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How to Make a GPS Navigation App That Stands Out

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Anastasia Osypenko
Market Researcher

The days of pulling out a trusty road map from the glove box are far behind us, and with good riddance! These days it seems somewhat kooky to go exploring or building a trip route without the assistance of a mobile navigation app.

But these apps are not just a map – instead, GPS applications enable so many actions that it’s hard to imagine how we ever lived without them. The beauty of it is that a mobile program can offer an elegant solution for anything connected to navigation.

The 77% of smartphone owners who have navigation apps have so many tools at their disposal. Not only can they avoid getting lost and find a place of interest but they can read reviews and share that information with friends. Navigation apps also allow users to build a route based on road safety, timings, available gas stations, and other criteria.

There’s no doubt about it, mobile navigation apps are now a bedrock of our societies. We could wax lyrical about their benefits for hours but what’s more important is our agenda today: Can another project outperform or rival Google Maps?

Possessing the title of the best mobile navigation app, Google Maps was downloaded over one billion times. Its closest competitor Waze – widely praised for its design and gamification elements – has a trifle of that at more than 100 million downloads.

Waze’s download rate is still an impressive figure though, which clearly demonstrates demand for navigation app alternatives. People tend to switch from Google Maps because of a lack of privacy and many businesses, especially those dealing with transportation, need their own in-app navigation systems.

To create a competitive solution, define your focus area and find a development team who know how to make a GPS navigation app which fits your business’ purpose.

The MadAppGang team worked on a navigation app for truck drivers and learnt about the key engineering challenges linked to this kind of development. Below, we’re going to share some of that knowledge with you.

Who Uses Navigation Apps and Why?

Literally everyone needs GPS navigation applications for mobile phones. These apps are a must-have tool for those who walk, cycle, take leisurely drives, or commute. Navigation apps help users explore their current location and places nearby, find the best routes, plan visits and much more. For that reason alone, there are a few different types of navigation apps:

Travelling Apps

Apart from Google Maps and Waze, people use HEREWeGo, Komoot, Maps.Me, and other navigation applications while travelling. Some of them offer downloadable detailed offline maps packs while others suggest smart tour guides and customised recommendations.


Commuting Apps

For people who regularly commute, a mobile app with adaptable transport information can solve many commuter gripes. Besides the fact that travelling to work often takes too long (there are millions who spend two hours or more per day commuting) road accidents and weather conditions can cause unpleasant experiences including late arrivals and unpredictable schedule changes. Citymapper, Transit, and Moovit are among the apps which focus on a traffic and road conditions for commuters.

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Driving Apps

Needless to say, navigation app development is in high demand among transportation services. For professional drivers, whether they work for a taxi service or a shipping company, it’s essential to have in-app navigation. Businesses can use third-party apps, but it’s always better to have a single product which meets all the company’s needs.

When we worked on a project for truck drivers of a major shipping company, we knew that we needed an affordable solution. One which would work well on any simple Android-powered device and not drain its battery. More importantly, the map itself had to be as detailed as possible but at the same time very easy to use.

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Indoor Navigation

A navigation feature can also enhance many indoor experiences. Indoor navigation apps can locate items or places inside a facility, build routes for destinations, and send notifications to users. Beacon-based indoor navigation has already been implemented by some airport apps. This helps people find check-in counters or gates while retail apps help customers find the products they need in a much easier way.

Features Your Navigation Application Should Have

If you want to build your own GPS navigation system, first and foremost your application should have a powerful map with all the necessary information. This map should provide instructions to get to the destination point and deliver these instructions in both visual and spoken form.

Adaptable Turn-By-Turn Navigation

Context is crucial here: people are in the process of moving so their attention span is lowered. Professional drivers need an app which is glanceable before anything else. User-friendly designs with easy tapping, dark mode for driving at nights and other helpful features all make navigation easy. Drivers also need in-built voice controls for hands-free searching and instructions.

Any turn-by-turn navigation app should be smart enough to make suggestions. In case the driver is moving in the wrong direction or there are traffic alerts or accidents on the road, the program should be able to remodel the route. And the path it suggests has to be the quickest and the safest one.

The answer to why people like navigation apps like Waze so much is because of its adaptability to recent information. Waze collects data both passively and actively, giving users an opportunity to report traffic jams, road closures, or other details. This impressive feature comes hand in hand with the app’s biggest drawback though: since this requires a lot of involvement from users, it consumes too much battery and doesn’t work offline.

If you can make your offline navigation app function the same way it does online you’re already halfway to success. With Atlas, making all information available without an internet connection was one of our primary concerns. We solved the problem with the help of Mapbox’s offline functionality.

Additional Improvements

Popular apps integrate music which is a great add-on for drivers. While stuck in traffic or simply during the ride, they can listen to music via the incorporation of a streaming service inside the navigation app. Both Google Maps and Waze offer this feature.

Apps can also collect data from speed cameras. For instance, Sygic alerts users about the risk of getting snapped. Predictive routing is another feature that is gaining popularity. Satellite imagery and a street view option also help with better precision in navigation. Such features improve the calculation of the ETA (estimated time of arrival) and help users plan their trips better.

Visualising routes with augmented reality and urban visual positioning are also among the navigation trends applications should incorporate. Competing with Google Maps, Mapbox introduced a new software development kit for AR navigation.

Social Features

When it comes to shippers and carriers, both parties should have a profile section to specify their professional information. If the app is more geared toward sunday drivers and exploratory navigation, users need a function to record their preferences, save locations, and share the details with friends. The recently introduced group planning feature in Google Maps allows people to plan a visit together somewhere inside the app.

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How to Make a GPS App With Relevant Technologies

A smartphone connects to GPS via a GPS antenna which works offline, but you can’t get a lot from it without a proper navigation app. An application should provide a powerful map service and there are certain APIs for map integration designed for specific operating systems. While working on Atlas, we faced the challenge of making extensive amounts of data easily accessible. Thanks to Mapbox and server-side clustering, we created a product which is capable of handling hundreds of thousands of points on a map and doesn’t overload users’ devices.


If your application is aimed at connecting two parties who are performing professional shipping or transportation, then you will need a messaging agent and, sometimes, a document exchange option. You need to be very region-specific here. With Atlas, we discovered that Twilio didn’t work properly in the target area so we developed a specific communication platform which was powered by a local provider.

Social Media Integration

A big part of travelling navigation apps these days is social media sharing. What users like about Waze is that it’s community-driven and practically functions like a social network. There are particular apps like Glympse for secure location sharing or Twist so users can inform friends about the route they’re taking. If you focus on a product for non-work related usage, you should definitely go for social media integration.

Voice Controls

Voice activated controls are increasing in popularity rapidly. More users prefer speech output when it comes to searching and voiced instructions are helpful in a variety of domains. For example, there are apps with voice navigation for running such as RunGo which offers voice-driven route guidance. For driving apps, it is a necessity to provide a hands-free option for every action. Waze even offers a customised service featuring users’ own voices.

AR and OCR

AR tools are now being developed and tested by many companies. There are custom AR apps such as the Japanese one, PinnAR. And paid AR packages in navigation apps such as Sygic. Google Maps already offers AR navigation for those areas which have Google Street View. They also plan on improving their Visual Positioning System to make orientation more accurate.

Since navigation is already digitized, we can only take it to the next level by implementing technologies like AR. Optical character recognition can help read the street and road signs in order to make the map more interactive and detailed.

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Build the Best Mobile Phone Navigation App

As a general rule, people stop using a navigation app because of limited maps, a poor interface, slow search functions, annoying advertisements, high battery consumption, or a lack of voice controls.

These drawbacks can serve as a guide to how to build a GPS app which is actually usable and unique. But more importantly, you need to picture your target end users: what do they need?

They could be keen travellers, or work in transportation. They could be customers who need some kind of visual guidance or drivers who want to avoid unpleasant road experiences. Depending on your users’ navigation requirements, you can shape a project that adds true value to the market.

After you’ve narrowed down your focus area, it’s time to get stuck into the details with a development team. Choose your team carefully to avoid the pitfalls associated with bad navigation app projects and make sure you go for a team who have proven experience in the navigation application field.

If you’ve got an idea for a GPS navigation app and you’re not quite sure what to do next, please get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to discuss your project and plans.

24 May 2019