iPhone as Navigation Device, Part 1

PS: This article is based on iPhone navigation apps available in Malaysia.

Switching from iPhone 2G to 3GS finally fill in the missing piece, GPS. With it I can sell off my Garmin GPS and iPhone will be my one and only portable gear, or not quite yet.

I have go thru many navigation apps and to my disappointment none can fully replace Garmin GPS. On the list, the more navigate-able horse are NDrive and Sygic. Both pass the turn-by-turn voice navigation and user interface test, but fail badly on the maps (Malaysia). It's totally outdated! Dating back 5 years I guess. Lucky for me I tried them on my friends' iPhone. Unlucky for them paying USD29.99 for NDrive and USD79.99 for Sygic.



I rule out all apps which is based on OpenStreetMap. OpenStreetMap is big in overseas but too fresh for Malaysia, which translate to incomplete maps. Perhaps in the long run it will be as updated as Malsing with contribution by more users.

At the time of writing, among the three big names (Garmin, TomTom, Navigon) in navigation solutions only TomTom has released iPhone app. I have no experience in TomTom as they are not available in Malaysia ever before. As for TomTom iPhone app, don't count on it to be available in Malaysia map anytime soon, or perhaps never will. I would rather pray and bet on a Garmin iPhone app. A seemingly impossible chance but still higher than TomTom.

Garmin on iPhone? In my dreams and many people dreams…

Recently a developer has released an app, ImgOsm, that can read Garmin IMG maps. He claims that Apple refuse to approve his app on app store, and such he releases it in Cydia. Going thru ImgOsm, it seems that Apple disapprove it more than one (Garmin) reason. Crash occasionally, terrible user interface, no turn-by-turn voice navigation and an asking price of USD30! At the time of writing I still can't get Malsing map to run on it.


What's left is Google Maps. iPhone built-in Maps is based on Google Maps. It's not as updated as Malsing but definitely better than NDrive and Sygic, though occasionally spell the street name wrongly. Google need to hire more Malay fluent engineer and translator. Anyhow without turn-by-turn voice navigation, Maps is inadequate for driving use unless you know the area well and only need to find that particular street.

NaviCat fills in the missing feature, turning 2D Google Maps into 3D turn-by-turn voice navigation. A voice navigation that doesn't pronounced the street name but display it. It supports auto reroute too (not tested). The only scary part, there's only one road heading to Rome! Either in 2D or 3D, it will only display the route you taking, without any other streets at the side. Whether or not you can rely on such "revolution" navigation is really down to personal preference. I still prefer an actual map.


Left with one. Interestingly sometimes free software performs better than paid ones. Again it is not approve by Apple. That's right, you will need to jailbreak iPhone in order to use xGPS. In fact xGPS is the very first turn-by-turn voice navigation app, long before any of the above got into app store. It's based on Google Maps. The best part is you can selectively download Google Maps, various zoom levels and view it offline. I downloaded 8 zoom levels of Klang Valley and Singapore maps, which takes up 190MB storage space. There's also the xGPS Manager (free) which you install on desktop (Mac, Linux, Windows), download and view the maps, upload to iPhone and backup from iPhone.


However there's still many limitations on xGPS to fully replace my faithful Garmin.

  1. While Garmin has evolved to a polite soft female voice, xGPS still use synthesis alien voice.
  2. Searching POI and creating route requires internet connection to Google Maps database, either 3G, Edge or WiFi. This means xGPS may not work well in rural areas.
  3. Reroute (in case you gone out of track) relies on Google Maps and again requires internet connection. I find that rerouting is not as smart as Garmin. For some cases it simply fails to reroute (only one route to Rome). This seems to be a problem on Google Maps since xGPS relies on the Google Maps database to compute reroute.
  4. Only available in 2D (Google Maps). No 3D visualization. Personally I am a 2D person, good in Raiden but never in 3D flight simulator. Thus xGPS navigation interface works fine for me.
  5. In comparison Google Maps resolution can only go down to 30m whereas Garmin is down to 5m. This is a major issue when driving in dense cities like Kuala Lumpur, and worst still in Singapore. xGPS occasionally shows me that I am on the next parallel street, which can be confusing to driver.

For now if I am driving in Klang Valley where I am familiar with the roads, I will use iPhone with xGPS or Google Maps to find my destination. Likewise I will keep my faithful Garmin in the car, just in case iPhone fails the tasks.

[Updates: Hurray! Tom Tom has released Malaysia and Singapore Map version. You can read the review here.]

3 Responses to “iPhone as Navigation Device, Part 1”

  • I just installed tom tom navigation system on my 3G iPhone. As I used to garmin before, I found this tom tom was a bit confusing. The map are not up to date. Each time I turned it On, I will be in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei and it takes more than 15 minutes to detect my current location.

    I tried to navigate from Bangsar to Jalan Alor. All the way I received poor navigation signal. And when I reached jalan alor, the navigation still indicate me somewhere in jalan kinabalu. Sigh…

    I really hope, garmin will have it application on iPhone soon.

  • Garmin products are available at all major shopping malls and computer shops. Nevertheless Lowyat offers the best range and price. If you do not know where is lowyat, wind down your window and ask anyone in KL.

    Will there ever be a Garmin app for iPhone? Unlikely. Since Garmin already come out their NUVI phone.

    For me TomTom is sufficient to explore Klang Valley and cheaper than getting a sole Garmin device.

  • Cha:


    Thanks for the review…I’ll be moving soon to KL and really in NEED of a navigation system to move around.

    Guess Garmin is still the best choice. Would you be able to help me on where can I get more info on Garmin pricing in M’sia etc?

    Or has Garmin finally comes to iphone?