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Finding yourself ... more iOS maps

Finding yourself ... more iOS maps

A while ago I got over-excited about maps on the iPad and promised more of the same in the future and now, the future has arrived.

This week I have two iOS map apps that I think are really good. The first is Navigon North America published by Navigon AG which works on the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch.

Navigon NA, unlike most iOS navigation apps, stores its maps on your iPad, a feature that addresses the all-too-common problem that your mobile Internet connection may well vanish when you're out in the sticks (when I went to Utah last summer there was a lot of "dead air," at least for data, on the I-15 between Salt Lake City and St. George).

GIFT GUIDE: Travel gear tech treasure]

The map data sets, which include all of the Canadian provinces, all 50 U.S. states and Puerto Rico, can be pretty big (California is 100MB and most are tens of megabytes, while Prince Edward Island is a measly 1.3MB). You select which maps you want to have on board and these are then downloaded on demand (Navigon NA comes with no maps installed); you can add and remove maps as needed.

Navigon NA provides turn-by-turn navigation with voice prompting, extensive points of interest (gas stations, banks, schools, etc.), and overall is straightforward and easy to use. Maps can be viewed in either 2D or 3D and while the rendering and user interface styling are not the most elegant I've seen neither are they the worst.

Navigon North America is priced at $39.99 and some cool add-ons are available: Traffic Live ($19.99) for real-time traffic information, Panorama 3D which overlays the maps onto a an elevation model ($9.99 and requires an extra 729MB of data storage), Radar Info US ($4.99) which provides audio-visual warnings of some 4,000 permanently installed speed and red light cameras, and Freshmaps XL North America ($14.99) which provides quarterly map updates for two years.

I've got a couple of road trips coming up soon so I'll be giving Navigon a real workout, but so far I'm impressed. Navigon gets a rating of 4.5 out of 5.

My other map app pick is PDF Maps from Avenza Systems. PDF Maps can best be described as a map rendering applications for all iOS devices. It also has the ability to download maps from iTunes, from the Web or from Avenza's own map store.

The PDF part of the app's name is because the maps supported by PDF Maps are in Adobe's geospatial PDF format which was released in 2008 with Acrobat 9.

These documents contain location data which allows you to find and mark location coordinates on the maps as well as measure distance, perimeters and areas, set markers, and all of the other things you might want to do with a map.

If you have Acrobat 9 or later you can view any geospatial PDF by loading it into Acrobat, selecting View|Toolbars|Analysis, and then start browsing the map. For a primer on using geospatial PDFs see the "Quick Start Guide" from Brazos Valley Council of Governments.

Of course, using Acrobat 9 to view maps is like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut ... if you want to just use maps, you can live without the gazillion other feature Acrobat also throws in (and, might I point out, throws in somewhat confusingly ... it's a kitchen sink application).

But if working specifically with maps is your goal then get an iPad and download PDF Maps. The number of maps available in the Avenza store is amazing and a huge number are free!

Once you've selected and downloaded a map then opened it in PDF Maps you can measure distances and areas, add waypoints, orient the map to the iPad compass, find coordinates and places and even open your current map view in Google's Map app.

If you want to create your own maps, Avenza offers MapPublisher for Adobe Illustrator ($1,399) which adds more than 40 mapping tools into the Adobe Illustrator environment. With this add-on you can, among other things, import and export to and from a number of geographical information systems (GIS) data formats, including ESRI, MapInfo, MicroStation, AutoCAD, Google and the U.S. government as well as geospatial PDF.

Avenza also sells Geographic Imager for Adobe Photoshop ($699) which adds tools to Photoshop so you can convert images into GeoTIFF and other formats which can, in turn, be imported into MapPublisher and output to geospatial PDFs.

The user interface of PDF Maps is great -- elegant, consistent and intuitive and the map rendering is as good as the maps you choose to use. And to round it all off, the iOS app is free, giving PDF Maps a rating of 5 out of 5!

Gibbs is mapped onto Ventura, Calif. Locate yourself at gearhead@gibbs.com.

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Tags iPadmobilesmartphonestabletsiosiPhonesoftwareapplicationstelecommunication3Mhardware systemsconsumer electronicsnavigonInternet-based applications and servicesMobile OSesMaps

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