Tech Insight : Google Maps Alternatives

In this insight, we look at what’s good about Google Maps, what may be less ideal about it, plus we provide 10 examples of alternative mapping and navigation apps.

What’s Good About Google Maps? 

Before we look at potential reasons for trying alternatives, it’s worth acknowledging why Google Maps (with 1.8 billion monthly active users worldwide) is the ‘Go To’ mapping and navigation service globally. The fact that it’s from tech giant Google with its vast reach, resources and data capabilities, plus the fact that Google Maps has been around for 19 years and (crucially) that it is pre-installed on Android devices (which dominates the global smartphone market) has a lot to do with its popularity. However, as anyone who’s used Google Maps will know, it’s also got some key features that make it a great app.

These include :

– Real-time navigation and traffic updates, providing turn-by-turn directions and alerts about accidents and road closures, helping users find the fastest routes and avoid traffic jams.

– Street View provides a 360-degree photographic view of streets, allowing users to easily visualise their surroundings, which helps in better orientation and planning.

– Live View uses augmented reality (AR) to overlay ‘real world’ directions through the phone’s camera, simplifying on-foot navigation and making it easier to follow directions accurately.

– Detailed information about local businesses, including hours of operation, contact information, and user reviews, helps users make informed decisions about where to eat, shop, or find services, ensuring they choose the best options available.

– Public transport information offers schedules, routes, and estimated arrival times for buses, trains, and other public transport, facilitating the planning of multi-modal trips and optimising travel, thus saving time, and reducing stress.

– Offline maps allow users to download maps for specific areas to use without an internet connection, ensuring navigation and location services are available, even in areas with poor connectivity.

– The ‘Explore’ tab suggests nearby attractions, restaurants, and points of interest based on user preferences and current trends, making it easier to discover new and interesting places.

– Custom maps and saved places enable users to create personalised maps and save favourite locations for future reference, which is useful for planning trips and keeping track of important spots.

There are many other features but not all of them or recent changes to Google Maps may be attractive to all users – there are too many to list in this insight.

Possible Criticisms of Google Maps 

We’ve acknowledged what’s great about Maps, but with Google adding more features to and updating / changing aspects of Maps in recent times, some have criticised aspects of it. Some of the less pleasing aspects of Google Maps for some users may be:

– Having too many distracting coloured pins and markers, some of which may not be relevant to the search, e.g. pink for hotels, orange ones for pubs and eateries, dark blue ones for shops.

– The lighter colour scheme introduced in November (e.g. roads are grey instead of white or yellow) has been described by some as ‘colder’, with maps that may be more challenging for people with colour blindness to read.

– The Explore tab may appear too crowded with photos and user reviews.

– A more crowded layout can sometimes obscure/fail to show basic information such as the name of the street the user is looking at.

– Frequent changes and updates to the interface can confuse users who have become accustomed to a previous layout, making it harder for them to navigate the app effectively.

– Battery consumption is relatively high, especially when using features like real-time navigation and live traffic updates, which can be a significant drawback for users on the go.

– Privacy concerns have been raised regarding the extent of data collection and location tracking, even when the app is not actively in use, which can be unsettling for some users.

– Some users find that the suggested routes and estimated travel times can be inaccurate, particularly in less populated areas or during unusual traffic conditions.

10 Alternatives 

Google Maps is, of course, not the only mapping and navigation app. Whether you’re unhappy with Google Maps or simply want to take a look at or try similar apps, here are 10 popular alternatives:

1.Waze 

Waze has over 140 million monthly active users globally, making it one of the most popular navigation apps worldwide. Waze offers real-time, community-driven navigation, providing alerts about traffic, accidents, road hazards, and speed traps. Users can share live updates, which helps the app suggest the fastest routes based on current conditions. Waze’s popularity is further boosted by its integration with carpooling services, i.e., it’s not just a navigation tool but also a platform for shared commuting.

2. Apple Maps 

Not surprisingly, being integrated into the Apple ecosystem, Apple Maps is very popular with an estimated user base of approximately 74 million monthly active users. Apple Maps provides turn-by-turn navigation, real-time traffic updates, and seamless integration with other Apple services. It also offers features like Flyover for 3D views of major cities, as well as detailed information on points of interest.

3. MapFactor Navigator 

MapFactor Navigator uses offline maps based on OpenStreetMap data, offering turn-by-turn navigation without needing an internet connection. It supports voice guidance, speed limits, and various routing options for different vehicle types.

4. HereWeGo 

HereWeGo provides detailed offline maps, public transport information, and route planning for various modes of travel, including driving, walking, and cycling. It also includes features like fare information for public transport and integration with ride-sharing services.

5. TomTom GO Navigation 

Part the of the same company that was well-known for manufacturing standalone sat navs, which has since had to transition from hardware to software solutions, TomTom GO Navigation offers offline maps, real-time traffic information, and speed camera alerts, making it a reliable choice for navigation.

6. Citymapper 

Founded by Azmat Yusuf, a former Google employee, in 2011, Citymapper’s app is excellent for urban navigation, providing detailed public transport information, bike routes, and walking directions, particularly useful in cities.

7. Maps.me 

Maps.me (developed in Zurich and originally known as MapsWithMe) offers offline maps with turn-by-turn navigation, making it ideal for travellers and those in areas with poor internet connectivity.

8. Sygic 

Sygi, the company, is based in Bratislava, Slovakia, but the Sygic app is very popular, reportedly having more than 200 million users worldwide! Sygi provides offline maps, real-time traffic updates, and speed limit warnings. It also integrates with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for a seamless in-car experience.

9. Komoot

Developed by a German company, Komoot is tailored for outdoor activities like hiking and cycling, offering detailed topographic maps, route planning, and community-generated content for various trails and paths.

10. OsmAnd  

OsmAnd is a highly versatile navigation app that uses OpenStreetMap data to provide offline maps and turn-by-turn navigation. It supports a range of features, including route planning for various modes of travel, detailed offline maps, and the ability to mark favourite locations and points of interest. This app is particularly useful for those who prefer open-source solutions and need detailed offline capabilities.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

For some, recent changes to Google Maps may be less to their liking, e.g. possibly due to a busier (some would say more cluttered) interface with perhaps too many coloured pins, a colder colour scheme (less friendly to those with colour blindness), and perhaps a more crowded layout that sometimes obscures basic information. These changes can potentially make the user experience less intuitive and enjoyable, leading to dissatisfaction among some users.

For Google, such criticisms may represent challenges in balancing the addition of new features with maintaining a user-friendly interface. While Google Maps continues to be extremely popular, to evolve and innovate, addressing these user concerns is crucial for retaining its vast user base and ensuring continued satisfaction.

For businesses and users considering alternatives, this landscape presents an opportunity. Trying other mapping and navigation apps can not only address specific user needs better but also foster competition and innovation in the market. Alternative apps like Waze, Apple Maps, and HereWeGo, each with their unique features, might offer a more tailored experience, particularly for users dissatisfied with recent changes in Google Maps.

As Google Maps continues to develop, it will likely focus on integrating more advanced technologies and enhancing its features to maintain its competitive edge. This includes leveraging AI for improving real-time traffic predictions, providing more accurate estimated times of arrival, and enhancing route planning by analysing historical and real-time data. Features like Live View, which uses augmented reality to provide on-the-ground navigation, show Google’s commitment to using cutting-edge technology to enhance the user experience.

For businesses, staying informed about these developments is essential. Exploring various mapping and navigation tools can help optimise navigation and improve customer experience. Adopting the latest technologies can ensure businesses provide accurate, efficient, and user-friendly services. This proactive approach can ultimately benefit both the business and its customers, ensuring that they stay competitive in a rapidly evolving digital landscape.

Security Stop Press : Google Maps Data Security Announcement

Google has announced that Google Maps Timeline (formerly known as Location History) data will be stored locally on users’ devices instead of their Google account (in the Cloud) from December 1, 2024. Timeline helps users track routes, trips, and places they have been to over time if Location History and Web & App Activity settings are enabled.

The change, first announced in December 2023, is understood to be a move to help with user privacy and control of their data, e.g. following allegations that Google misled consumers and illegally tracked their movements despite turning off Location History, and to reduce the risk of unauthorised access and data breaches.

Also, the move may help Google to comply with increasing data protection regulations. Google says, however, that since the data shown on a user’s Timeline comes directly from their device, Timeline won’t be available on Maps on the user’s computer after their data is moved to their phone but there is the option for users to back up Timeline data to the cloud with end-to-end encryption.

Tech Insight : A Dozen Handy Google Maps Tricks

With Google Maps now one of the most popular mapping services globally, used by millions of people every day, plus having new features regularly being added, here we look at a dozen top Google Maps (Android) tricks to help you on your way.

Driving 

Since Google Maps can be extremely useful in the car, the first few tricks are for driving.

1. Set Departure or Arrival Times 

What it is: With this feature, you can plan a route based on your desired departure or arrival time.

Benefits: This is a great way to help with your scheduling by estimating travel time based on traffic predictions.

How-to: To use this feature, search for your destination and tap on “Directions.”

Choose your mode of transport. Then, tap on the three dots next to the “Your location” field.

Select “Set depart or arrive time” to choose your desired time, and see the estimated duration.

2. Smarter Driving with Google Assistant 

What it is: This is a helpful driving mode with messaging assistance.

Benefits: It reads messages aloud and provides you with driving notifications.

How-to: In “Navigation settings” enable “Google Assistant settings” and “Get messaging help while driving.” Adjust the message alert settings and activate “Driving notifications.”

3. Choosing The Fastest Routes Over Fuel-Efficient Ones 

What it is: If time is really of the essence, Google Maps allows you to opt for the fastest route instead of the (default) fuel-efficient one.

Benefits: Saves time / gets you there fast.

How-to: Disable “Prefer fuel-efficient routes” in “Navigation settings” > “Route options.”

4. Smarter Searching Along The Route 

What it is: If you need to plan some stops along the way, this feature helps you to search for the kind of places you’re interested in along your current route.

Benefits: Finds your stops without the need for detouring.

How-to: From the directions screen, tap the three-dot menu > “Search along route.”

Next, type in the kind of thing you’re looking for along the way e.g., restaurants, petrol stations, or specific businesses.

5. Traffic Tracking 

What it is: This can be particularly helpful on UK roads because it allows you to view real-time traffic information during navigation.

Benefits: Keeps you informed about traffic conditions so, hopefully, you can avoid the jams.

How-to: During navigation, swipe up (on the time estimate panel > activate “Show traffic on map.”

Making Things Easier 

These next tricks offer ways to just save time and make things easier for yourself within Google Maps.

6. Glanceable Directions 

What it is: This offers an enhanced navigation view with detailed steps and ETA – everything you need at a glance rather than having to search within Google Maps.

Benefits: Easier navigation and a better route overview.

How-to: Open Maps, tap profile picture > “Settings” > “Navigation settings.”

Activate “Glanceable directions.”

7. Live View for Walking 

What it is: This makes it much easier to know and see more of what’s actually around you while you’re walking along, especially if it’s somewhere you haven’t been before. Live View for Walking uses augmented reality to help with walking directions.

Benefits: Easier navigation in unfamiliar areas.

How-to: Start walking directions, and tap “Live View” (near the bottom).

8. Spot Saving 

What it is: If you’ve just found a great parking spot and you’d like to remember where it was for future reference, this feature will save your parking spot (or any location).

Benefits: Easy return navigation.

How-to: Tap the blue dot > “Save parking” and add details if needed.

9. Pinned Places 

What it is: If you need to visit the same place(s), it’s much easier to have these places saved somewhere so you can quickly pull them up rather than type them in anew each time. Pinned places does just that – it pins common trips for quick access.

Benefits: Simplifies starting navigation to frequent destinations.

How-to: Pin trips from the (main Maps screen) “Go” tab (at the bottom) or from the directions screen.

Eating 

Google Maps now provides plenty of details for nearby places to eat. Here’s a helpful trick if you’re looking for your favourite type of food.

10. Better Restaurant Suggestions

What it is: This Filters restaurant searches by various criteria.

Benefits: Tailored dining options.

How-to: After selecting “Restaurants” you can tap the filter icon and apply filters to find just the kind of food you’re looking for in the area.

Sharing 

If you’re meeting up with people (or just to make things safer), it can be useful to let others know where you are. This next trick does just that.

11. Shared Places 

What it is: A way to share your real-time location.

Benefits: Lets others track your progress.

How-to: Tap the blue location dot (within the main maps screen) > “Share location” or use “Share trip progress” during navigation.

Customising 

Customising a map can be a great way to make it simpler and faster for you to see what you need to see. This final trick helps with just that.

12. Customise Your Map with Labels 

What it is: You can add your own personal labels to locations for easier identification.

Benefits: This simplifies finding frequently visited places or marking spots of interest with custom names.

How-to: Search for a location or long-press on the map to select a place. Next, tap on the location’s name or address at the bottom, then choose “Label.” Enter your custom label name and save. The label will appear on your map for future reference.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

With other popular mapping tools available, Google has tried very hard in recent times to add a variety of extra useful features to Google Maps in order to compete and to retain and engage its users. However, although many of us use Google Maps, we’re unlikely to have the time or the inclination to read-up on the growing number of features and may only use Google Maps as and when, perhaps sticking to the same basic features each time. The hope is, therefore, that this collection of tricks may provide you with some useful tools and inspiration to get more value from Google Maps, perhaps saving you some valuable time and enhancing aspects of the journey on your next business or leisure trip.

Tech News : Google Maps Gets AI Boost

Google has announced that it is trying out generative AI within Google Maps as a way for users to discover new places based on their questions.

How? 

What Google means is that if users, for example, are visiting a town or city, they can simply tell Google Maps what they’re looking for and AI will find it. Google’s large-language models (LLMs) analyse the information in Maps and then make suggestions for where to go based on the user’s question. Google says that the ability to suggest places on the fly using generative AI will benefit users if they are “feeling spontaneous or need to change your plans suddenly.” 

Example 

The US-based example given by Google about how it works is: “Let’s say you’re visiting San Francisco and want to plan a few hours of thrifting for unique vintage finds. Just ask Maps what you’re looking for, like ‘places with a vintage vibe in SF.’ Our AI models will analyse Maps’ rich information about nearby businesses and places along with photos, ratings, and reviews from the Maps community to give you trustworthy suggestions.” 

Google says the results are displayed in “helpful categories” 

Experiment – Local Guides First 

Google says that adding generative AI Maps is at the “early access experiment” stage and it is currently being tested in the US among “select Local Guides” (members of its Maps community who give feedback on new Maps products and updates).

Search Updated In October 

This latest “supercharging Maps with generative AI” is the next step onwards from the addition of generative AI to Search in Maps back in October last year. That change meant that the generative AI overlayed photos of what users were looking for on the map. The photos (such as food or realistic pictures of buildings) came from photos shared by users and advanced image recognition models.

Other features introduced at the time also included information about charging stations on routes for EV drivers (Android and iOS) and, in the US, the addition of Lens in Maps. Previously known as Search with Live View, Lens uses AI and AR to show where there are nearby ATMs, restaurants, and more.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

Google says the addition of generative AI to Maps is “just the beginning” and it certainly provides incredible scope for adding more layers of value and augmentation of the Maps product.

Google, like Microsoft, has invested heaviy in AI and in December it introduced its “Gemini” model which it described as the “most capable and general model we’ve ever built” and which can understand, operate across, and combine different types of information including text, code, audio, image, and video. Also, like Microsoft, Google is keen to get its generative AI both incorporated into (and adding value to) its suite of products and, crucially, monetise it by packaging it into new products like Gemini Pro and Gemini Ultra.

The AI “supercharged” Maps is likely to provide more new opportunities for Google to expand its advertising revenue. It also highlights the importance, particularly for businesses with premises that attract customers in the local area (e.g., restaurants and shops) of getting plenty of good reviews on their Google business profile. It also shows the importance of keeping this (and their website) up to date with their latest products and services, perhaps making sure they’re mentioned in their reviews so that AI can select their business when a person asks the AI in Maps for a specific product/service in the area. Google is, therefore, using AI to retain and re-engage businesses with its products.