Recent changes prompt user criticism and a rapid damage control effort.
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Google has rushed to address user criticism of its recent update to Maps for Android by restoring a link to make maps available offline.
On Wednesday, the company announced a new version of Google Maps app for Android smartphones and tablets and plans to update Google Maps for iPhone and iPad.
The update to version 7 added search and navigation improvements, such as Google's card user interface, road problem reports and alternate route suggestions.
But it also removed some features. Google Maps director Daniel Graf said that Google is retiring its Latitude location sharing service (which will be replaced with Google+ location sharing), that My Maps has been disabled (though Google plans to restore it in a future update) and that offline maps for Android is no longer available. "Instead we've created a new way for you to access maps offline by simply entering 'OK Maps' into the search box when viewing the area you want for later," he explained.
The change is intriguing because it suggests Google may standardize its spoken command syntax from Google Glass ("OK Glass") across its mobile product line. But it has nonetheless been poorly received: Among those posting reviews on Google Play, it seems about half give the update one or two stars.
"We did hear from users yesterday that were missing the offline functionality, so we decided to do something about it!" a Google spokeswoman said in an email. "Our engineering team worked around the clock to develop the card mentioned in our Google+ post. We hope this makes it easier and faster to cache maps for offline use."
Google's rapid response may reflect wariness about enduring criticism similar to that which Apple weathered when its iOS 6 Maps update disappointed users.
The Google+ post from the Maps team explains that the company has added a "Make this map area available offline" card below the search box, to facilitate saving maps for offline use. In addition, the company has added a "Where's Latitude?" link at the bottom of the side menu, to explain the unwelcome demise of the location sharing service.
Google's damage control effort has won the approval of some users, but many fans of Latitude remain dissatisfied. And that's perhaps as it must be: It's difficult for Google or any other software company to simultaneously revise its software and keep all of its customers happy. Some people prefer the tools they've grown accustomed to.
With desktop computers, change can often be avoided by refusing to upgrade, at least until shifting standards and security issues force the issue. But updates become complicated with cloud services and particularly with automatically updated mobile apps, because software users may find their tools revised without the opportunity to review and approve the changes.
There's not much that can be done to limit changes to cloud services beyond complaining and, if necessary, migrating to other services. But with mobile apps, users have to weigh the benefits of automatic updates -- a present option for Android apps available through Google Play and a future option for iOS 7 apps -- against the potential for unanticipated, unwelcomed changes.