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Nokia's Here Maps finally returns to iOS

Matt Brian , @m4tt
03.11.15
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Although Nokia is no longer in the smartphone game, it has remained committed to its other businesses. One of those is its mapping division, which almost six months ago debuted a new Android app capable of giving Google Maps a run for its money. At the same time, Nokia teased the launch of a completely overhauled iOS app, but its development has been shrouded in relative secrecy.

Nokia pulled its first iOS Maps app after admitting things "went horribly wrong," and its developers have had a lot of work to do to make sure it doesn't suffer a repeat this time around. The company believes it's ticked all the requisite boxes as it's now available to download on the App Store. Is it good enough to replace Google Maps or condemn Apple Maps to more misery? We took the chance to preview the app and find out.

Gallery: Nokia's HERE Maps for iOS | 10 Photos

Getting Around

Mapping apps can't afford to be too unique or they risk alienating users. Fortunately, this means that if you've ever used Apple Maps or Google Maps (or Here Maps on Android for that matter), you'll know exactly what to do. You will first be asked to create or sign in with a Here account, which you'll need if you intend on downloading maps or saving locations, but after that you're good to go.

The app offers two main options: Maps and Drive. The first will help you locate and familiarize yourself with a specific location, while the latter will actually help you reach it. Place searches are fast and responsive, and the maps provide detailed information and clear points of interest in 190 countries. The same could be said of the previous iOS app, but Nokia has significantly improved the public transport data and live traffic updates that plagued it before.

When you search for a location, you'll be asked to select one of three different modes of transport. If you feel like driving, Here Maps will display the total distance, estimated duration of the journey and the main routes you will need to take. As long as you're connected to mobile data (or WiFi), it will automatically factor in traffic delays, but only if you live in one of 44 supported countries. Like Google Maps, Nokia also provides real-time public transit data (currently in 950 cities in over 50 countries), letting you to plan your journey without having to independently check the bus or train timetables first.

HERE Maps for iOS

On Android, Nokia faces the might of Google. But on the iPhone, it has to contend with the search giant and Apple's pre-installed Maps app. When I put them to work around the area where I live, Here Maps did a good job of identifying local points of interest like gas stations, restaurants and libraries. TripAdvisor reviews and guides will also let you know what is good and what is not. As expected, Google was the winner in this department, both in terms of depth and visibility on the map, but Here Maps certainly wasn't far behind.

Nokia's turn-by-turn directions are excellent. The app provided early voice prompts and uncomplicated road layouts and only suggested slightly longer routes to my destination when it encountered one-way roads. We're only talking an extra minute or so, though. I like that Here Maps displays the speed limit for the road you're on, but Google Maps had more intimate knowledge of the area and I found Google's voice alerts were better localized for my British sensibilities (what's a traffic circle?!)

Offline Maps

The major difference between Here Maps and mapping apps from Google and Apple is the inclusion of true offline navigation. Unlike Google Maps, which allows users to save small snapshots of a local area, Nokia offers maps for hundreds of countries (or even entire continents) that don't require a data connection.

It's especially useful if you want to navigate your way through strange and foreign lands, where data roaming is expensive, but be aware, Nokia's maps will take up a significant portion of your iPhone's storage. A map of Europe requires 9.3GB, for instance, while a map of the USA will take up 4.4GB.

The great thing about these true offline maps is that they still allow for the discovery of new places in your chosen area. You can be in Flight Mode and still find a place to eat in a town you've never visited in your life. Obviously, you won't get traffic updates without a data connection, but offline navigation is where Nokia has all of its rivals beat, comprehensively.

Despite its ease of use and wide geographical support, Here Maps has arrived at the party just as it's breaking up. In the 15 months since Nokia pulled its original app, Google has only cemented its position as the mapping service to beat, while Apple has been silently improving the quality of Maps, which has the benefit of being the default navigation app for iOS. That said, Nokia does offer features that its rivals can't (yet) match and iPhone users can switch between apps depending on their needs. However, it's still a tough sell when all Apple has to do is auto-link an address in your email or messaging app to get you to use its maps.

Nokia informs us that because of current issues with the App Store, the app may not be available right away. If you can't download, please try again later.

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