Getting There: How Technology Has Changed Driving Directions

Driving directions then and now

Remember when getting driving directions meant unfolding one of those massive road maps you kept in your glove compartment, trying to figure out which way was up, and questioning why you wanted to “get away from it all” anyway?

Or, if you were really lost, you might even have to pull over and ask for directions at a gas station. Thankfully, with advances in technology, including interactive mapping sites and smartphone navigation, getting where you want to go today is a lot easier.

The first steps from handheld maps to virtual driving directions were made in 1996 with the founding of, a mapping site that allowed users to get turn-by-turn driving directions right from their computers. Next came Google Maps in 2005, Google's own interactive mapping service.

You just needed a good memory or a printer.

While the convenience of quick, accurate directions was certainly a step in the right direction, users still needed a way to find and access directions on the go. Enter smartphone navigation and personal navigation devices.

With the advent of the smartphone, most notably Apple's iPhone in 2007, users were able to rely on the GPS technology within their phones to find directions using a variety of smartphone navigation apps. MapQuest launched its iPhone and Blackberry apps in 2009, followed by its Android app in 2011. A Google Maps app for Android was launched in 2008, and the iOS followed in 2012. After these developments, users could get directions, maps and real-time traffic updates right from their phones.

Dashboard-mounted personal navigation systems like the TomTom and Garmin made it easy for travelers without smartphones to get navigation information in their cars. Today, many vehicles come equipped with built-in GPS systems that provide traffic alerts and driving directions.

Save the huge fold-out maps for your remote mountain-climbing trips. Instead, start up your turn-by-turn navigation and enjoy the open road. 

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