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An example of why 3D buildings are useless in busy places like Marrakech

Not only because I’ve worked at Nokia (Ovi) Maps and I’ve always believed in their product even after leaving the company, I’ve also used the formerly Nokia Web and Native App for quite some time now, and after yet another trip abroad I feel like I should share my POV about its pros and cons.

Where Here Maps is Unbeatable

Without strings attached, the reason number one I’ve used Here Maps instead of others is its Offline App capabilities.

Bear with me, I am not talking about a portion of a city or a limited squared area, I am talking about potentially the entire world offline!

Hold your breath: navigation and search are available offline too.

It’s a fully usable offline Map that will save your life and time in places like Hawaii, Desert, whenever roaming would cost a fortune or whenever you don’t have a reliable internet connection. As you know already, the GPS doesn’t need internet to work, so you’d be good to drive, search, follow your position on a busy city, or pretty much everywhere you need on this planet.

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You can have offline the world if you have enough memory

You can choose the level of details you want per country, and AFAIK you can download as many countries as you want. This way will take some time to eventually update areas, but that’s OK, you can do that on your sofa, at your home, through your blazing fast Wi-Fi the day before traveling.

I cannot stress enough how useful this feature has been for me, so important that I’ve tried to convince few friends too it’s the best Map App ever if you travel aboard a lot and/or you drive in wild places where the connection might miss out (you have no idea how many times it happened to me even while living and traveling in the U.S.).

However, and unfortunately, offline navigation is not everything, and I’ve felt like my suggestion to use Here Map, instead of known competitors, has been to some extend a bit blind and somehow misleading.

Where Here Maps is Unbearable

I’ve tried to ignore problems I know were there since ever, and I’ve tried to lie to myself that I could’ve survived knowing how to workaround these problems. The truth is, I am right now looking for alternatives (and I might end up creating one myself) because my last trip to Morocco kinda destroyed the deal.

Heavy and Pointless 3D Buildings

I haven’t quite noticed how useless and actually disturbing are 3D buildings until I’ve visited Marrakech. The amount of data needed to show these buildings is also relevant, it took up to 3 memory read and consecutive render to show buildings in a way that was completely covering the streets.

Instead of helping me, it was simply making me go bananas in a jungle.

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Before and after 3D buildings

I hear’ya all saying “don’t be stupid, just zoom closer and that’s it” right?

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Even zooming in streets are quite unreadable

The worst part of it is that I’ve downloaded extra data that is making me feel lost, instead of helping, and there is apparently no way on my iOS App to tell the app: “please keep all 3D disturbing feature for yourself, thank you!

Rotten strawberry on top, since the map needs extra memory card reads and extra power to render these 3D houses, my battery drains faster than usual while walking, not even driving, for not such long time on a busy city with the app on: brilliant, isn’t it ?

Focused on the wrong thing

3D buildings done in such obtrusive way are a plain broken feature.

There are IMO only few use cases for 3D buildings, and these are those cool, historical, architectural constructions that makes you think “WOW” once, right before you realize you don’t care about seeing them in such way on a map while you are walking or driving, because the moment you see these buildings on the map is the moment you are there.

OK for these “WOW” exceptions but … really, all houses of the world too?

Who actually thought that was a useful info first, and secondly a so important one that should’ve been put it in by default?

Navigation routes aren’t optimal

This time it’s not about offline VS online, the algorithm used by Here to find the best route is most of the time broken. It ignores main roads, meaning you can have very hard time in Cornwall or Wales, with their super narrow streets you really wan to avoid at all costs, specially because you most likely rented that car and you didn’t bother paying the full insurance coverage.

There is apparently no option on the app to chose only main roads, as opposite as the fastest or shorter, path speaking, road.

This issue has bitten me in Portugal, Ireland, Cornwall, Wales, and sometimes in California too. Shorter doesn’t necessary mean faster, I’m pretty sure they know this, but in various occasions I had no extra options.

The search abroad is quite a joke

Streets names are different, addresses expect to be written differently, and there’s no normalization whatsoever.

If you use addresses from Booking, AirBnB, any other common site, you’ll be in trouble: these won’t basically ever match anything close to whatever you were looking for.

In 10 days in Morocco, not a single address matched the right place.

The only way to actually find a place is to double check with another map, keep your finger on that location for a second (long-press) and “star it” as generic ToDo list to find it later (yes, personal lists are also cool in Here Maps, but these are the bare minimal you’d expect from a Map App, the ability to pin a place).

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To pin a place or get directions just longpress

The last nail in the coffin for the search bit of Here maps, is that most people don’t even know it exists so they put themselves on Google Maps, eventually on Apple Maps, and that’s pretty much it.

This is penalizing Here quite a lot, specially when you expect to find the Hotel by name but you don’t ’cause it’s not in the online or offline list of places, and it disappoints you when writing down full addresses it doesn’t find what you were looking for, even if once you arrive at the place you realize the street name is there on the map, and you typed it correctly, but nothing showed up as result.

Still valid … but …

I still believe Here Maps is a great companion for abroad trips, but only if you already have pinned every single place you booked upfront in the map.

If you have no data problems and/or limits, I believe you already know which alternative will give you best search results, and which other would eventually show you fancy 3D satellite-hybrid “WOW” results too.

Could any of this be possible on the Web? TL;DR too many limitations over usable data, expiration, and in few words, it’s going to be very complicated, but like I’ve mentioned at the beginning, I might give it a try ’cause there’s apparently not a single app that offers what I am looking for, and people traveling with me had exact same needs I do.

Written by

Web, Mobile, IoT, and all JS things since 00's. Formerly JS engineer at @nokia, @facebook, @twitter.

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