Google Maps has changed the way we think about travel. For the first time, we have been able to access a global atlas featuring street-level images and information about businesses – with the addition of in-depth directions and reviews. With all of that data at our fingertips, it’s never been easier to find restaurants, make it to theatre performances on time, or get to grips with strange cities.
But despite this, there may actually be good reasons to find an alternative to Google Maps, and that’s what this article is about.
From usability issues to speed, and major question marks about security, Google Maps isn’t perfect. So let’s run through some of the most important criticisms made by naysayers, before recommending our favorite Google Maps alternative options.
What’s the problem with Google Maps? Reasons to think about changing
Many people will be a little surprised by the possibility of switching to a Google Maps alternative. That’s understandable. For over a decade, Maps has entrenched itself in our culture as the go-to mapping app and has benefited from being part of the Google universe which we all seem to rely on.
However, there are some things that users need to think about before they ask for their next set of directions.
- Maps have been implicated in smartphone tracking – privacy is a major issue when it comes to Google Maps. In 2018, it was reported that Google uses its mapping app to track mobile phone users wherever they go, despite users choosing privacy settings in their Google console. Just opening Maps causes a snapshot of your current location to be stored, and if you don’t think to change your settings, a whole host of information gets stashed away by Google’s snoopers.
- It isn’t actually that accurate – If you’ve ever used Google Maps to get around a city you know well, you’ll probably have realized that it has serious accuracy issues. When you seek out businesses on foot, it’s quite common to end up a few hundred meters away from your destination. This doesn’t look like much from a broader perspective, but it matters for everyday users, who could benefit from a Google Maps alternative.
- Google Maps can be really, really slow – On older smartphones and poor internet connections, using Maps can sometimes feel like wading through treacle. Zooming in or out can leave you waiting while graphics update until you’ve had enough and you decide to ask for directions from a passer-by.
- You’re supporting Google – More broadly speaking, when you use Google Maps you are – surprise – helping Google boost its bottom line. If you’re one of many who hates the way Google abuse data and dominate the online world, it makes sense to find the best alternative to Google Maps, as soon as you can.
- The world is (not) flat – finally (and not entirely seriously), in 2018 Google Maps made the switch to portray the world as a sphere, not a flat projection. So if you’re one of the surprisingly large numbers of flat-earthers around, you’ll need to seek an alternative.
How to pick the best alternative to Google Maps
When you put these reasons together, it’s obvious that there’s a case to be made for choosing a Google Maps alternative. But a true competitor has been slow to arrive.
The technical problems involved in mapping the earth accurately, and integrating those maps with GPS technology or web content aren’t minor. That’s why Google is currently king of the mapping world.
But the good news is that alternatives are arriving, and some are pretty impressive. Let’s check out some which are headed in the right direction.
The obvious alternative is to pick up an iPhone and boot up Apple Maps. Apple’s Google Maps alternative has been around since 2012, when it directly replaced Google’s version on Apple devices.
However, its first few years weren’t easy, with numerous critics maintaining that the directions weren’t accurate. Still, the 3D Flyover Mode was pretty neat.
Things have improved since 2017, with accurate maps and plenty of features. For instance, Apple Maps synchronizes with bike-sharing schemes like Santander in London, making it easy to see the city by pedal power. And a major update is on the horizon, bringing Apple’s visual detail into line with Google.
American company MapQuest has been around since the 1960s and has made a successful transition to the web. For years, it offered an easy way to order atlases of different cities and regions, while lacking a Google Maps-style dynamic function.
However, MapQuest now offers much more. It’s a particularly good app for finding long distance directions, bringing up multiple routes very quickly, and presenting them in SatNav friendly format.
Moreover, you can plot your route around eating spots, coffee houses, and – importantly for drivers – petrol stations. So it could be the best alternative to Google Maps if you’re headed on a road trip.
The Ordnance Survey is the UK’s official mapping service and produces an acclaimed series of fold-out maps which covers the entire country. However, fewer people are aware of what its digital apps can do – and they are actually pretty powerful.
If you’re visiting a National Park for cycling or hiking holiday, no app will be better suited to following footpaths or climbing mountains. You can call up zoomable versions of OS Landranger maps, superimpose suggested routes, pick out car parks and pubs, and also bring up beautiful 3D images of the terrain.
It’s not the best alternative to Google Maps for navigating towns, but it’s fun to use and perfect for outdoor pursuits.
Probably the best mobile-friendly alternative to Google Maps, Waze is rapidly improving and super fast. It’s also quite different to Google’s app in the way information is collected.
With Waze, the community generates what users see. Data from real-time travellers is fed into instant traffic updates, info about police roadblocks, or roadworks.
Even the maps are community edited – theoretically making them much more dynamic than the slowly changing, but stodgy maps offered by Google.
While the app is great, it does feel a bit like a work-in-progress, but Waze is finding its way, and it holds great promise. So it definitely deserves a spot on our list.