Road Trip Apps


Over the past few months, we have done two long road trips: one approximately 4,000 km and the other about 1,800 km. These gave us the chance to try out various apps for navigation and travel information. We live in Queensland, Australia and some of these comments may be country-specific.


The basic navigation came down to three apps:

Each has their strengths and weaknesses:

  • Apple Maps is by far the most beautiful and easy to read. It integrates perfectly with Contacts (as you would expect). Turn-by-turn directions were mostly excellent. The biggest downside is that it does not allow you to specify a route avoiding tolls.

  • Google Maps allows you to plot a route avoiding tolls… if you can find the setting. Its traffic reporting is by far the best and it would offer suggested changes of routes during the trip to get around traffic. The interface is confusing at times. Turn-by-turn directions were good, although I would have preferred an Australian voice option.

  • Metroview has all the maps downloaded which saves on data connection costs and handles bad connectivity areas better. Its best feature is notification of speed limits and alerts if you go over the limit, although it gets confused when on over or under-passes. Another very useful feature is the display of lanes when approaching highway exits, so you could tell which lane to be in. Apparently the voice guidance is now more natural but we didn’t try this. The display is messy and cluttered compared to the others.

We ended up with the following sequence:

  1. Apple Maps for the bulk of the trip.
  2. Google Maps & Metroview (on 2 separate iPhones) in the metropolitan areas and when about to take a highway exit.

Even then it was amusing to see the apps panic when you took a new road and the apps assumed you had left the road and were heading through the bush! And at one point there was a large and official sign saying “Ignore GPS - do not take this turn” and sure enough, both Apple Maps and Google Maps wanted us to turn down a little country lane instead of keeping to the highway.


Speed Display:

Apart from the basic navigation apps, we tried a couple of speed display apps. There are a lot of HUD speed apps out there that project the data on the the windscreen but they had two problems:

  • They only worked when it was dark. As soon as the sun got up, they became invisible.
  • They required you to place your iPhone flat on the dashboard so even if they had worked during the day, the iPhone would have got far too hot and shut-down. (We have a mount that holds our iPhones in front of the air vents to avoid this over-heating problem. Any mount that sticks to the windscreen itself leaves the iPhone too exposed to the sun.)

One we stuck with (in non-HUD mode) was Speedometer + HUD. This had a clear display with a few flaws:

  • When moving from 99 kph to 100 kph, the display was not re-arranged for 3 digits. Moving from 101 down to 100 fixed it, but as 100 kph is the standard speed limit, this was a frequent annoyance.
  • Adjusting the speed limit was too fiddly and difficult even for the passenger. It would have been impossible for the driver.
  • It only works in landscape mode which does not always suit the car mounts - we ended up perching the 2nd iPhone on the unused ashtray.

We also tried Talking HUD but didn’t like it. It worked solely in HUD mode, so was only useful at night or very early morning. It had voice prompts to tell you when to change gear but in an automatic car, they were just a distraction and it was not obvious how to turn them off.

But overall, we found having a speed display app as well as a navigation app to be the best combination. The audible alerts when you went over speed were very useful when over-taking or getting up to speed as you could get the information without having to take your eyes off the road.


Future App Plans:

Having determined that a speed display app is really useful, but not finding one that suited us perfectly, the obvious next step was to design my own. I wanted it to have the following features:

  • clean display, visible in all light conditions
  • easily settable speed limit
  • audible and visual over-speed warnings
  • no HUD mode
  • Apple Watch component for when you only had a single iPhone and it was navigating but you still wanted a speed display

So watch this space for further news of my up-coming app…


Update:

What Is My Speed?” is available now from the iTunes App Store for iPhone and Apple Watch.


Tags: travel   ios