How to make map services complete travel guides

With the right tricks, Google Maps-style map services can become true travel guides.

Among the navigation applications, Google Maps has probably the most complete cartographic material. The service points out even the smallest alleys, and for certain shopping centers or airports there are even interior maps with a zoom function to locate a specific store.

When planning a route, the user can choose between walking, cycling or driving, or exploring the city by public transport.

One tap on the “Explore” tab opens up suggestions for the vicinity: categories range from restaurants and bars to museums or hiking areas. You can also enter the keyword “places of interest” in the search bar and filter the results, for example, by relevance or distance.

For attractions, the service also offers useful details, such as opening hours or user comments. Especially practical: taking into account peak hours and the average length of stay, you can avoid long waits for entry.

The user can even create their own lists with comments included. To do this, simply save the places of interest, shops or restaurants in the “Saved” tab and then these will appear on the map with different symbols depending on the selection.

And of course, Google Maps also knows the way back to the car: by clicking on the blue circle that marks the user’s position, the “Save as parking space” function appears. If this function is used before the city tour, the location will be displayed automatically when you touch the search bar.

The collection of data by Google has advantages and disadvantages. “It’s up-to-date, it’s clear and fast,” says Professor Eric Horster from the German Institute for Tourism Research (DITF). Restaurant or shop owners provide the information themselves and can update it as they please, ensuring high data quality.

“But when I interact with the application, much of my behavior can be collected through data tracking. With Google a kind of barter always takes place: service for data ”.

Another disadvantage is that, although there are certain areas that can be downloaded as an offline map and used for route planning, if you want to use “Maps” with all its functions, you need mobile Internet access.

Apple’s Maps application also includes many navigation features, as well as indoor maps that are similar to Google Maps. However, there are restrictions, partly in favor of data protection.

For example, users have to compromise when it comes to real-time data: “Google’s data is more up-to-date and more detailed,” says Sebastian Trepesch, of the German trade magazine Heise “Mac & i.” “Apple anonymizes user information and strives to better protect data, but does not offer as good information as Google in return,” adds the expert.

Currently, Apple offers the bike navigation service only for some cities. However, behind the “Travel Guide” section there is a service that is not available in the competition. This shows a list of places of interest that Apple has compiled in collaboration with partners such as “Lonely Planet” or “Washington Post.” In the tab “New travel guide” you can create your own lists.

Apple also offers a “Flyover” mode: like a bird’s-eye drone flight, you can visit highlights and pre-selected cities. The corresponding button is displayed whenever the service is available.

The “Nearby” section of Apple Maps groups places of interest, restaurants, and other tourist attractions into several categories. As an option you can use the keyword search function. The service gets additional information from providers like Yelp or TripAdvisor.

To use Apple Maps, Apple users – the maps application does not work on Android devices – must be connected to the Internet. “With Google Maps, contact addresses and sometimes opening hours are stored offline,” explains Sebastian Trepesch. “Apple doesn’t have a true offline feature. Only the data in the cache can be viewed temporarily without an Internet connection ”.

High roaming costs, deadlocks, data protection issues – especially abroad, it can make sense to rely on third-party offline maps. “You can use many applications for free and just try them out,” says Jörg Geiger from the German trade magazine “Chip”.

With Here WeGo, iOS and Android users can download free maps for more than 100 countries and more than 1,300 cities. “With the application, you can browse comfortably without being connected to the Internet, that is, without having to worry about the volume of data,” reports Geiger.

The service has material as extensive as Google’s, but location data is only collected anonymously. Geiger points out that, in online mode, Here WeGo is also a real alternative to Google Maps.

Important sites, from museums to ATMs, are marked on maps with the corresponding symbols. Finding restaurants, places of interest and shops, as well as their opening hours and contact details, also works offline, but additional information from services such as TripAdvisor is only available online.

For pedestrians and cyclists, the Maps.Me service is ideal. According to Sebastian Trepesch, the application is less suitable for car navigation, but it is suitable as a city map for cyclists and pedestrians.

Attraction descriptions, including helpful metadata, come from Wikipedia and are available both online and offline. When searching for attractions and services in the vicinity, the privacy-conscious service suggests numerous categories, from offers for children to toilets.

Those who want to plan routes without mobile data must download the maps in advance, as with Here WeGo. The source of the material, which includes more than 300 islands and countries, is the OpenStreetMap database, which can be edited by any user. Although this makes the maps very detailed, it can happen that the places are marked incorrectly and that the planning of the route leads to the destination after many detours.

If, on the other hand, you have special interests in your holidays, specialized map services are usually the best option: the offer ranges from a cycling route application to a search engine for places to practice kitesurfing.

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