Location and navigation have become one of the most fundamental fields for mobile phone apps. We want to know where we are and what's around us without having to pull some unwieldy paper map out of our pockets, and we want it done quick. Naturally, with a mapping service all of its own, Microsoft isn't too keen on giving Google a piece of the action, so all of the Windows Phone 7 locations apps have integrated Bing instead to interesting effect.
So, if you want to know which has had the developing nous to come up with something that works, then read on because these are the best Windows Phone 7 location apps that you'll find on the Marketplace.
Heads Up Speedometer (free)
It’s not so much the technology behind this app as its application that makes it a must. There are actually quite a few bits of speedometer software available on the Marketplace, all of which measure the time taken as you move from A to B and relate it to the distance travelled according to the GPS reading. What’s great about the Heads Up Speedometer is that you get to feel like James Bond. The reading, as displayed on your phone’s screen, is actually a mirrored, upside down view of what it should be. The idea is that you place your mobile face up on the dashboard of your car and, hey presto, you get your speed the right way round reflected in the glass of your windscreen.
Naturally, there’s not a lot of joy during the day, but it’s really quite a fun app at night. It’s never going to be as accurate as your car’s actual speedo but, when it is working, it does mean that you can keep your eyes on the road and feel a bit futuristic at the same time.
iToiletFinder is more of an app for the future. Using Bing Maps, your phone’s GPS and a database of its own, it’ll show you where your nearest public toilet is. All very good. The only trouble is that the database is user generated and, currently, there’s not that many toilets listed - certainly in London where we tried the service. According to iToiletFinder our closest convenience is apparently a half hour bus ride away. As it goes, the service might have more to it in the States but, in general, the message here is that it’s going to require a decent user base to be really effective. Consider this a call to arms.
What’s particularly nice is that users are encouraged to add and rate toilets, and leave comments about baby changing facilities, cleanliness and all sorts. So download and get building.
Yellow Pages/Smarty (free/£0.79)
There’s very little to separate these two directories apps save integration, database and the fact that one of them costs 79p. Otherwise, they’ll both do you proud. The way they work is by keying into your location with the GPS and matching it up with a local search of whatever it is you’re looking for - plumber, Italian restaurant, etc - and then bringing back a list of results with one touch options for maps, directions, phone numbers and even sharing the results to friends. While the Yellow Pages uses its own famous directory, Smarty appears to tap into Bing Local which works just as well. If we really had to pick one, we’d probably go with Smarty despite the cost. There’s something just a little better about it.
GPS/GPX Logger - (free)
Mark this app “one for the specialist”, but the reason we’ve included it on the list is that, unlike many location apps, it actually works really well. It’s more basic, in many ways, than most and the evidence of that is in the interface where you’ll find just one main screen. What GPS/GPX Logger does is record your GPS position at quick, regular intervals and brings you back data on your longitude, latitude, your speed, altitude and the accuracy of all the readings as well. The idea is that it creates a file of exactly where you’ve been, and when and what speed you did it at. Now, that’s not wildly useful for the casual WP7 customer, but for anyone into mapping or spying, it’s a superb application. What’s really great about it are the little features such as DropBox integration, the choice of logging file to record as and whether you want to ZIP files or not before uploading them. Almost worth becoming a geo-geek for.
Geocaching - (£7.99)
This is the most expensive Windows Phone 7 app we’ve ever suggested. There are others that perform a similar job, and often for free, but none of them come close for functionality and richness of experience. This, as the name suggests, is all about the pastime of geocaching and, if you’ve never tried it before, £7.99 is certainly worth a pop for an afternoon’s entertainment. The app provides direct access to the Geocaching web site where you can search through any one of the 1.2 million treasure hunts, to find one close or appropriate to where you are and the level of difficulty you’re after. What makes it streets ahead of the wannabes is that it includes driving and walking directions, photo integration, a motion-based compass, Bing Maps, and all the user generated reviews and data that have been added to this community over the years. Give it a whirl.
ScanSearch - (LG exclusive)
There’s not much in the way of AR apps on the Marketplace at the moment, in fact, there's only one. So, if you happen to have an LG WP7 handset, then you’ll be lucky enough to get a free exclusive of the only piece of software with access to Microsoft's camera software. ScanSearch taps into your choice of Google or Bing and will bring you back results of restaurants, cafes, bars, hotels, banks, public transport and all that jazz, and displays it based on your location when you hold the phone up on a background of the real picture of the streets around you, as supplied by your phone’s camera. As is usual with these things, you can then wave you handset about you to discover which results are closer and in which direction they’re in.
What makes ScanSearch stand out above other AR apps on different mobile platforms is that, if you point the phone with the camera facing to the ground, it brings up the results on a radar type map all at once which gives a better look at the whole picture. If you do the opposite and hold the camera up to the clouds, it brings you a local weather report. What’s more, it’s all integrated with really smart graphics and tasteful GUI. It might not be the fastest way to work out where to go, but it’s certainly entertaining.
Bing Maps (pre-installed)
You don’t really have a lot of choice here but, fortunately, the mapping application that comes with WP7 is actually rather good. While Google Maps is the choice for most, Bing Maps is just as worthy a program. The phone version doesn’t have all the richness of the desktop application but you still get the search function, navigation and the choice of both road and satellite views. Where it does have the edge over Google Maps, say, on Android, is that pinching and zooming and moving about on the screen is much slicker and smoother. Either way, of course, you’ve got no option here, but the message is not to be afraid to enjoy it.
Traffic Tips (free)
Traffic Tips is a condensed version of a navigation app. It brings you information about what you specifically need to know about the state of the traffic on the roads you're about to drive on. The way it works is that you put in your regular journey to work by using your start address and your finish address. You do that the first time only and it will sit there as the default forever more. Then, each morning when you get up, you just open up the app and Traffic Tips searches the traffic information on Bing Maps of the roads in between the two locations for any warnings, and it’ll display any issues on the screen for you to avoid. Very simple. Very effective.
Geotagged list (free)
Geotagged list is quite a nice way of recording your memories or the special places that you would like to revisit. It’s got quite a friendly GUI which allows you to take photos and name them, and then it automatically geo-tags them and marks them on Bing Maps for you. All you need to do later is then browse the list of photos to find out where it was. It’s not a service that you can’t do any other way and it’s not perfect either, but it is worth using and it is free.
There’s an excellent chance that this app is completely useless for you. Don’t worry. It’s completely useless for us too. That’s because it’s all about bus information in Seattle. The reason we’ve included it in this list, though, is because it’s still a fantastic app and an example for other developers in other cities to follow. OneBusAway supplies real time bus information displayed onto a map of Seattle so that you know exactly which bus you ought to be waiting for and whether, in fact, you might be better off walking instead. What’s more, this makes buses much more usable for tourists who aren’t going to know when to get off. The app displays the location on the map at all times and has the stops marked so that you know when you’ve reached your destination. Bring on OneBusAway International.
Seen any location/navigation apps out on Windows Phone 7 that we should know about? Let rip in the comments below.