Just in time for spring and summer travel, Rand McNally released an iPad version of its venerable USA Road Atlas. The app costs $5, the maps look great and are full of road details—but it’s honestly not worth the money.
The Rand McNally 2014 Road Atlas is essentially a digital version of the company’s paper atlas, once a staple of many automobile glove compartments. There’s no GPS support, no search tool, and no easy way to measure distances other than zooming in on the map scale to get the measurement and then using a ruler or finger to estimate it. The Rand McNally atlas app’s main advantage over tools such as Google Maps is its offline maps.
Rand McNally’s Road Atlas app, released in mid April, is an early version (v1.0), so I guess I should cut it some slack. But for $5—a fortune in the app economy—I expect more.
Rand McNally’s app is an American road guide, while National Geographic’s is a world guide. But National Geographic’s road maps aren’t nearly as extensive as Rand McNally’s. In other ways, however, National Geographic makes Rand McNally eat its digital dust.
For starters, National Geographic World Atlas supports GPS, so you can quickly pin your location. It has a search tool, so can find information on large and small cities. You can use its measurement tool to get the distance between points A and B. You also get maps of the entire world, not just the United States.
National Geographic’s app includes a currency converter, and you can save maps for offline use. The app is optimized for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad screens, too. Rand McNally’s app is iPad-only. However, both Rand McNally’s and National Geographic’s apps are iOS-specific, as of this writing, and neither offers the sheer awesomeness of the free Google Earth apps for iOS and Android.
You might be wondering: In an era of apps that provide turn-by-turn driving directions, why would anyone need an atlas?
I like using an atlas to plan trips. I sometimes want to see what’s nearby my chosen destination, or how close Italy is to, say, Turkey, and other things you can’t readily see using Google Maps and its competitors. An atlas can also be a useful and highly-portable aid for geography students.
Some people—myself included—just love looking at maps. Maps spark wanderlust and imagination. It’s too bad maps didn’t spark some imagination over at Randy McNally.
James A. Martin is a seasoned tech journalist and blogger based in San Francisco and winner of the 2014 ASBPE National Gold award for his CIO.com blog. He writes CIO.com's Living the Tech Life blog and is also a content marketing consultant.