Often when I travel I find myself without cellphone coverage, for a myriad of reasons. Sometimes I am so remote there is just is no coverage. Sometimes there is coverage but I don’t have a local sim and I don’t want to spend the bucks on roaming. Then there are times like my last trip to Ladakh. In Ladakh the government, for reasons of security, have permitted only local sims to work in the region and has created so many hoops that getting a local sim is next to impossible. When this happens I relax and enjoy my solitude. But wait! What if I want to use the nifty GPS on my iPhone? After all, I am so remote I might get lost. OK, maybe not lost, but I might want to see how far the next town is from my current location. With no cell or data coverage I would need offline maps for my GPS to use.
In prepping for a recent Workshop, I ran across a few handy little iPhone app that handle offline map caching and navigation. In lieu of anything significant to blog about, I thought I would pass these little gems on to you. I have used one or two of them and found them useful and I thought you might find them helpful and handy.
The first application is called “City Maps 2 Go“. I looked at quite a few offline map resources and applications and most of them do nothing more than cache maps in your iPhone’s memory. Sometimes this works, other times it’s frustrating, as you can easily loose the cached data or there is a time limit for how long the application keeps the cache. I prefer to actually have the map files in my phone. What’s nice about this application is you don’t have to worry about loosing the maps. The maps are actual files and come with all the detail you need. City Maps 2Go has some 3000 cities at all levels of detail ready to be downloaded. The files have been optimized and packaged in a way that they are quick and easy to download. For a recent trip I downloaded all of the greater Delhi, India and even the city of Leh, Ladakh, India as well as several cities in Vietnam all in just a few minutes. There is a option on their website where you can request cities to be added. I requested the city of Srinagar, Kashmir and the obscure area of Tso Moriri, a lake way out in the middle of nowhere. They wrote back within a few hours saying the would try to get them to me before I left. Impressive! To their credit, they did upload the maps I requested, but not before I traveled. But I didn’t really give them any lead time. The one downside to this app is that it uses OpenStreetMaps. These are what I would call, “ok” maps. They are not to the detail that you will find in Google maps. But, hey! you can download thousands of cities for just a onetime cost of $1.99. Not a bad deal.
Galileo is another offline app that is not quite as slick as City Maps 2Go. But, unlike City Maps 2Go, they give you the ability to download maps for anywhere in the world and you can determine the amount of detail. It is a very simple application that gives you options for online or offline viewing and marks you location, but that is about it. Nothing fancy. It creates the maps by using of another application called Mobile Atlas Creator. Mobile Atlas Creator allows you to make maps that the Galileo application can read. The maps can be at any level of detail, to any size as long as you have the time to generate them and the space on your iPhone to store them. It also uses OpenStreetMaps, but here is the thing that sets it apart, it also uses Google maps. How they get permission to use Google maps, I’m not sure. But they do…and I did. I generated a fairly detailed map of Southern Sumatra and use it on a trip a few months back. It came in handy several times. One of the downsides to all this, is that the Mobile Atlas creator takes forever to make a map. Given that the application has no routing ability or even the simple ability to drop a pin on a given location, it is pretty limited. So, using it for anything other than telling you where you are is useless. But, if you want an offline map that shows details in the countryside or on some small forgotten road this is the application for it.
Currently I’m playing with another offline map application called simply, OpenMaps. This one has a lot of promise, it allows you to drop a pin anywhere, create routes, even shows POIs and of course download maps for viewing offline. I’ve just downloaded the application and I’m trying to download detailed maps of the areas where we’ll be traveling. I must say, unlike City Maps 2Go, the downloads take forever. I’m not sure why, when they’re the same size as the maps for City Maps 2Go. Plus the download operation is not very intuitive and can be a bit confusing. The true test will be in the field. This app is my least favorite of the three and I can’t recommend it in it’s current form.
I hope this little look into offline navigation was helpful. If you have a favorite offline map application leave a comment below and tell us about it.