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TUAW First Look: MapQuest 4 Mobile

Sang Tang

Once upon a time, multipoint navigation on the iPhone required some heavy lifting, and a bit of savvy was required to get you from Point A to Point B to Point C. Using the built-in map application, you could enter a future location as a bookmark, as a contact, or you could use the "Recents" button. MapQuest 4 Mobile [iTunes link] provides the same multi-point trip functionality, and builds upon it with single tap location-based services as well as integration with the company's web-based service.

The app is organized into four sections -- maps, directions, my places, and settings. Maps, as implied in its name, provides a view of your selected location, but with the ability to display available services in the area. Among them are shopping centers, cafes, and gas stations. While many map apps can do this, MapQuest offers multi-select for categories, which means that if you'd like to pick up some Chicken and Stove Top and grab a latte on the way home from work, you could choose to display grocery stores and cafes both.

Read on for more about MapQuest Mobile.

Note: MapQuest 4 Mobile is a product from AOL, which is also the corporate parent of TUAW & Weblogs Inc.

MapQuest 4 Mobile may provide more than one route from your current location (or an entered address) to the grocery store, and then to the cafe. Routes can be based on the shortest time or distance, with the added ability to avoid highways, toll roads, and seasonally closed roads. What's more, the app allows you to rearrange your destinations, should they change. So if your need for caffeine outweighs your hunger, you could put the cafe at the front of the list.

Multi-point destinations notwithstanding, MapQuest 4 Mobile also provides a twist on navigation with its user interface. Whereas the built-in iPhone map requires you to tap to go back and forth between points, MapQuest 4 Mobile accomplishes this with swiping gestures. I found this to provide a better navigating experience than the built-in map app while driving (I know, it's against the law to use a cell phone while driving in California).

One last thing that stands out on MapQuest 4 Mobile is the way it displays traffic information. On the built-in iPhone map app, which color codes roads red, yellow, and green based on traffic conditions, I often find it difficult to differentiate between yellow traffic speed roads and the actual color of roads on the map, which sometimes happen to be a similar color. I found the contrast between roads and traffic information much more apparent on MapQuest 4 Mobile.

But MapQuest 4 Mobile is not without its share of issues, some that you may not be able to overlook in deciding whether or not the app is ready for daily use. I found the app to be less responsive than the built-in iPhone map when zooming in and out of views, as well as scrolling (both up and down, and left to right) on the current view.

This carried onto to navigating directions as well. On occasion, MapQuest 4 Mobile did not display the map for directions after a destination was entered. A blank map was shown instead.

I also found the lack of address book integration to be an inconvenience. While MapQuest's "My Places" provides a hook to stored addresses, and is certainly helpful for multi-point trip planning, it doesn't make up for the convenience of address book integration. Perhaps this will be included on future versions.

For all of MapQuest 4 Mobile's promise, it is not without its quirks; you may find them minor annoyances or showstoppers; the best way to know if you'll find it useful is to give it a try. Fortunately, there's little risk, as the app is free in the US App Store (iTunes link).

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