On Wednesday night, December 12, 2013, while many of us were busy watching the 121212 Sandy Hurricane Benefit Concert, Google took it upon itself to offer a little benefit of its own for Apple iPhone users by finally releasing the newest version of Google Maps to the Apple App store. So, after about three months of many iPhone users dealing with withdrawal symptoms, the world can now return to where it was before iOS 6 became available in September and blew Google Maps away.
Download and setup were, of course, a snap. There is a new user interface that adds a horizontal swipe capability that wasn't there before (back to this in a moment). There is new turn by turn voice direction - though Google cautions that this is still in beta. From very limited testing this morning we can say that it works exactly as it should. One note here is that you do lose Siri voice integration - no asking Siri for directions to wherever and having Google Maps be what pops up.
Images are clean and crisp - in fact new and recent satellite images are so good that one can actually do cursory roof inspections with it. Our roof is looking fine. And finally we have street views back (though most of these views are outdated and of low quality, at least as far as our neck of the woods is concerned) - but if you've missed taking those walking tours you can now go back to taking them.
One of the key issues with Apple Maps is the occasional wrong directional information it provides. We've yet to encounter this, but we do know it is real and is, at the least, annoying (like being taken 10 miles out of your way) and at the most can actually be dangerous (like being taken 50 miles out of your way and getting you lost inside a huge park in Australia). There is no need to worry with the new Google Maps program - its data has long been scrubbed, cleaned, purified and well, it simply works.
About that Horizontal Swipe
The horizontal swipe is Google Map's new UI contribution. Depending on what a user wants to do, there are info bars that will pop up either at the top of the display or at the bottom of the display. For example, ask Google Maps to find you Chinese restaurants and it will provide you with a list you can view or it will display these at the bottom of the display one at a time. Other information will also be displayed if it available - for example, ratings for restaurants. A horizontal swipe to the left with your finger will allow you to scroll through each possibility and let you pick which ever you want. Swipe right and you can go back through the list in the other direction.
Pick a place and that handy lower display, as shown directly below, will provide you with at least one, but probably multiple routes you can choose from, along with mileage and travel time (which is available either for auto, public transport (if it is available in your particular region), or walking time. Swipe horizontally to go through multiple route options when more than one is available. In public transportation mode Google Maps will provide you with next stop information.
Once you have a route picked our attention turns to the newly displayed info bar at the top of the display, shown below. Horizontal swipes will walk you through each route segment one by one, while showing you the related area of the map. If you are like us and prefer to get full views of where you are headed before you head out, you will love this easy swiping means for doing so. Swipe to the left for the next segment, and swipe to the right to reverse the process.
If you are ready to go and ready to have Google Maps provide turn by turn voice directions, launch and go. Even here you can swipe that top info bar that will be displayed for each segment of your travels to look ahead and so on. We haven't shown it here but the bottom info bar will display time to arrival as well as other options, including showing step by step directions.
Finally there is Google's Points of Interest database to draw on. It will find, as shown below, whatever is available in your neck of the woods or elsewhere. Pick one and you will get user reviews or official Zagat reviews if available, and also if available there will also be photos of interiors. We're sure if we were doing this in New York City this morning we'd have a lot more interesting things of note than what is available in Southport CT!
The bottom line is that even if you are not unhappy with Apple Maps (and we certainly aren't unhappy), and even if you have another travel map app that you also love - for us that would be Waze - you will want Google Maps on your iPhone. You can also have it on your iPad, however Google has yet to release Google Maps specifically as an iPad optimized app, so you will simply get the iPhone app writ a bit larger. Google notes that it's coming, so be patient, but the iPhone version on your iPad will still work fine and dandy.
Good work Google! It's a great app that has been made all the greater.
Edited by Brooke Neuman