The most significant development in portable navigation this past year has been the rapid advance of smart-phone navigation apps. Apple has led the charge with several brand-name companies developing conventional nav apps. While we have reviewed and rated the iPhone apps since this past summer, Apple presents a year-end score card showing which are the most popular by three measures: Top Grossing, Best-Selling Overall, and Most-Popular Free.
Top Grossing Navigation App
TomTom has earned the title as the Top Grossing navigation app with its TomTom U.S.A. application (currently $49.99), followed by Navigon MobileNavigator North America ($59.99). Both applications faithfully mimic the experience of using a dedicated navigation device, while integrating into the iPhone well with their latest iterations.
Geocaching from the group that popularized this form of electronic treasure hunting, Groundspeak, provides a paperless way to enjoy the hobby. At $9.99, the Geocaching app provides a way to access information on more than a million geocaches around the globe, download their coordinates and tips, track down treasures, and log your finds. (See our handheld hiking GPS buying advice and ratings.)
The final Top 5 grossing nav app is TomTom U.S. & Canada. As the name implies, this $59.99 application expands on the lower-priced U.S.A. version with broader maps and points of interest.
Best-Selling Navigation App
In this category, we see similar players to Top Grossing, though the order has been shuffled. The best-selling nav app for 2010 was the MotionX GPS Drive, followed by MotionX GPS ($2.99), an outdoors-focused navigator for walking, hiking, cycling, skiing, geocaching, and more.
With a clear brand advantage as the defacto site for geocache enthusiasts, Geocaching ranked third.
TomTom U.S.A. made the list, but Navigon did not. Instead, "Where To?" ($2.99) made the cut, an application focused on finding points of interest, such as the nearest restaurant. It can share locations by email, text, and a variety of social networks.
Most-Popular Free Navigation App
The top free applications are a diverse group. Before Google Maps entered the scene, MapQuest.com was the go-to site for printing directions, and now the site has a popular, free iPhone app called MapQuest 4 Mobile with voice guidance.
While most apps focus on going from point A to point B, Trapster uses crowd sourcing to share the locations of speed traps.
Proving free often comes at a price, the AT&T Navigator is a popular download with a $9.99 per month fee, or $69.99 annual subscription. While there can be appeal in the flexible pricing plan, most users who will want turn-by-turn guidance would find more affordable options than this so-called free app.
A free version of its MotionX GPS ($2.99), MotionX GPS Lite has a lot of guidance features for active lifestylers and a broad map set that includes, Google and Bing road, satellite, and hybrid maps, along with topographic maps.
Not to be confused with Where To?, Where is a points-of-interest guide that helps you find nearby places, share recommendations, and receive suggestions on where to go next. Local guides add depth to the app, and businesses offer deals to encourage visits.
Popularity doesn't ensure quality. Be sure to check our ratings on lead iPhone Navigation Apps to see how they compare, as well as check the user ratings and comments on any app before downloading. We have found the iPhone nav apps can be quite good, but they trail dedicated devices in sound quality, GPS precision, screen size, and often controls and routing options.
And the most-popular app of the year? Angry Birds. It also came in second place for top grossing and free, in a "light" version.