After a three-month absence, Google Maps has learned a few new tricks, like turn-by-turn navigation.
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Google Maps has found its way back to the iPhone. As of Thursday evening, a new Google Maps app for iOS was made available in Apple's iTunes App Store as a free download. Within hours, the Google Maps app jumped into first place in the ranking of most popular free iPhone apps.
Google had previously provided the map data for the Apple Maps app that came preinstalled on the iPhone and on the iPad. But the two companies could not agree to terms as it came time to renew their contract. So Apple, having prepared since 2009 for a possible parting of the ways with several geo-oriented acquisitions, introduced a revised Google-free Maps app when it launched iOS 6 in September.
Whether Apple was forced to get into the business of running a map data backend, or if it sought to do so for strategic reasons, the company's Maps app was a failure. Two Apple executives lost their jobs in the fallout. CEO Tim Cook published an apology.
In its blog post announcing the return of a Google Maps app, Google opens with a reminder of how long the last three months have been for past users of its maps. "People around the world have been asking for Google Maps on iPhone," said Daniel Graf, director of Google Maps for Mobile.
The Google Maps for iOS welcome screen begins with a plea for data. "Help us improve Google, including traffic and other services," the app asks. Google wants users to provide anonymous location data. Data is the new dollar, for Google, Apple and many other Internet companies.
And to keep the data flowing, Google is releasing the Google Maps for iOS SDK to help developers create apps that integrate Google maps technology or that interoperate with the Google Maps app. The SDK provides a way for apps to pass data to Google Maps via what's known as a URL scheme. A developer could thus create an overlay layer in Google Maps that could be invoked from his or her app.
The app presents more map area than its last iteration. As Graf observed, the new vector-based map is exceedingly responsive on mobile devices. A subtle tab in the lower right-hand corner allows access to extra data layers like traffic, public transit, satellite views and Google Earth (if installed).
The app also supports Street View, interior Business Photos and voice-guided turn-by-turn navigation.
The Google Maps app is available for the iPhone and the iPod Touch, (4th generation or later), but not the iPad, in over 40 countries and 29 languages.
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