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12/13/2012
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Google Maps On iPhone To The Rescue

Google's Maps app is a welcome relief to Apple's blundering attempt at a Maps app. It goes toe-to-toe with Apple Maps in many respects, but doesn't include some of the really neat features that are in the Android and Web apps. If you loved the old Google Maps on your iPhone, download this new app immediately. But if, like me, you use an iPad much more often, this is a disappointing release.

Yesterday Google released the latest iOS version of its popular maps service. We've tested it out and review it here with a focus on comparing it to the now-infamous Apple Maps.

Google created the app in response to Apple's decision to stop licensing the search giant's mapping technology and develop its own app for iOS customers. Apple's initial maps release caused enough problems that CEO Tim Cook released an apology letter, and recommended third-party apps.

San Francisco
San Francisco (click to enlarge)
The underlying technology in Google's new app is the same vector-based 2D and 3D imaging — including Google Earth — that we've all come to expect on the Web and other platforms. Both apps offer driving, walking, and transit information, as well as turn-by-turn driving directions. Finally, both apps have is the ability to load locations and directions from other apps and Web pages. Both apps are easy to read, and display basic map information reasonably well. But when it comes to the details, differences emerged in my tests.

Google's map iteration includes a layer for public transportation that, in San Francisco at least, includes all the bus, LRT, and underground routes. Apple's app doesn't display transit info — although it does provide transit directions.

The traffic layer in Google Maps is much easier to read than the dinky dotted lines that Apple's app displays — those hard-to-see lines are small and faint. Google's are big marker-like indicators. Apple Maps also only shows one level of traffic density, versus Google's four.

Turn-By-Turn
Turn-By-Turn (click to enlarge)
Forget using Siri with Google Maps. Even when I told her to "use Google Maps to find directions to the San Francisco Federal building," I still ended up with Apple's directions. Granted, Siri is something of a novelty, but while driving it's useful to not have to pull over and type addresses. Incidentally, Google Maps crashed whenever I tried to click the mic button to speak to it.

Yelp reviews are one distinct advantage the Apple Maps can claim. The app displays a Yelp review, with a link to further information on Yelp at every point of interest. Yelp boasts over 33 million reviews on various services that are well distributed across the U.S.

Google's app also offers reviews, but instead pulls them from its Google Plus Local, which has over 10 million reviews worldwide. In addition, for restaurants at least, Plus Local includes the now-Google-owned Zagat score with a few words from the Zagat review itself.

Google's app has two other features that Apple didn't build into its software: Street View, and the ability to see inside some businesses with photographs. There are a couple of ways to access Street View — the first is to search for a business or point of interest, poke the point of interest, slide the menu that appears upward, and poke the Street View button. If that sounds complicated and difficult to understand, then you get the picture.

Street View
Street View (click to enlarge)
I had to call Google to figure out the second way. A spokesperson explained that I needed to "long poke" (poke and hold) any point on the map, poke the pin that drops, and slide the menu that appears upward. Voila. Street View.

Street view is a cool feature, but I don't often use it. Once in a while I've found it handy to scout locations for films or commercials. I also once used Street View to double check a parking sign near where I parked to verify that I wouldn't exceed the restrictions. But that's about it. In terms of the business photos, I looked once when Google announced the feature, but have not used it again.

Noticeably absent from Google's maps are Android/Web-only features such as offline maps, and bicycling directions. Offline maps is one thing that I miss quite a lot, and I wish Google had included it. Bicycling directions are more of a luxury, but a nice one at that. Apple Maps doesn't offer either of those features.

My biggest complaint is: there's no iPad version of Google Maps. That annoyed me because although Google Maps is easy to use on a phone with a small screen, the mini's large screen actually made all the pinches, pokes and spins necessary to get the app to do what I wanted much more difficult. When I doubled the app's size, it made the maps and Street View images look horrible.

Unfortunately there's no relief in sight either. Google wouldn't comment on the possibility of a Maps release for iPad.

At this point, since my iPad is my main device, I'm not going to start using Google Maps on it. But, I'll definitely keep it on my iPhone.

Name: Google Maps

Google's Maps app is a welcome relief to Apple's blundering attempt at a Maps app. It goes toe-to-toe with Apple Maps in many respects, but doesn't include some of the really neat features that are in the Android and web app. If you loved the old Google Maps on your iPhone, download this new app immediately. But if, like me, you use an iPad much more often this is a disappointing release.
Price: Free
Pros:
  • Accurate, reliable maps.
  • Turn-by-turn directions.
  • Street View, including inside-business photos.
  • Reputable Zagat restaurant review integration
Cons:
  • Hard to use and looks horrible on iPad.
  • No Siri integration.
  • Several Android-only features, such as offline maps not included.

A Google ad for Google Maps for iPhone on YouTube

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