A long time has passed since we last relied on hunting and gathering for our survival. For better or for worse, our natural instincts for orientation have gone down the drain as well. And good luck with looking at the stars in the light-polluted cities in which we live. Good thing companies are quick to identify and cater to our weaknesses. In fact, too quick, as the market is already flooded with navigation apps. But before you rush and download a bunch of them, don’t bother – here are the only four you will ever need.
I am looking forward to the time (probably in no more than 10 years) when I will come back from work in a Google Car, dine on my Google Table and then go to sleep, covered with my Google Blanket. But for now let’s focus on one of their existing products – Google Maps. It consistently ranks as one of the best navigation apps thanks to the countless options it gives you. You can avoid heavy traffic as well as highways and toll roads. After the acquisition of Waze in June, Google Maps will now forewarn about potential hazards, accidents, road constructions and other reported issues, so you can reroute. And good news for all iPhone owners – Google Maps is now available for iOS, so hurry up and install it before Apple Maps send you straight into the desert. One of the areas Google Maps can improve on is speed. Users are complaining about the lack of a button that starts directions straight away without the need to specify different options.
When reading reviews of this app, it’s not uncommon to see it called “The Swiss army knife of GPS navigation”. And there’s a reason for that – this clever app gives you a bunch of technical details about your ride, probably a lot more than you asked for. No, seriously, here’s the list of dashboard features it boasts on the Google Play Store: “Accuracy, Altitude, Speed, Battery, Bearing, Climb, Course, Date, Declination, Distance, ETA, Latitude, Longitude, Max Speed, Min Speed, Actual Speed, True Speed, Sunrise, Sunset, Moonset, Moonrise, Moon Phase, Target, Time, TTG, Turn.” Obviously, some of these are useless unless you work at the Navy of the Air Force, but don’t worry – you can choose only the widgets you use so all these values won’t be cluttering your screen. There’s a feature called “Tracks” that records information about your trips – distance traveled, speed (both average and maximum, so don’t show it if you get pulled over) and altitude, etc.
Even though it was acquired by Google for close to a billion, Waze will continue to be a separate app. The developers at the Israeli company stand behind the principle that “nothing can beat real people working together”. Its crowd-sourcing technology has proved to be a real formula for success in a market crammed with niche-like navigation apps. With now approaching almost 50 million users, Waze shares real-time information about traffic conditions, cheapest gas prices and changes in infrastructure. You might think that can’t possibly be as accurate as satellite images but you shouldn’t underestimate the power of tech-obsessed people in huge numbers. Plus, no satellite can be as fast as someone discovering a dead end street and alerting others that very same moment. And to add a social element, Waze makes it easier to “bump into” your friends. All it takes is logging into Facebook and you can see which of your contacts is headed in the same direction as you. Now you see it’s no wonder that the three tech giants – Google, Apple and Facebook – took an interest in Waze.
Navfree USA is probably the best among the free apps that offer downloadable maps. Actually, it’s not an offer, it’s a requirement – you need to download the maps before you use the app. But that has its upside – it makes loading maps faster and you won’t have to worry about maxing out your mobile limit or going out of coverage. The US version will serve you throughout the States, Canada and Mexico, but should you decide to venture overseas, there’s an international version with maps for 34 countries. It has some cool features such as low glare mode for night driving and automatic volume adjustment for your music when the voice guidance is on, as well as pedestrian navigation. The user interface can be a bit of a nuisance and you have to bear with sponsored ads, but there’s only so much you can expect from a free navigation app that’s not owned by a tech giant. Similarly to Waze, Navfree offers its users the ability to improve the maps. All you need to do is sign up at OpenStreetMap.