When cellular phones were first introduced, they were bulky devices that were designed to perform a single function. In the intervening decades, they have transformed into multipurpose handsets that provide access to the Internet, productivity software, and many other features. The rise of the smartphone also coincided with an increasing public interest in GPS navigation, which most of the major service providers and hardware manufacturers were quick to take advantage of.
Dedicated GPS devices still have a number of advantages over smartphones in the navigation department, cell phone GPS works just fine for most applications. Every major smartphone manufacturer and OS has some type of GPS functionality available, and many of these options are completely free to use if you already have a phone and a service plan.
Photo © TomTom International BV
TomTom, Garmin, and other GPS manufacturers offer proprietary navigation applications across multiple platforms. These applications can be quite costly, but the price can still be attractive when compared to buying a dedicated GPS device. Specific features also differ from one app to the next, but most of them include spoken turn-by-turn directions, large point of interest databases, and offline maps.
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When Google Maps first rolled out on GPS cell phones, it was capable of route planning but lacked any navigation features. Google Maps Navigation was introduced in Android 2.0 (Eclair), and it offers spoken turn-by-turn directions. This free app comes standard with Android phones and tablets, and it is capable of operating without an Internet connection. However, map tile data has to be downloaded via an Internet connection. In June 2012, an offline mapping option was also announced.
Google Maps is also available for GPS-enabled cell phones that use other operating systems, but most of the key features are limited to Android handsets.
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Nokia’s map software, which was previously known as Ovi Maps is available on handsets that use the Symbian operating system. It is also compatible with Windows Phone 7. This navigation software is provided for free on many new Nokia handsets, but owners of older hardware may be required to purchase it. The main benefit of Ovi is that all of the map data is included with the app, which allows Symbian devices to take advantage of offline mapping.
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Apple’s iOS devices originally launched with Google Maps, but limitations on the API spurred interest in an alternate solution. Features like 3D map views, spoken directions, and a flyover option are available from Apple’s in-house navigation app, which was announced to coincide with iOS 6. However, iOS Maps isn’t compatible with every device that’s capable of running iOS 6. The app requires a lot of horsepower to run, so it won’t work on the original iPad or iPhone 4.
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There are also a number of other free solutions
that often make use of open source map data
. Features vary widely between these third party alternatives, and many of them work on more than one mobile operating system. Some of these alternatives have unique features, such as the crowd-sourced Waze that uses anonymous user data to map new roads and routes, track transit times, and traffic congestion.
Navigation for Non-Smartphones
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Blackberries, iPhones, and Android phones are much better suited for use as GPS navigation devices than other handsets, but some carriers have options for people who prefer to avoid smartphones. Verizon’s VZ Navigator
is available for most of its GPS-enabled phones, which includes handsets that don’t qualify as smartphones. AT&T also has an option for non-smartphones. These cell phone GPS services are typically subscription-based.