There has been good number of turn-by-turn GPS applications released for the iPhone over the last few months including some from big names like Tom Tom and Navigon. Back when Apple announced that they were going to allow apps to offer turn-by-turn directions they said that there would be no limitations other than the fact that developers can’t use Google Maps for that functionality. The reason? Google doesn’t allow their maps to be used for the purpose of turn-by-turn directions (probably for liability).
I thought that was a bummer, and as a result many of the turn-by-turn apps on the iPhone consume 1GB+ of space in order to store all the maps on your device. And then there’s the price tag. At the low end these apps will run you around $35, and they go all the way up to $99. Most of them don’t even say whether the software includes any map updates, which probably means you’ll have to purchase updated maps next year if you don’t want things like your points of interest to become outdated.
I was stumbling through the App Store when I came across NaviCat (iTunes link) which was only $5.99. It boasted turn-by-turn directions at a fraction of the cost, and what’s even more interesting is that it said it used Google Maps for route planning. Curiosity got the best of me and so I decided to hand over the $6 to play around with it… and it was only 2MB in size.
So what was it like? Well, it’s interesting. They are able to use Google Maps because it’s really only used for looking up POI’s and mapping out your route. Once you switch to the turn-by-turn mode it jumps away from the Google Maps view. The bad part is that this view doesn’t show any side roads which can make it a bit difficult to tell when you need to turn, but it does have voice guidance to help out in that respect. The onscreen display also shows how far you have until your next turn which makes it a little easier to keep track of when a turn is coming up.
What I find funny is that it’s pretty obvious what this app is doing. You plan your route (complete with waypoints) using Google Maps, and then it essentially analyzes the map to recreate its own map. You’re essentially using Google Maps, but in an indirect way and with a kinda crummy interface.
Is it worth the money? I’ve got mixed feelings over it, but for $6 I’d have to say it’s not bad. If the developer throws in side streets for the turn-by-turn view I’d say this would be pretty darn good for the price. And the fact that it uses Google Maps means it won’t become outdated in a year (or even a month for that matter).
Here’s a bunch of screenshots I took so that you can be your own judge: