Paper Maps vs Digital Maps: What’s the Difference?

In today’s digital age, more and more people are turning to digital maps for navigation. Given the history of maps, the time for paper maps and books seem to be long gone. With the rise of digital technology, people rely more on digital maps on their smartphones than they do a folded piece of paper. However, when it comes to navigation, you still have two main options: paper maps or digital maps. Both have their pros and cons and depending on the situation, one might be better than the other.

In this article, we’ll explore the differences between digital maps and paper maps, and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each. By the end of this article, you will have a better understanding of which type of map is best suited to your needs. 

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

The differences between paper and digital maps

Paper maps

  1. These maps need to be purchased from a physical store, where money is exchanged for a paper map of a specific location.
  2. Paper maps require physical storage space, and are best kept in a car for trips to help with navigation on the go.
  3. They allow for easy offline access in cases where signal is weak, there are no electrical outputs,or if there are no cell towers in the area.
  4. These maps are not easily updated, and when they do need to be updated, it is quite a lengthy process and can be time consuming.
  5. Paper maps are static, and are limited to a specific area that has been drawn according to a scale.
  6. A certain level of skill is required in order to interpret these maps due to the signs and symbols that are used to represent objects in the area.
  7. These maps are created with more detail and research than digital maps.
  8. An advantage of this paper form is that they do not run out of battery, ensuring you will always have them when needed.
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Digital maps

  1. These maps are the cheaper option due to the convenience of being able to download them, free of charge.
  2. While they still require storage space, these digital maps will be stored on your smartphone device rather than in your car’s console.
  3. They require a suitable Internet connection in order to be used. These digital maps need to be accessed online.
  4. Fortunately, these maps are easily updated on a regular basis, including all road blocks and speed trap warnings.
  5. Viewings are dynamic, with the ability to access previous versions of the same map.
  6. There are no area limitations for digital maps, allowing users to view various locations around the world, regardless of where they are currently.
  7. No skills are necessary for this interpretation, as the directions are straightforward and symbols are represented by real life objects.
  8. A downfall of these types of maps is that they require a working device, with sufficient battery life and signal in order for them to be used effectively.
Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay

While digital maps allow for convenience, enabling each person with a smartphone to carry a map in their pocket, some may argue that paper maps are still the go-to when it comes to reliability. Power outages and electrical faults don’t hinder a physical map from doing its job. They are also more useful when visiting areas with little Internet connection or GPS data. This makes them valuable tools for traveling off grid. 

When navigating on foot, paper maps seem to be the favored option. It would appear that as a person’s geographical skills increase, as does their preference for paper maps. The biggest disadvantage of physical maps is that they don’t tell you where you are in the present moment. This makes navigation difficult when exploring unfamiliar areas, unmarked roads and new destinations. 

While digital maps offer step-by-step instructions to follow in order to reach your destination, everyone should have the ability to interpret a physical map in case of emergencies. The paper maps encourage users to engage more with their surroundings and directional indicators, while digital maps offer quick and easy to follow directions pointing you to your nearest gas station, grocery store, takeout or nature park. The type of map you use will depend on your specific needs at the time.

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