As yesterday’s announcements made clear, there is no doubt that Google is working very actively on its Maps apps, both on the desktop and on mobile. Although the desktop version of the new Google Maps is currently invite-only and the mobile version a little further off still, we do now know that the service will be far more tightly integrated with the rest of Google’s portfolio and a range of other data sources, too.
It remains to be seen whether Google really manages to pull this off in an uncluttered way, particularly on smartphones, but the changes do look promising. However, Google’s mobile maps do present one problem, particularly for those travelling in foreign climes, and that doesn’t look set to change anytime soon: they only offer limited offline functionality. Maps for specific places can be easily pre-cached for offline use, but you won’t get search or routing functionality without a data connection.
Enter Skobbler with its new Android app, GPS Navigation & Maps. A couple of weeks ago, the Berlin-based startup heavily revamped its iOS ForeverMap app to bring it in line with the more advanced Android version of the same, and now it’s moved the Android app on significantly – so significantly that it’s even renamed it.
All in one
To be precise, Skobbler’s new Android app combines two previous apps, one of which was for maps (ForeverMap 2, whose users will get this upgrade for free) and the other (Skobbler Navigation, shut down a year back) for turn-by-turn navigation. The company claims, rightly I believe, that the result is the only Android app to combine both these functionalities for both online and offline use. What’s more, open-stuff fans can revel in the fact that GPS Navigation & Maps is based on the crowdsourced and highly accurate OpenStreetMap project.
The fact that the app is priced at just $1 shouldn’t hurt either, although buyers should be aware that this comes with only one free downloadable country for offline use. Beyond that, cities will cost $0.99, states $1.11, countries $2.22, continents $4.44 and the whole world $7.77 – not only is this way cheaper than the likes of TomTom Navigation or CoPilot Live, but it also provides the opportunity to download specific areas rather than entire countries or continents: a useful option if you’re concerned about storage.
A separate free version gives you full online maps for the world, along with a 14-day trial of the turn-by-turn, voice-aided navigation functionality.
Skobbler’s iOS maps app allows you to download any country for offline use for free, but turn-by-turn functionality comes in a separate app on that platform. Like that app, though, GPS Navigation & Maps acts as a showcase for Skobbler’s zippy NGx map engine – the company is keen on selling its technology to partners, particularly those in the automotive industry.
Skobbler’s app has clear appeal for those travelling abroad – data roaming charges are still eye-bleedingly high in most cases – but what about customers who are just looking to use it locally?
There, the company may find a willing audience in the shape of the anti-Google resistance. One peculiarity of Android is that, being Linux-based and ubiquitous, it’s the platform of choice for the open-source crowd while also providing a growing privacy threat, of the kind that horrifies the same people.
The mapping updates that Google announced on Wednesday are clearly designed to make Google Maps more of a personalized interface for everyday movements. This should manifest itself in a particularly tightly integrated way on Android, as the lines blur between Maps and Now and everything else Google is baking into the same pie. A lot of people won’t like that.
It’s unlikely that anyone will completely replace Google Maps for Android with a service such as Skobbler’s, as Google’s in-house location infrastructure is probably too baked-in these days to avoid. But, in terms of consciously firing up a mapping app to negotiate the world around them, some people may find value in choosing a non-Google option, so that their often highly personal location searches don’t get fed into the Great Google Data Stew. For those people, GPS Navigation & Maps could provide a tantalizing alternative.