Having spent years navigating the world with little more than an iPhone and the free Google Maps app, I’ve noticed there are more than a few quirks to it.
Quick note: while I’m sure the Android version of the map has some of its own quirks, I’ll have to focus this post around my own experiences with the iPhone app.
Turning on Wi-Fi pinpoints your location more accurately, but not necessarily faster
You’ve probably seen the message at least a couple times — turning on Wi-Fi without connecting to any network does help narrow down that big blue circle into a blue dot pinpointing your location. Thank the triangulation gods here — but not too much, since the process of finding you isn’t any faster than without the Wi-Fi. Turning it on is also of little help when you’re well away from urban sprawl, though I’ve been pleasantly surprised along some rural roads.
Save maps to use offline
In the top-left corner, tap the ‘hamburger’ icon (the three lines left of the search bar). Fourth one down is ‘Offline Areas’. Tap the plus sign in the lower right corner, then zoom in or out to select the square-shaped area you want to download. It’s best to do this over wi-fi for a faster download.
Star a place from the desktop to make it appear on the phone (and vice versa)
Assuming you’re signed into the same Google account, places you star on the phone will show on your desktop maps of the same areas. To star a place, zoom in, then tap and hold until the address bar pops up from the bottom. Tap it, then tap ‘Save’.
Lost your traveling companions? Tell them where you are in three taps.
Let Maps find you, then tap and hold on the blue dot. After it shows the address in the bottom bar, tap the bar, then tap ‘Share’. Send your location by a text message, e-mail, and so on.
Can’t find it? Google it in your browser, then tap the ‘Maps’ tab
I’ve had better luck finding obscure places using Google search engine versus the one built into Maps. For want of a better term, the ‘fuzzy search’ seems far better on the desktop than the phone. No idea why. If you can’t remember the name (or if it’s a language you don’t know or can’t type), Google it in your preferred browser, then tap the ‘Maps’ tab near the top to be taken into the Maps app.
Swipe right to select public transport
From the left edge of your screen, swipe right to ensure your directions include public transportation. This is also where you’d choose biking, walking, or driving directions.
Using GPS coordinates?
Not sure when exactly it happened, but GPS coordinates now work just like you’d expect. They didn’t always work — in fact, they used to provide some of the wonkiest results around. If you’ve received a set of coordinates (like, cough, this blog) type them in and get moving.
Know the local language for better searches
Local names rule, especially in cases where there are multiple English translations. Think museo, not museum; supermercado, not supermarket.
In other cases, it helps to know the names of the ‘big-box’ stores — Carrefour and Tesco and well-known brands in some countries, and there’s usually at least one big-box store in the bigger city. Some can be confusing if there’s smaller or larger versions, so look out for convenience-stores-sized-locations versus department-sized stores. Malls often have a larger big-box or grocery store, and without fail they’re usually in the basement.
Finally, keep it simple
Whatever your search, just typing in ‘coffee’ or ‘parking’ or another simple non-branded search may just be the ticket.