What I Want in a Mobile Maps App

By | October 1, 2013

google_maps_android_logo_250For years of using Google Maps, I grew accustomed to some very nice features.  But for some reason, the latest versions of the Google Maps for Android App have left me wanting.  Trying some other mobile apps like Waze provide some neat features that Google Maps does not have, but it too is missing some critical features that I wish were there.

Here are some of the features I want most from a Mobile Map App.

  • Easy Access to Alternate Routes
  • Better Logic Behind Toll vs. Free Routes
  • Understanding Some Routes Require a Toll Tag
  • Better Business Search

And here are all the details of what would make mobile maps apps better.

Easy Access to Alternate Routes

When traffic gets bogged down, or an accident happens on the route you are on, it is useful to have alternative routes.  The latest version of Google Maps1  makes it difficult to see how long an alternative route takes because you have to use the back button on your phone to back up to the screen where you can make a choice.  If you press back one too many times, you have to re-enter your destination.  This is the number one reason I avoid using Google Maps for commuting.  Waze luckily has a better setup, where you can actually request alternate routes while navigating.

Some things I would like to see:

  1. Easy Access to Alternative Routes.  While navigating, I should be able to easily request alternative routes without having to re-enter my destination, with as few taps as possible.
  2. Non-Freeway Alternatives: Be able to suggest non-freeway routes as alternatives, if they are faster, even when most of the route is via freeway.
  3. Less Congested Route: Be able to suggest less congested routes, even if it takes a couple minutes longer.  Driving for 7 minutes on non-congested surface streets beats 5 minutes of bumper to bumper stop and go traffic crawling at 10 mph in my mind.  Certainly less stressful.

Implementing some of these options may even reduce congestion.  Instead of telling everyone to use the freeway, you could suggest that they could avoid some congestion by driving a different route.  Some people will choose to fastest route regardless of congestion, but some will choose to take a less congested route even if it takes longer, reducing traffic on the main route.

Better Logic Behind Toll vs. Free Routes

Currently most Mobile Apps only have two settings: to avoid tolls or not.  But when it comes time to suggest routes, it reverts to either shortest route or shortest time.  But when presented with two routes, one toll and one free, there are other factors involved, like whether it is worth paying the extra fee.  For example, you have the choice of the Hardy Toll Road or Interstate 45 when travelling to and from Houston and The Woodlands.  If the travel time for both is the same, I will always pick the free route.  After all, why pay extra if you don’t get there any faster?  On the other hand, if taking the toll road is going to shave 10 minutes off my trip, due to traffic conditions, and I am in a hurry to get somewhere, I will probably pay the $3.50 to get there 10 minutes sooner.

It would be nice if the app could suggest a preferred route on additional conditions.  For example:

  1. Suggest Tolled Route if Saving Time.  Suggest the toll road over the free road if it is X% faster, or shaves off X minutes or more travel time.
  2. Suggest Free Route if No Saved Time.  If both routes will get you there in about the same time, suggest the free route as the preferred route.
  3. Save Toll Preference for Saved Routes.  Add an option where people can chose whether they prefer the tolled route or the free route (or under what conditions the toll route would be preferred) for saved destinations.  For example, heading to work I am much more likely to chose the toll route if it saves me time, since I have to be there at a set time.  Heading home, an extra 5 minutes on my trip isn’t worth the toll, so I would be more likely to chose the free route on the way home.

Understand Some Routes Require Electronic Tolling

In Houston, and in many places across the country, toll roads are starting to require toll tags.  For example, in Houston, you cannot drive on the Westpark Tollway unless you have an EZ Tag (or compatible tag such as the TX Tag, TollTag, or Metro HOT Lanes Toll Tag).  If you do not have one of those electronic tags, you cannot legally drive on the Westpark Tollway (and many other similar routes in Houston).  There should be an option to select “avoid routes that require a toll tag” so people without the local toll tag can avoid routes they legally cannot take.

This could be implemented as follows:

  1. Specify Which Toll Tag(s) You Have.  Allow users to specify which agencies (plural) they have a toll tag from.  (A trucker may have both an EZ Tag from Texas, and an EZ Pass from the east coast, so people should be able to specify more than one.)
  2. Avoid Toll Tag Only Routes.  Have a check mark where people can select to avoid routes that require a Toll Tag they do not have.  There should also be an option to avoid toll tag only routes completely, in case they are in a different car or their account is empty.

Finding Multiple Locations of Nearby Businesses Easily

On thing that really annoys me about the latest version of Google Maps is that it isn’t smart enough to send me to nearby places, and give me multiple choices in a meaningful way.  Since Google Maps knows where I live and places I frequent, it is not uncommon for Google Maps to suggest I drive 30 miles to McDonald’s, instead of telling me where the nearest one is.  And when it does give me a list of choices, it gives me a list with just the addresses.  If I am in an unfamiliar area, how do I know if the McDonald’s at 123 Salamander Street is nearby or 30 miles away?  If I select “McDonald’s” without an address, it only lists 1 location, often not even close to where I am now, even though Google Maps knows where I am.  (Yes, Google Maps has actually suggested I drive 30 miles to McDonald’s, telling me to get on the freeway, which exit to take, estimating it would take over 30 minutes to get there, etc.2)

What I would like to see is the following:

  1. Multiple Locations on Map View.  When displaying results in map view, show more than one location.  If I am driving south, it may be true that the one west of me is closer, but it is also way out of my way.  The one south of me may be farther away in distance, but is actually on my route.
  2. Address, Distance & Direction in List View.  When displaying a list of possible locations, the address is nice, but it is not enough.  The distance and direction would also be useful.  Knowing that there is a McDonald’s 30 miles to the south is more useful than knowing there is a McDonald’s 10 miles to the north, when you are travelling southbound.  The city or suburb would be nice to list as well, especially if you are searching in a large Metropolitan area like Houston.
  3. Nearby Locations Get Preference.  If I am in Spring, or Sugar Land, it is doubtful I am looking for a restaurant in Houston, even though I live in Houston.  It is nice that locations I frequent come up, but they should not be the first on the list.
  4. Choice of GPS or Location on Map.  When viewing the results, it would be nice to be able to select between results nearest to your GPS location, or results closest to where you were looking on the map.  You can indirectly choose by making sure you are looking at the right location on the map, but having a choice you can easily select / tap on in the results would make things easier, especially if you are looking for locations both near and far, or you accidentally searched some far away place and you meant to search where you are now.

Other Suggestions

Well, these are my suggestions.  What features would like like to see in Google Maps, Waze or other Mobile Maps Apps?  Or if you are familiar with other mapping apps, what cool features do they have that others don’t?  Please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas below.


Scott M. Stolz

Entrepreneur, Educator, Author.
Helping people embrace life's opportunities.™