AOL’s MapQuest has been in mobile mapping longer than any of its rivals, but it’s playing catch up when it comes to the iPhone, which remains the most important smartphone platform for the time being. This morning, MapQuest launched the iPhone version of its MapQuest4Mobile app (launches iTunes). Prior to this app the company has offered an optimized browser-based version for both the iPhone and Android. MapQuest4Mobile as an app has been available for BlackBerry for some time.
The new iPhone MapQuest4Mobile app offers a rich environment with innovative new features. There’s a great deal of personalization available and the app integrates the online and mobile experiences very nicely. The strategy here involves getting people invested in MapQuest4Mobile through personalization (MyPlaces) and customization (place widgets), as well as PC-mobile integration.
Directions, including multipoint routing, are well executed. Users can easily change the order of several stops on a multipoint trip by dragging one or more of those stops to a different position in the order. The route is recalculated accordingly.
When viewing directions in a list form, users can turn the phone (landscape) and see what MapQuest is calling “max maneuver” mode. Each step in the route occupies the full screen (second image below). This is helpful if the iPhone is on the seat next to you and you’re driving.
Users are also able to access routes and directions initiated on the desktop through the app, providing a high level of integration between the mobile and PC experiences. This isn’t “send to mobile;” it offers a deeper level of integration. Another example of this integration, registered users who have saved locations or directions via “MyPlaces” online can access all that information by signing in on the iPhone app.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the new app is the icon-based “one tap” local search capability. This capability isn’t unique to MapQuest (see Google’s Places Directory, AroundMe, ManGo, etc.). However the execution and associated customization is unique. It’s also an example of how companies are leveraging the phone’s location-awareness to make mobile searching somewhat less challenging.
Located on a carousel at the base of the map are graphical icons that pertain to different categories of businesses (i.e., hotels, theaters, restaurants, cafes, gas stations, etc.). Tapping one or more of these icons shows users all those locations near them. One can then get directions to or from any location accordingly.
Christian Dwyer, Senior Vice President and General Manager, MapQuest told me that the existing roster of “place widgets,” as MapQuest calls these icons, would be expanding and will include more branded widgets as well. Users can customize the carousel by dragging icons on or off:
A disappointment for me was the absence of any rich content or reviews at the level of business profiles (you get contact details and links to external websites). However, a very nice feature of the app is the way activated place widgets populate dynamically on the map as you drag it to new areas. That eliminates the need to do subsequent searches for the same types of businesses in adjacent neighborhoods or nearby towns.
Dwyer hinted to me that a future version of the app might allow users to create customized place widgets as well. The addition of more branded icons, the capacity to create customized place widgets and the addition of reviews would make this already strong app even more compelling.