In April 2015 I cycled from Edinburgh to London. That’s a story for another day, but on a trip like that you’re going to need a good map. This is where I started looking into offline maps.
I didn’t want to carry a kilo of maps with me, which is probably what it would have weighed considering the detail required for cycling and the distance travelled. After a quick search on the web I found Galileo Offline Maps.
The app was perfect for my trip and saved my bacon more than once. I was able to import my route, which I had pieced together from Google maps and the great website GPS Cycle and Walking Routes. Tip: you can convert map file types here.
I now make it a habit to download the the area I’m traveling to before any trip.
Why not Google maps?
Despite living in this internet age there are always times when we don’t have a connection or the data plan for Internet everywhere. Besides that, Google Maps isn’t really a maps app. Let me explain.
Google maps is a service. It helps you find and get to places, navigating you there in a truly remarkable fashion. Google knows what people use its maps app for and optimises it for that purpose, even anticipating next moves.
That’s not what I’m looking for in my offline maps app. Partly because, by the nature of the use case, I am offline, but also because of it’s implications on UI design.
It is almost impossible to scout the area around you in Google maps. Even something as simple as moving the map to show where you are currently located is a huge pain. Google’s focus on search and directions are warranted, but frustratingly limiting when it comes to just exploring.
How does it work?
Well, there’s a little known and undervalued digital map service called OpenStreetMap. Basically, it’s Wikipedia for maps. Like in Wikipedia, the content is made by everyone around the world. This crowdsourcing leads, perhaps surprisingly, to some of the best map data period.
And as the name suggests, OpenSteetMap is open. Meaning the data is free for anyone to use and make use of – like in an offline maps app.
Take a look at the area around you. I bet every dirt road, hiking trail, and secret shortcut are included in the OpenSteetMap data. Besides that, there are tons of destinations included. The usual tourist stuff, but also cafés, bars, restaurants, and shopping malls. This was great while cycling.
In both roads and destinations I found the OpenStreetMap data to be better than Apple or Google’s. Here’s a comparison from a recent trip in Premantura in Croatia. These screenshots aren’t perfectly matched up, but you get the idea.
Premantura, Croatia. From left to right: Gallileo Offline Maps, Google Maps, and Apple Maps.
By the way: if you’re interested in meticulous map comparisons and the choices made in the map design by Google and Apple take a look at this great analysis by Justin O’Beirne.
Where to Buy
You can get it on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
(Be warned, I’ve read it still needs work on Android.)
1: Before you go telling me about the ability to download an area of Google maps, I know that’s now possible. It’s a great feature.