It wasn’t that long ago that in-car navigation guidance meant having someone in the passenger seat with a road atlas or fold-out map telling you where to turn. Then along GPS and personal navigation devices or if you were lucky enough to have a high-end car, a built in navigation system. In the 2020s, smartphones have become almost universal along cloud-based navigation apps like Google GOOG or Apple AAPL maps. In its effort to diversify revenue streams and grow its connected services business, GM is now offering a new Maps+ navigation app to customers using recent vehicles OnStar. 

Like the phone-based offerings from Google, Apple and others, Maps+ is a cloud-based offering that downloads the map tiles on demand so that the data is always fresh. Local map data is cached on the infotainment system so that it’s available even when you’re in a cellular dead zone. 

The Maps+ app is produced by Mapbox, a San Francisco-based company that provides mapping data and software development kits used in third-party apps including Instacart, Snapchat and the Weather Channel. Mapbox builds its maps from OpenStreetMaps, NASA, and proprietary sources like GlobalDigital. Starting April 30, Maps+ will be available through the GM AppShop directly from the infotainment screen in most Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac vehicles built since 2018. 

Once installed, Maps+ won’t require a phone to be connected to the vehicle, although it will require a subscription to one of the paid OnStar connectivity plans which start at $15/month for the App Access plan. As with all navigation apps, users can enter destinations by typing on the screen when the vehicle is stationary. On the move, Maps+ can be activated and controlled using the Amazon AMZN Alexa voice services functionality built into newer GM vehicles. 

In addition to the usual routing capabilities, Maps+ also integrates real-time traffic and weather data so it can provide updated route options if there is a backup or hazard. It also provides the ability to play music or podcasts directly from within the app. 

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There really aren’t any breakthrough features in Maps+ that users can’t already get from Waze, Google Maps or Apple Maps. The main advantage may be the lack of need to connect a smartphone and cleaner integration with the rest of the factory infotainment interface. For those that are averse to sharing their location data with Google, Maps+ may be a preferred alternative, although data is still being shared with GM and Mapbox. For GM, the availability of Maps+ may incentivize some OnStar subscribers to retain their subscriptions. 

Ultimately, while Maps+ doesn’t appear to be a breakthrough product, having more choices is generally not a bad thing and more importantly, it may help the dominant players at Google and Apple from getting complacent.