Offline maps for iPhone – GPS while traveling

So you plan on traveling with your iPhone. The problem is that your iPhone was locked to a single carrier. You are going to be in a foreign country so you need a smartphone while you are there to navigate. There are many things you have to consider and most everything is covered in this article.

Using the iPhone Abroad


The Price of data roaming

AT&T provides roaming plans, but the prices are quite high.  The subcarrier does not allow AT&T to use their network without a very high price because this would make AT&Ts network appear larger, and would not promote the development of the subcarrier. Because the cost of the iPhone purchase was subsidized by the phone carrier your phone is locked to the network.

Voice Abroad usually costs about $2 per minute.  There are several global data plans for the iphone, the largest of which, is 200MB for $200 per month.

You can read the full price list for AT&T on their website.


iPhone Maps Data Consumption

The iPhone maps app consumes about 1 or 2 megabytes each time you search for a destination and load follow the maps as you arrive to your destination. 200mb a month is 6.6mb per day. This means for the $200 per month you will be able to look up and travel to 3-6 destinations per day while abroad. I found that this would be insufficient and overly expensive, so I searched for alternatives.


iPhone map caching

there are various iphone apps that cache maps. they are frequently called “offline maps”. These apps will allow you to download the maps for an entire city while you are connected to WiFi, then simply use your iphones GPS while abroad.  A-GPS works without data roaming on, so you can still connect to the cellular network without consuming any data and take advantage of the triangulation features of the foreign cellular network!!!!

There are various apps for loading offline maps including

  • oMaps
  • City Maps 2Go
  • OffMaps
  • Motion X GPS


Motion X GPS Maps Caching

The cheapest and best solution is Motion-X GPS. This Software allows you to download entire maps to your iPhone. When you browse the map on your device you can use Wifi triangulation and GPS without the costly roaming data expenses. The following images show the process of downloading maps to the iPhone. All you have to do is click click the “Maps” button in the bottom left of the screen. then click “Download Maps”

GPS Functionality and Internet connections

A-GPS does not require a data plan. This means that you can connect to the cellular network with the data roaming switch turned off on your iPhone and still take advantage of A-GPS. Though I advise you continue to pay the cellular provider in your home country, The worst case is that you will have to wait extended periods of time to get a GPS fix because triangulation is not available to assist the GPS Fix. I have tested this without service in a foreign country on the iPhone and the GPS still works OK, the GPS Fix takes less than a few minutes in most cases. I have occasionally experienced inability to get a GPS Fix and but it usually resolved itself in 20 minutes or less.


Purchase A Travel Phone

Another interesting replace the locked iPhone with a travel phone. You could either replace it with an unlocked iPhone (rumors say you can buy them in Canada), or you could replace it with a different manufacture altogether.

An unlocked smartphone will work on any cellular network without any problem at all. This means that you can connect directly to the local cellular network without any middlemen. You can get prepaid sim cards that will be much cheaper than AT&Ts global data plans. Then you will be free to make all of the map lookups you want, search for locations, send email, text, etc.

I have tested this option and I found that while foreign cellular data was much more affordable, It can often be difficult to get high Quality 3G data without a contract. The Cell phone companies tend to make pre-paid data much more expensive than monthly payment plans. I found that the Edge service provided on my prepaid sim card was not sufficient, and I actually ended up using Motion X A-GPS more often than pulling maps over the cellular network abroad.  The fact that the maps were cashed on the phone made it extremely fast and reliable and triangulation through AT&T worked instantly and excellent without costly search time.

It is best to get a quad band phone so that it will work in any country.

The best alternative is the

Samsung i5500 Corby Galaxy 5 Android Smartphone with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, Touch Screen – No Warranty – Black

This phone is the a cheap international phone at only $147. It comes unlocked and with the Google Android linux based operating system.

Android and iOS are the only two smartphone operating systems with a large market share, so these phones are going to have the best software available.


Jail breaking the iPhone

Another option is Jail Breaking your iPhone. Jail-breaking is perfectly legal and provides you with a method of Unlocking your iPhone to use with another carrier while abroad. I have not talked about this solution because I do not recommend it. Many of the Jail Break hacks involve installing custom a baseband. This kind of hacking can permanently damage your iPhone, and quite frankly it isn’t worth your time when the Blackberry Tour 9630 Unlocked GSM Cell Phone (Black)
costs $160 dollars.


The Final Solution

My final solution was to use the iPhone with Motion X GPS whenever Possible but to carry a low end Android Smartphone and use it as a wifi hotspot providing data to the iPhone whenever maps were not already cached. I also then used the Android phone as my primary phone while abroad for texting and phone calls.

why are you traveling anyway? stay home and get to work.


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