Using your iOS device for offline navigation

One of the coolest and pos­sibly the most expens­ive fea­ture of an iPhone or iPad is the maps / nav­ig­a­tion fea­ture.

Pock­et Earth iOS icon

On our recent vaca­tion to Maui, we wanted to have live maps, but not have to rack up expens­ive data to do it. A bit of Inter­net sleuth­ing turned up Pock­etEarth, a very cool app that per­forms exactly as advert­ised — deliv­er­ing off­line nav­ig­a­tion and map­ping without a live inter­net con­nec­tion.

Using Pock­et Earth, I simply:

  • down­loaded rel­ev­ant maps while at the condo or before I left home
  • cre­ated routes I’d likely use
  • added poten­tial points of interest
  • saved everything to my iPhone

And it worked like a charm!  Here’s a map of the stretch of West Maui where we spent a lot of time.

West Maui map in Pock­et Earth

And here’s a bit on how it’s done — from the sup­port for­um:

Pock­etEarth is designed for off­line use and makes it easy to avoid data roam­ing costs by allow­ing you to down­load maps and routes in advance and use them off­line, even with GPS.  Here is some inform­a­tion and sug­ges­tions to make sure you don’t get charged!

GPS usage is always free, how­ever down­load­ing data is often not!  To avoid expens­ive map down­loads, we recom­mend down­load­ing all of your des­tin­a­tions in advance from a WiFi con­nec­tion. Please see this for­um post for inform­a­tion on how to down­load entire coun­tries or regions with Pock­etEarth.
Once you have down­loaded all the maps you may need, you can dis­able down­load­ing to be sure Pock­etEarth won’t down­load any­thing. Just go to Set­tings > Net­work Mode and change it to Off­line Mode or WiFi Only.
Altern­ately, you may wish to pre­vent all of your apps from using up your lim­ited and expens­ive data plan, not only Pock­etEarth.  While the Air­plane Mode will cer­tainly do this, it will also pre­vent all GPS usage! For­tu­nately there is a bet­ter solu­tion which will still allow you to use the GPS in Pock­etEarth and oth­er apps while pre­vent­ing cel­lu­lar down­loads: In the device’s mainSet­tings App, just go to Gen­er­al > Net­work and dis­able either Cel­lu­lar Data com­pletely or just Data Roam­ing and it will pre­vent expens­ive data usage while trav­el­ing abroad.

Please note that using the GPS “off­line” (when both WiFi and Cel­lu­lar are unavail­able) works well, but may take longer to find your ini­tial loc­a­tion. From our exper­i­ence this is usu­ally 30–40 seconds, but in some cases can be up to 2 minutes.

My thoughts
Quite simply a no-brain­er pur­chase. For $2.99 (CAD) in the iTunes store, this is likely one of the best nav­ig­a­tion and map­ping pur­chases I’ve made. Reg­u­larly updated, com­munity sup­por­ted, and uses a lot of open data sources. Hard to beat that.


Published by Brad Grier geek.hack