Alternative Navigation Apps to Apple Maps That Work ​With Apple CarPlay

Published On April 6, 2019 | Feature, How To

Before the release of iOS 12, CarPlay owners were restricted to the stock Apple Maps app as their navigation app of choice for Apple CarPlay. Since then, a growing number of Apple CarPlay supported Apple CarPlay navigation apps have released, so the choice is much greater now.

But which is the best for you? Well it really depends on your own preferences and how you like to generally use your navigation app and how integrated you are with it ecosystem.

One of the caveats to allowing third-party navigation apps on CarPlay is that Apple restricts how developers can visually show their nav app on the CarPlay display. Allowing the ability to customise the map tiles gives some differences between each map app as well as the traffic and route data that works behind the scenes, but other than this all map apps can easily appear to function very similarly to each other.

This is what Apple ideally wants. However, although similar in their functionality, certain maps apps do things better than others. So let’s look at the alternative navigation apps Apple Maps that are able to work on an Apple CarPlay compatible display in your vehicle.

Google Maps

The Maps app from Google has become the staple navigation app for most of us. If we did not have Apple’s own Maps app forced on to us, it probably wouldn’t have had a look in. But since its post iOS 12 update, you can now display Google Maps on a CarPlay display in your vehicle.

How to get it:

Download the Google Maps app from the App Store then launch it by pressing its icon on the CarPlay display, or from the app icon on your iPhone screen.

What’s it like:

Google Maps runs exactly how you would expect it to on Apple CarPlay. After a few app updates since its first release, most bugs have been fixed, so having navigation show up on your CarPlay display, using map tiles and UI you’ve been accustomed to is as good as it is on the iPhone.

Saved favorites and past searches from your Google account is carried through to the CarPlay search screen and voice and keyboard search is there too, should you wish to manually input your destination.

What I don’t like:

There is no speed camera location support, however, some users have spotted this feature being tested in the wild. It’s nearest petrol station display is not as good as Waze, which includes the latest petrol prices that are updated by its community.

Why should I use it:

If you don’t like Apple Maps, or you find Google has better map data in your area, then I would recommend using Google Maps over Apple’s own Maps solution.

If you use desktop searching for locations, having this sync over to past historic locations in the apps search screen can be super helpful. Sending a destination to your phone is also available, should you wish to plot your route and send it to your device – if you’re on a Mac Apple also does this.

Waze

I personally have a soft spot to Waze. Although it is owned by Google, Waze feels quite different. Not only in its looks but how it functions too. It’s unique key features are run by you and its community of users, who spend a few seconds reporting hazards on the road, marking new speed traps or police locations, through to gas station prices and much more.

The CarPlay app update released closely alongside Google Maps after the release of iOS 12 and it has had a few updates since then to address a few bugs and add some functionality.

How to get it:

Download the Waze app from the App Store then launch it by pressing its icon on the CarPlay display, or from the app icon on your iPhone screen.

What’s it like:

Sharing hazards and key points of interest on the road for other “Wazers” to see feels supportive. And it is rewarding when that little numbered sweet drops on your route to collect along the way. Gamifying the whole process.

All of the iPhone display has been wonderfully carried over to the CarPlay screen, along with its speed camera alerts, animated traffic path directions and road speed reductions on your route ahead.

Between the three big hitters, including Apple and Google map apps, I find Waze directs me along roads that are better (shorter/more direct) for me, rather than taking me around longer, more winded routes. It feels like I’m being directed by a local guide that knows the area, than someone that is just reading off a map book on where best to go.

What I don’t like:

I find the audio search to be a little hit and miss, just like it isn’t routing through my internal microphone. Panning around the map has some considerable delay too, but this is common in all third-party apps I’ve tested thus far.

I do wish that petrol stations and their prices were accessible through the CarPlay display via the map display and not in a list or located on the iPhone screen.

Sometimes it can lose your location on the map and have you appearing on a different road nearby or facing backwards, but it soon manages to update and fix itself.

Why should I use it:

Speed cameras (at least in the UK) are growing by the day. With the growth of average speed check zones on motorways, I find using Waze on my journey invaluable, especially in a location I am not familiar with.

Its visuals and animations help overcome some niggles I find in other maps apps too. Traffic flow animations, for example, really help you understand at a very quick glance whether you’re about to enter into a busy street full of traffic or it’s going the opposite direction and that it will not affect you.

Sygic GPS

Sygic is an offline GPS navigation app that also works on Apple CarPlay. It has been under beta for some time and it has only just released to the public a little over a month ago. Its CarPlay feature comes under a premium licence, and you can sample its features via a 7-day free trial of all the premium features.

How to get it:

Download the Sygic GPS app from the App Store then launch it by pressing its icon on the CarPlay display, or from the app icon on your iPhone screen.

What’s it like:

Compared to its competitors, it has a lot still to do to compete with the likes of Apple, Google and Waze navigation apps. With speed camera support and offline maps, it is a great map solution for anyone in areas where a data connection is not reliable enough to download your journey’s map tiles.

What I don’t like:

As I mentioned above, there is plenty to do in the app to match the visuals and usability of more established apps. Maps lack particular detail, there is no satellite tile support, and vocal turn-by-turn directions sounds too robotic.

Why should I use it:

If you’re stuck in a dead zone of mobile data, then give Sygic a go. With its offline maps, there are more improved navigation app of choice on Apple CarPlay, including Google’s offline Maps, the upcoming TomTom and the already available Magic Earth. The beta had a number of stability bugs, these have been ironed out, but now and then I still experience some instabilities.

TomTom Maps

TomTom will arrive on Apple CarPlay fashionably late to the party. It is currently under beta testing with select users, and it is expected to release in early 2019. What once was the pedigree of navigation will finally come to your CarPlay display, and if the beta is anything to go by, it will be worth the wait.

How to get it:

Join in on the closed beta, or wait for its final release sometime in early 2019. Keep an eye on the app store page for updates.

What’s it like:

The beta has been fairly solid in my testing. Like other applications, it also displays speed limits as well warnings if you are going over the limit. However live speed display is excluded from the CarPlay display. Its display is very clear, with various downloadable voices to accompany your turn-by-turn visual directions.

Tom Tom’s map tiles are like Waze, in that they are very colourful and bright, making it very overall pleasing to the eye. Speed camera traps are also located on the map along with audible warnings.

What I don’t like:

TomTom’s maps may not be as detailed for some, but I like it. Its search and quick menu are a little primitive compared to other apps, however, this is still under beta and TomTom could make a lot of improvements from the feedback they are receiving from its testers, before its general public release.

The iPhone display on the TomTom beta app also shows the same navigation view as on the CarPlay display. It isn’t being utilised as a second screen of information like most other nav apps do. Some might like this, but personally I feel it is a wasted opportunity to display warnings ahead of your, or a breakdown of each navigation step.

Why should I use it:

With TomTop maps being downloadable, this is likely to be one of the best offline navigation apps for Apple CarPlay. Its map tiles are very clear, bright and colourful, with a clear indication of traffic, camera traps and most importantly, turn-by-turn directions. I also found TomTom to provide me with instant routes that I take regularly, instead of suggesting a much longer route, like many of the other navigations apps do.

Magic Earth

Magic Earth closely released alongside the bigger navigation apps. Personally I had never heard of them until it popped up as a compatible CarPlay nav app. Its app is an online and/or offline navigation app, which like Waze, utilises crowd-sourced traffic data to inform you of any delays in your route ahead.

How to get it:

Download the Magic Earth app from the App Store then launch it by pressing its icon on the CarPlay display, or from the app icon on your iPhone screen.

What’s it like:

It’s a kind of app that feels more detailed and intricate than its competitors. Its USP is its elevated maps. This gives you a view that emphasizes height instead of a more familiar “flat” map view. It makes it easy to navigate valleys and mountain-scapes, but it’s totally lost when used in towns and cities.

It carries some handy Points of Interest labels. Such as post offices, letter boxes, car parks and medical centres.

What I don’t like:

To some, Magic Earth might be too detailed for you. When you are after a navigation app that simply tells you where to go, sometimes a visually simpler app may just provide you with all that you need. Being a visually led person, I am surprised I didn’t prefer the maps on the Magic Earth app, at a glance it didn’t feel as easy to read, where other apps provided me with more clearer and simpler UI to navigate with.

Why should I use it:

If you prefer your maps to be detailed and have the ability to display a number of interesting POI, then Magic Earth may be for you. Its ability to download a region, or the entire country, is great for navigation in areas with weak data signals. If you are online, however, you have the ability to have free crowd-sourced traffic data in an app that brings elevation to your navigation experience.

Other Navigation Apps Out There…

AutoNavi / T Map for All / Baidu Maps are Country limited.

There are always new navigation apps releasing onto Apple CarPlay, so keep an eye on our Navigation apps for Apple CarPlay page.

What is Our Nav App of Choice?

With all these mentioned navigation apps installed, I have found that I don’t use one particular one, but I do bounce between a few common navigation apps. These have been Waze, Google Maps and the TomTom beta.

Waze

If I had to select one navigation app to live with though, it would be Waze. I find its publicly reporting hazard alerts and speed traps more valuable than running any other navigation app on there.

I also prefer its the map tiles on Waze and its clean and maybe ‘child-like’ user-interface. Its traffic and estimates seem on point to me and its guidance takes me more along shorter routes that I would take, instead of going along common, and much busier, streets.

Google Maps

I return to the Google Maps app when I wish to navigate quickly to a location that I have searched for on my iPhone. Google Maps remains as my go-to app when it comes to searching for a location, and finding its opening times.

TomTom Maps

Even in its beta form, TomTom maps has been a solid app for me, both visually, its map tiles and UI. Its routes have been more instantly accurate than Waze. It’s searchable options and POI is a little basic at the moment and I hope this improves with future updates. TomTom has a lot of potential in its CarPlay functionality, however, it has a lot to do for me to cast aside Waze as my navigation app of choice.

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