Mobile Map Apps Overtake Maps in Browsers

Smartphone use for maps and navigation in the U.S. has nearly tripled in the past year as GPS radios become standard fare in such devices. Smartphone owners seeking navigation or maps now choose software over a browser, according to digital analytics firm comScore. The majority of map access is in a vehicle — 87.2 percent of all use — while the next largest usage is for walking, running or biking activities.

Such research highlights a point I’ve made before, that although the capabilities of mobile browsers are improving, powerful software applications currently trump most web-based implementations. The web offers developers the promise of “write-once, run anywhere,” but in today’s task-based computing environment, bite-sized chunks of advanced functionality are better provided by smartphone software.

Perhaps there’s no better example than the 17.2 percent of map usage by those walkers, runners and bikers. I easily fall into this category as I use software and the GPS in my handset to track my four or five weekly training runs. With one glance at the app, I can instantly see real-time data on my speed, pace and elevation. Could such information be provided through an HTML 5 browser application? It’s possible, but not effective if the browser requires any type of data connectivity during my run (aside from the GPS feed, of course). And all it takes to completely lose my data is one wrong tap of a back, forward or refresh button. For now, I’ll stick with a dedicated app while I run and use the browser when I’m sitting still.

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