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MapQuest: Yet Another iOS 6 Maps Alternative

Oct 3 2012 - 5:04pm

Last Friday, Apple CEO Tim Cook apologized to iOS 6 users for the failure of the new native Maps application [1] to, well, work properly. There was one thing that caught our eye in Tim's note — a nod to competitors as an alternative to Apple's faulty map app.

Included in the list was: Google and Nokia Maps (the usual suspects); Bing (which we took for a spin last week [2]); and a more curious recommendation — MapQuest. The web mapping service, which launched in 1996, hasn't been on our radar for a few years, but we decided to give MapQuest's mobile app another shot. What we found was a mix of '90s nostalgia [3] and unexpectedly useful discovery tools. Here are the pros and cons of MapQuest's eccentric mobile map app.

Pro: Point of Interest Search and Discovery

MapQuest easily identifies hotels, restaurants, gas stations, airports, coffee shops, parking garages, groceries, schools, theaters, etc. A scrollable carousel at the bottom of the app includes point of interest buttons that users can click through either one or several at a time. The results appear quickly on the map and are viewable as a list as well.

Pro: Multiple Route Options

The app provides granular controls over your desired route, which comes in handy if wanting to avoid pricey toll roads or congested highway traffic.

Pro: Mode of Transit Recommendations

If the destination is less than a mile away, MapQuest will (politely) suggest walking as an option.

Pro: (Real) ETA and Turn-by-Turn Navigation

The app includes spoken turn-by-turn directions in list or map view, and displays the estimated time or arrival or the time remaining in minutes.

Con: Not 100% Accurate

A search for the San Francisco restaurant Galette 88 [4] yielded results at multiple times for a small Nebraskan town.

Con: In-App Advertisements

Sponsored points of interest Best Western, Comfort Inn, Holiday Inn, and Hampton Inn appear in the bottom carousel, and upon opening the app, a banner ad shows up as well.

Pro??: A Personal Touch

MapQuest's eccentricity is summed up in this feature reminiscent of AOL Instant Messenger's buddy icons — personalized position avatars that range from dinosaurs to bunnies to peace signs.

The Verdict

If you're driving or walking, and know the exact address of where you want to go, MapQuest will take you there. If you're interested in discovering new places to eat, drink and play, MapQuest will find it for you.

But, unfortunately for city-dwellers, the app doesn't provide public transit information. The graphics aren't optimized for the iPhone 4, 4S, or 5 either, so the map shows up a bit pixelated which can be frustrating when you're trying to navigate in real time. MapQuest can also lag quite a bit if you have "Auto Rotate Map" enabled. In our test, we had to force quit the app several times.

MapQuest is, however, free and available in the App Store [5].

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