Ever since iOS 6 appeared with the less-than-reliable Apple Maps in place of Google Maps, iDevice owners have been anxiously awaiting the availability of Google Maps for the new OS. That time may be drawing near, but perhaps it's not soon enough for you. Not to worry: The App Store is crawling with worthy contenders, many of which we've road-tested.
Three of the free or cheap apps that follow provide excellent spoken turn-by-turn directions. The other two go places that Google Maps never will. All are available right now for iOS 6, the platform that brought you the joke "A guy with Apple Maps walks into a bar. Or it could be a church. Possibly a bike shop...."
It's free. It adapts its routes to deal with real-time traffic conditions. And it leverages the power of the crowd to make driving solo seem like a social occasion.
Waze has built a CB-radio-style community that leaves warnings about road hazards, construction and the locations up ahead where Smokey lies in wait with a radar gun. Even without the little notes your 30 million fellow Wazers leave behind, the Waze network collects speed data and alerts you to slow traffic on your routes. You can even connect the Waze app to Facebook and orchestrate your own flash mobs with Facebook friends.
Back in the 1990s when people used to print out directions and hold them flat on their steering wheels, MapQuest was the verb they used to describe their behavior. We've driven a long way, baby! The free MapQuest app doesn't need full addresses with its modern search tool, and it replaces your ACER BATCL50L Laptop Battery on the paper with a dot that represents your current position.
The bottom of the screen is ranged with clickable shortcuts to places you might want to visit. Sure, it doesn't do public transportation, and its map interface is a bit flat, but it's voice-guided and offers live traffic feeds. A free companion app, MapQuest Gas Prices, locates the cheapest gas near you.
Of the free GPS applications we've seen so far, Scout gives the easiest directions to follow when you're in heavy traffic. It should: It's developed by TeleNav, the makers of the excellent but costly AT&T Navigator service.
Scout's bold arrows, clear graphics, current traffic events, and strong local search all serve the weary traveler well. Especially handy is the one-button scouting for nearby gas, food, parking, and ATMs.
So far so good, but if you want the really good stuff you have to pay: Voice navigation and automatic rerouting for traffic slowdowns require an in-app upgrade starting at $4.99 a month.
Most GPS apps trumpet their huge libraries of Points of Interest. They brag about adapting their routes to navigate around slow traffic. But these fine attributes mean nothing when you've street-parked in an unfamiliar town and can't remember where.
That's where the free app Find My Car shines. This little app maps a single geolocation -- where you parked -- and guides you back there. Download it before you rent a car on your next business trip. The app can also store a picture of your vehicle snug in its parking place to help you along the home stretch.
Yes, it's valuable to locate the nearest gas station or bank, but don't you wish your GPS's points of interest included fiberglass giants holding mufflers, taxidermy museums or giant balls of twine? The quirky travel app Roadside America puts that power on your phone.
From a 6,000-strong database of bizarre roadside attractions, it pops up a picklist of those nearest you or your destination, serves up illustrated articles on them, and takes you to your default GPS app to guide you there. This distillation of a quirky travel book and website costs $2.99 per region or $5.99 for the entire U.S.