Finding the perfect map is a constant struggle. Students who regularly use maps need something more accessible and dynamic than a simple Google search. The Google Earth app and the National Geographic Atlas app are two of the top grossing map apps on the Apple Store that allow users to access instantly the entire world. Both of the apps offer beneficial features but neither are ideal.
Google Earth is a free app from Google that allows users to see the Earth from every angle. Zoom all the way out and you can see the Earth from space. Zoom all the way in and you can view your neighbor’s house from street-view. Therefore, this app is optimal for students who wish to study individual structures such as military installations, houses or mountains. I have used Google Earth to view the notorious Evin Prison in Iran and to study the
locations of naval harbors in Vietnam. Also, if you type a longitude and latitude into the search bar, the app will take you to the exact location. The app also allows users to turn on additional features that will show reviews and descriptions of restaurants or major establishments on the map, as well as automatically display additional information from Wikipedia.
Although this app is free and offers a detailed view of the world, using the map can be nauseating, literally. Lose control of the map and it spins across continents. Zoom in too fast and it feels like a massive rollercoaster drop. If a user fails to understand the responsive settings, the map can be confusing and hard to navigate. In addition, individual countries are not labeled. The lack of labeling makes Google Earth kind of a terrible reference map.
If you are doing homework and need to reference a macro view of the world, you should download the National Geographic Atlas. This app costs $1.99 but provides clearly-labeled countries and easy, responsive navigation. Users can view continents and oceans or zoom in to view cities and highways. In addition, a simple bar at the bottom of the map provides distance measurements in kilometers and miles. This can be handy if you need to measure a specific distance, for example, a country’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
Although both of these maps will suffice, neither of them has the one feature I really need. I need to be able to draw on a map as I reference it and then erase these drawings. Whether studying a proposed pipeline through Azerbaijan or the Iron Curtain in Europe, a drawing tool would be remarkably useful. Right now, I take screen shots of the area in question and upload them to Penultimate or PicLab for annotation. This process is cumbersome and wastes valuable study time.
Overall, until my dream map comes along, I default to the National Geographic Atlas for reference and Google Earth for detailed research.