as Google Maps and MapQuest, are among those that I have found most useful when traveling away from home, in part because they are apps that I often use to find my way around the San Francisco Bay Area where I live.

So when I saw that both of these mapping apps have included some new features, I decided to take each for a “test drive” on my iPhone while sitting in front of my computer typing this story.

Here’s what I learned.

New on Google Maps App

The Google Maps app for Apple mobile devices has several new functional additions.

Lane Guidance

What is “Lane Guidance”? It’s available with turn-by-turn directions, so I presume that the Google Maps app will now say (if you’ve got the voice guidance feature turned on) something like “Get in the far right lane and prepare to turn right at the next intersection.”

If so, that could be very useful when you are driving down a multi-lane road and there is no street or highway sign that tells you which lane to be in if you need to make a turn up ahead.

For example, in California, when you drive on a freeway overpass sometimes you have to turn left across traffic in order to get on the freeway, while at other times you must make a sweeping 270 degree right hand turn to enter the highway. But often the sign telling you which lane to be in isn’t visible until just before you need to make the turn.

This graphic shows how  “Lane Guidance” will display on your mobile device.

image

Google says that “Lane Guidance” is available in:

  • Canada: highways
  • Japan: non-highway roads
  • United States: highways and local roads in major metropolitan areas

Distance, Travel Time, and ETA

Mapping apps have always been able to calculate the distance and driving time from your current position to your final destination.

For example, I recently stayed at Wuksachi Lodge in Sequoia National Park, and the Google Maps app told me that if I took the fastest route to there from my home I would travel 276 miles over 4 hours and 55 minutes without stops.

But as far as I can recall, in the past neither Google Maps nor MapQuest have been able to display your estimated time of arrival; that’s something you had to “do the math” for either in your head or on a piece of paper.

Now when you hit the “Start” navigation button in the Google Maps app, you’ll be told when you should arrive. So If I were to take the same trip to Sequoia this week, and left right now, the app says that I’d arrive at 3:22 p.m.

Hopefully, the ETA for my destination will be automatically updated and I’ll be verbally informed by the app of any change of arrival time if traffic conditions change, or if I make stops along the way.

For example, the app might say “Due to heavy traffic along your route, your estimated time of arrival is now 3:45 p.m.” Or, if I stopped for lunch and gas (as I did when I traveled to the Sierras last week), after I hopped back in my car and resumed navigation with the app I might be told “You are now scheduled to arrive at your destination at 4:17 p.m.”

Saving Maps Offline

The May 14, 2014 update to Google Maps app for Apple mobile devices says:

“Save offline maps to a custom list for when you’re traveling or have a slow connection.”

Wuksachi Map photo

First I “saved” Wuksachi Lodge as a “place.”

Wuksachi Directions photo

Later, with my iPhone in Airplane Mode, I tapped on the icon for my Profile, selected the lodge from the the list of saved places, and quickly got access to the Home-to-Sequoia-National-Park driving directions as an offline map.

Letting Your Feet Do The Walking

If you’re going to take public transit, say from your San Francisco hotel to the Ferry Building, the Google Maps app can give you walking time and directions from your hotel to the stop where you’ll catch the bus, and to the Ferry Building from where you hop off the bus.

But now the app will tell you upfront the total walking time for the trip, as well as displaying the time for each walking segment.

Filtering Search Results

If you use the Google Maps app to search for places, such as “restaurants,” you can now filter the search results by “rating, price, opening hours, and more.”

I found that filtering works if you enter a search word for the category of place, such as “restaurants,” but curiously it is not available if you tap on “Restaurants” under “Explore” box in the app.

Using Uber App with Google Maps App

The latest update to the Google Maps app links up with the Uber ride service.

“If you have the Uber app installed, open it right from Google Maps when comparing route options.”

According to this report from Mashable, “route options” means the option of walking or taking public transit vs. riding with an Uber driver.

Uber photo

You’ll find the “Get an Uber” option at the very bottom of the list of transit/walking routes.  If you tap on it, the Uber app will be launched on your mobile device.

MapQuest Mobile App Update

There are two new features in the MapQuest mobile app worth mentioning.

Airport Flight Delays

The May 14, 2014 update to the iPhone/iPad MapQuest app says:

“Headed to the airport? Known delays are now available, right on the map! Just click on the airport’s marker to view the details.”

Figuring that there would undoubtedly be flight delays at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, I checked the FAA’s Website and confirmed that flights headed to O’Hare were subject to a ground delay at their departure airports.

Taping on the little “ORD” dot on the FAA map brought up more specific information:

“Due to WEATHER / WIND, there is a Traffic Management Program in effect for traffic arriving Chicago OHare International Airport, Chicago, IL (ORD). This is causing some arriving flights to be delayed an average of 1 hour and 14 minutes. To see if you may be affected, select your departure airport and check “Delays by Destination”.

image

Taping “Details” on the MapQuest iPhone app’s map for O’Hare displayed that ground hold information in an abbreviated fashion:

MQ OHare photo

Similar flight delay information was available for other major U.S. airports using the MapQuest app. (Flight delay information is also shown on the MapQuest maps opened with a Web browser.)

However, presumably because the MapQuest app gets its information from the FAA Website, it didn’t show delays for European airports such as Charles De Gaulle in Paris.

Places of Interest

For at least some “places of interest,” the MapQuest app now displays information such as business hours, restaurant cuisine type, and photos.

I found such information for the well-known Slanted Door restaurant at the San Francisco Ferry Building, but nothing at all (except for a hypertext link to the Website) for the wildly popular Exploratorium museum just down the street from that restaurant.

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