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App Review: oMaps — Offline Mapping for iPhone

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Due to hefty 3G roaming rates, Apple’s (s aapl) Maps app just won’t cut it when you’re out of the country. The oMap app lets you download maps for offline viewing — dodging a shocking bill post-vacation.

The iPhone is an almost perfect companion for travels to distant lands. With a bit of foresight and time set aside for planning, it’s possible to mix and match the perfect blend of vacation apps, ensuring you make the most of your journey.

My own package of essential travel tools includes Evernote, QuadCamera, Gengo Flashcards and HearPlanet. Without a 3G connection overseas, though, Apple’s Maps app proves utterly redundant — if I can’t connect, I can’t use it.

oMaps brings offline mapping to the iPhone. The app includes GPS, multiple zoom levels, map bookmarking and search functionality.

Don’t Google It

Notably, oMaps doesn’t make use of Google Maps. The developer, Thomas Bonnin, cites licensing restrictions from Google (s goog) as the reason. Instead, the app utilizes OpenStreetMap, a service referred to by Bonnin as “the Wikipedia of maps.”


Despite being a community-maintained mapping service — meaning that there may be lower detail in some areas — in practice, the maps seem to be accurate, detailed and certainly useful for tourists. Even better, OpenStreetMap includes restaurants, ATMs, bus stations and other notable landmarks — a boon for lone travelers.

Best of all, because oMaps makes use of an open-source solution, after purchasing the app, individual maps are free to download. Admittedly, in-app purchasing of new maps would have been a neat iPhone OS 3.0 feature, although for me to grumble about that is akin to performing extended dental work on a gift horse.

Making Your Map

To create a new offline map, you simply open the app, browse to the location you’d like to view later and click save. Maps can only be downloaded via Wi-Fi, due to potentially large download sizes (the app saves the current zoom level and each increasing level of detail beyond that).


Although the developer states that you can save unlimited maps, there is one major constraint. The app will only start saving a map from a certain level of detail. If you zoom too far out — in my case when trying to download all of Helsinki — oMaps will refuse to save.

Essentially, the app draws a line as to how much you’re able to download in one go. It certainly doesn’t ruin the app or its functionality, but it’s a seemingly arbitrary obstacle, surpassed simply by downloading a given area in several separate chunks.

On Your Travels

Downloading a useful portion of a given city takes time and requires a stable connection. To make the best use of oMaps, you’ll need to plan ahead and prepare at least a day or so before traveling.

Once you’re offline and on the move, the app comes into its own. For me, flipping the iPhone to Airplane Mode and opening oMaps felt like cartographical witchcraft — the app located me immediately and I could zoom in and out, viewing my surrounding area in various levels of detail.


It’s worth clarifying for less tech-savvy users how this works. Your data connection — 3G, Edge, GPRS — may cost money to use overseas, usually at an inflated rate. The GPS in your iPhone — used for locating you — is free. oMaps uses the GPS to locate you and requires no data connection because the data itself, the map, has already been downloaded and saved to your iPhone.

Just like Apple’s Maps app, oMaps includes a GPS button. Pressing the button will locate you, assuming you’ve downloaded the corresponding map for the area you’re occupying. There are a few differences and drawbacks, though.


Unlike Maps, once you’re on the move, there are no directions or search functionality. Directions may be an arguably complex function, however Search does seem like something that could have been achieved — even if it means downloading a little more data when initially saving the map.

Summing Up

The app has a few issues that, while irritating, don’t ruin the overall functionality. Saving multiple maps for one city can be a drag, but then it’s all free and can be used offline, even with GPS. Plus, the lack of search functionality means that you may have to do a little extra pre-planning before setting off.

Rather than comparing oMaps to Apple’s Google-powered Maps, it’s perhaps best to see the app as a replacement to a traditional map. It saves purchasing horrid foldout maps and, as such, is more discreet and agreeable for meandering tourists.

Most importantly though, oMaps is a time and money saver. Although it won’t prove useful at home, when you’re in foreign lands this really will be an essential app.

26 Responses to “App Review: oMaps — Offline Mapping for iPhone”

  1. Atreides

    Huge, huge fan of xGPS.

    1. Desktop map downloading tool!
    2. Google maps! (Hey, these “Open Maps” are ok, but seriously, they don’t stack up to the legit Google ones)
    3. FAST – way more responsive when zooming compared these “apps” Must quicker and more obvious GPS signal aquisition

    This app alone is worth the jailbreak.

  2. Concerning the problem of planning ahead…
    I’ve uploaded a little app to the appstore that not only lets you see the maps offline but also lets you search for places and streets, and calculates routes WHILE you are offline… so it may be helpful to you.


  3. I downloaded omaps it took a long time but I have the map. Unfortunetely I am in San Jose Costa Rica and the macine downloaded a map from some part of France. Probably there not many mapas for South America. My question is how can I erase the map I downloaded since it is of no use to me and it is taking space from my iPod. Sorry I just got the machine three days ago.
    Someone can help me out


  4. Such a simple yet great idea. I was out of the country a few times and this would have come in handy. The data charges are way too high over seas. I do wonder how well this application can recognize streets and land marks without an online database.

  5. Ok, I’m on a 1 gen. iPhone and OS 3.0 (without GPSchip) and I’ve been searching high and low for a map app that can simply download a streetdatabase and allow offline searching. I’ve checked all the Appstore versions and the Cydia possibilities but can’t find anything that does just that. ANY help will be greatly appreciated.
    To the Dev’s: guys, you’ve made some awesome tweaks and apps. Could you help out us users without GPSchips out? (by the way, tried using the GPS tweak to fake the presence of an actual chip, but the nearly $100 costing apps in the Appstore have to much localization services and not this simple feature).
    Thanks lots,

  6. Marek

    As chance would have it, I needed an app like this for the coming month, as I’ll be in the southern Mexico (Chiapas) city of Tapachula unexpectedly. What a great surprise to discover that the maps for Tapachula are available via oMaps, in great detail, whereas Google Maps shows four intersecting highways (this is a city of 300,000 people).

    No-brainer. $0.99? More than worth it.

  7. Hi, I am Thomas, oMaps developer.
    Thank you for this review and comments. This is exactly the reason I created oMaps: for travelers like me who don’t want to spend “millions” in roaming fees or iPod Touch users who don’t have permanent connection.

    Stay tuned because this is only the beginning. I working hard on oMaps and new versions will be available soon.
    I submitted the first one last week for review: this release brings landmarks management as well as some minor bug fixes.
    I am currently improving search results and performance.
    Moreover offline search and routing are definitely in my plan and will be available later.

    @Aaron: oMaps is a kind of “paper maps” into your iPhone. ;) a $0.99 paper map…

    @Peter: What do you mean by “positioning is way better”?

    Thomas Bonnin

    • George

      The app is good, but could use more functions to make it stand out. One function that I know would be really helpful is if subway routes for the major cities are included. You can toggle on/off you show the subway lines overlapping the street map. That will be the best function for people like me.

  8. sebbri

    Sounds like a great app and like xGPS but without the jailbreak. If you want a really good GPS navigator, try out xGPS (jailbreak requiered) and I assure you that from a free App, you will be amazed!

  9. Aaron

    Of course if you want to do this on the cheap and don’t want another app, you can always plan ahead a little and take screen shots in your Google Maps app before you leave home. This is not practical if you’re traveling all over a city randomly or are going to be traveling all over Europe for example, but if there are some attractions you know you’re going to be around and you know your hotel, etc, you can save a few screen shots of medium and detail size around those places.

    To take a screen shot, just hold down the home button while quickly pressing the sleep/wake button at the top of the phone. The screen will flash and an image will be saved in your Camera Roll.

    Of course there are also these things called “paper maps”. I know…I know…how 2006.