Looking for the best GPS navigation apps? If you’re a rideshare driver (or you’re thinking about becoming one), you know that a good digital mapping and navigation system is your most important tool — other than your car itself!
Currently, in 2016, there are many popular navigation apps — and there’s also an ever-expanding range of new offerings in the world of traffic/map navigation.
All of today’s navigation apps offer an array of great features, including real-time traffic routing, closure-warnings, and even projected traffic-flow simulations (which anticipate traffic before it happens). Many apps have easy-to-use, intuitive interfaces and great design, as well as dynamic voice commands that facilitate ease-of-use and safety.
The best GPS Navigation Apps in 2016
So which GPS system is right for you? If you’re a rideshare driver, it’s worth reading up on the pros and cons of today’s navigation apps, and checking out our recommendations below:
Waze is fast becoming the dominant (and most well-liked) navigation app amongst rideshare drivers. It’s so well-regarded that it even secured a market-altering alliance with Uber’s biggest competitor, Lyft, in early 2016.
Waze is actually owned by Google (it was purchased by the company in 2013 for close to a billion dollars), and shares many overlapping functions with Google Maps as a result.
Many drivers report that Waze has great (if not the best) traffic-routing abilities, allowing real-time re-routing with exceptional speed and efficiency.
In terms of the system’s input functions, many users report that Waze’s search functionality is also extremely fast, dialing up results in less than four seconds.
Waze also has other great features — including the ability to ‘log’ and ‘remember’ reported street closures, so that you can report incidents/traffic blockages with ease (and have the system actively remember the problem-areas). This is particularly useful if you’re working as a rideshare driver in a regular location over the course of a single night — meaning, you won’t have to constantly re-input the same incident over and over again — instead, Waze will remember and adjust its directions accordingly.
On an aesthetic level — many drivers also enjoy Waze’s rounded, cartoon-like visual style, and find it easy to ‘scan’ and digest information in a single glance (as compared to the sleek, tech-themed visuals common in many other navigation apps).
- Waze offers perhaps the most-thorough, real-time info on road blockages and closures.
- Waze has a great social-networking feature, which also helps update other Waze users about viable routes and traffic (in real-time).
- Waze has a strong focus on safety.
- Waze has a fast-loading interface, and offers quick calculations of ‘shortest’ & ‘fastest’ available routes.
- While Waze is a great navigation app, it also has some problems. Notable downsides include:
no lane assistance (unlike Google Maps).
- Some users report experiencing compatibility problems while using Waze on an iPhone.
- Drivers also complain that road/lanes are visually too small (and that active lanes don’t ‘zoom-in’ properly at appropriate moments — something that Google Maps seems to excel at).
- There is also some confusion amongst drivers as to whether choose ‘shortest’ or ‘fastest’ routes when using Waze, with conflicting reports existing about the dominance of one option.
- Some users also complain that Waze’s emphasis on safety is counter-intuitive — multi-screen options are often criticized as being distracting/unnecessary.
2. For-Purchase Offline GPS Systems (i.e., Sygic; Navmii; Navigon)
There are many private navigation systems currently available. Some popular options include Sygic GPS Navigation, Navigon, and Navmii.
Sygic offers 2D and 3D color displays, and its system reportedly has great traffic and address functionality (as well as very good missed-turn ‘recovery’). Its voice commands are good, and up-to-par with industry competitors.
If you decided to use Sygic’s system, you’ll have to pay around $50 to download and install it.
The upside is you’ll have a comprehensive offline navigation tool (i.e., you’ll be able to find your way around whether you’re online, offline; or outside the range of a cellular provider).
Be aware: Sygic’s offline search functionality is reportedly quite slow (but still accurate), and you’re required to enter information manually (i.e., there is no autofill or pre-existing database of anticipated locations. That means that you’ll have to type all elements in, piece by piece (City, Street, Apartment, House Numbers, etc).
Navmii is a great navigation app that rideshare drivers should certainly consider. It’s mostly a free option — the basic app; a selection of map packages; and the app’s basic offline functionality — are all cost-free. If you’re an android user, you can download a single (free) version of Navmii which includes the entire globe, but if you’re an iOS user you must choose from a selected range of more limited maps (for a small fee). Also — Navmii comes with ads (and, if you want to eliminate them, it costs $2).
All around, Navmii is essentially a very good app — it has an Apple-style minimalist aesthetic, with great search functionality and many POIs (‘points of interest’’). Visually, it features very limited ‘clutter’, and offers beautiful, streamlined color maps.
With Navmii, you’re able to customize the app for efficiency. For instance, you can choose to hide Points Of Interest with the tap of a button (decluttering the interface even further). Spoken instructions are minimal and effective (no street names are announced, just directions).
Navmii crowdsources traffic (like Waze), and also crowdsources info like speed traps and notable issues like road hazards, etc.
In offline mode, many of these features obviously do not work — you’ll just get the bare bones nav app.
Navigon is the most expensive of the various ‘for-purchase’ offline GPS options, but — like Sygic and Navmii — it offers reasonably good functionality and a strong offline nav option.
First and foremost, Navigon’s search is highly comprehensive (though it can be very slow), and the app lists a good number of Places Of Interest (they are, however, nowhere as numerous or detailed as Waze or Google Maps).
Navigon’s menus and interfaces are also not the very best — they take a bit of getting used to, and are often considered clunky by experienced drivers.
For actual driving and navigation, Navigon is a reasonably good tool — voice instruction is well-designed and efficient (if you need to hear an instruction twice, there is an in-built/highly accessible repeat option embedded on the screen). And, unlike Navmii, Navigon’s voice instruction announces full street names.
Like Google Maps, Navigon gives drivers multiple route options when it suggests a route. Importantly, Navigon also handles detours well, seeming to adapt dynamically to path-alterations with relative ease.
Navigon’s functionality, however, comes with a steep price.
North American coverages costs $50, and there are a number of other fees.
- Downloading Navigon’s 3D display will cost you $11.
- Urban/city guidance costs $5.
- A two-year map-update subscription will cost you an additional $20.
- A traffic-flow download is $20.
Offline GPS Upsides.
- All these private, for-purchase options offer OFFLINE capability — a huge plus if data or internet connections are not available.
Offline GPS Downsides.
- Unfortunately, you’ll have to pay for many of these systems’ features — a major drawback compared to Google Maps and Waze (which are free).
If you’re an Uber Driver, you’re obviously aware that Uber has an in-built GPS navigation tool in its Partner/Driver App.
While some users choose to use other, third-party options instead, some Uber Drivers rely solely on Uber’s navigation tool, which the company offers to all its drivers through its Driver App.
This navigation tool uses a hybrid of Google Maps data; Bing Maps data; deCarta data; and TomTom data to power its mapping system.
Especially in its early stages, drivers who relied (exclusively) on Uber’s Navigation App often reported having some complaints about its overall efficacy — many recalled an oftentimes buggy interface; difficulty in receiving accurate location information; and less-than-satisfactory results in terms of dealing with road closures and other issues.
After failing to acquire Nokia’s mapping unit in 2015, Uber teamed up with TomTom in late 2015 to improve their app’s functionality. Expect new features (and improved performance) in 2016 and beyond.
As Google’s own transportation aspirations grow, it’s also worth watching out for another development — specifically, a split between Uber and Google Maps, which could happen in the distant (or perhaps, near) future. This could mean Uber’s App eventually becomes entirely independent from Google Maps — and ultimately change substantially from its current-system version.
- Convenience. If you’re an Uber driver, using Uber’s in-built system means not having to rely on a third-party app.
- Reports of bugs and inefficiencies continue to dampen enthusiasm for Uber’s in-house navigation app, compared to third-party alternatives. Work is still being undertaken to improve the system.
4. GOOGLE MAPS
Google Maps is currently the world’s most popular (and also near-ubiquitous) navigation tool. Even if drivers are primarily using Waze or UberNav, they’re also (most likely) using Google Maps too. It’s simply one of the biggest, and most sophisticated, mapping tools available.
Google Maps is a great system — developed exclusively by Google for over a decade, it has many years of costly R&D underlying its engineering. Since Google Navigation officially launched in 2007, it’s taken Google quite a few years to catch up to (and ultimately out-pace) Garmin and TomTom as digital-navigation’s industry leader.
In terms of navigation, Google has gradually integrated some elements of Waze’s approach into its nominal system. For instance, Google Maps’ active-navigation approach now takes into account traffic dynamics when calculating routes — and, like Waze, Google Maps always calculates the fastest route available (but still displays additional options before a driver begins their chosen journey).
Also, if there’s any developing traffic (specifically, traffic that is anticipated to significantly increase a driver’s estimated trip duration), Google Maps will notify drivers about a range of different routes. The system does not simply (or automatically) re-route drivers — rather, it asks them whether they want to engage in any additional re-routing.
Functionally, this is important because it lets drivers decide whether they want to do extra driving… or not. Sometimes, drivers just want to stay on one path — and Google Maps gives you that choice.
Google Maps also offers some additional benefits — for instance, it visually displays every lane on a highway, and indicates when an offramp is approaching (something that many nav alternatives do no offer).
Google Maps also has no annoying notifications, or pop-up ads. Its interface is clean and clear — no constant menu selections. A common complaint of some nav services (like Waze) is their dense offering of menus/options, which makes inputting addresses an endless series of ‘click-throughs’.
On Google Maps, this really isn’t an issue. Some proponents of Google Maps even suggest Google’s simple design might even make driving safer – limiting the amount drivers have to look at a screen when ferrying passengers around.
And, while Waze might be a more comprehensive system overall, its dense interface and unusual design can distract some drivers (especially those who just want basic clarity and function-forward design).
In short, Google Maps offers a range of benefits.
- Goggle’s GPS system provides detailed info on directions and driving options.
- Google’s system gives info on road closures, traffic dynamics, as well as peripheral information like store/business hours.
- Emphasizes ‘driver-choice’ — i.e., it gives drivers a ‘menu-style’ range of options before beginning a specific journey, rather than recommending one dominant path.
Google Maps Downsides.
- Google Maps sometimes is slow to load.
- The system (reportedly) sometimes delivers incorrect drop-off information (i.e., instructing drivers to drop-off passengers in nearby alleyways; non-pedestrian intersections, etc.
- Less comprehensive than Waze, in terms of overall location and traffic information.
Final thoughts on choosing GPS navigation apps
In the end, navigation-tool preference is going to be a very different story for every driver.
Preference often depends on a driver’s specific terrain and geographic location (for instance, certain Apps will work better if you’re in the suburbs vs. large urban metropolitan areas).
Moreover, having extensive city knowledge (or none at all), in addition to the kind of trips you’re doing (long-distance, short-distance, or inner-city) will likely affect your preference.
So, whether you’re choosing to use Waze, UberNav, or Google Maps (or, otherwise, an expensive private system like Navigon), don’t let someone tell you what’s best — simply experiment with the available options until you find out what works best for you.
Technical note on using third-party navigation apps.
Responding to driver feedback, Uber began allowing its drivers to use third-party navigation apps in the summer of 2015.
If you want to use a third-party navigation apps (like Waze and Google Maps) while driving for the company, follow these instructions below.
- When you go online, you’ll be asked to choose a preferred navigation provider. This is based on any apps installed on your smartphone.
- The Settings Screen will allow you to change your navigation preference any time you wish.
- If you choose to use a third-party navigation app (i.e. Waze or Google Maps) as your preferred routing tool, your screen will ‘superficially’ exit the Uber Partner app on your iPhone while you drive. However, the Uber Driver App will still be running in the background. To go back to the regular Driver App, just tap the banner at the top of the screen.’