Google is back with a vengeance after Apple unceremoniously dumped them on iOS with a free Google Maps app. People rightly howled about it, especially since the Apple Maps app was slick but undernourished in the data and accuracy departments.
Apple’s Tim Cook has apologized, and there have been improvements, but let’s be frank, for many users, the app is still a mess. The Apple GUI, in my view, is very good and intuitive, but there is not the foundation that Google has after years of work and millions of dollars spent collecting data.
I put Google Maps through its paces this morning, and mostly it is very good. Here in Southern Arizona, Google finds more points of interest, and has more information about them than Apple Maps.
Image below: Google Maps Mall info, followed by Apple Maps pages
The Google Maps GUI is quite attractive, and has clearly been re-done from what was on iOS before, and to my eye, it looks better than what they have done for Android phones. Of course last time, Apple provided the Google GUI. The truth is, I haven’t had many problems with Apple Maps, but my experience is far from universal.
To use Google Maps you enter a location in the search window. You can also speak the location, using the iOS speech recognition feature. Then it’s just a matter of tapping on the location you want from a list. Choose your transportation mode, car, public transit or walking, and tap again on the routing you want if Google presents some options. Then tap on ‘start’. I think it’s not too obvious how to get started on your route. With Apple Maps you select a pin, and you get a ‘Directions to Here’ prompt. Then a start button. Nevertheless, I figured it out and I’m sure most people will.
Google offers basic maps, satellite maps, and an option to see Google Earth. Apple offers vector maps and satellite views. I compared several areas, and Apple and Google are roughly comparable. In some places, Apple has more recent views, in many places Google is better. It’s down to where you are looking. Apple does have 3D views in some cities. I don’t find them all that helpful, despite the ‘gee whiz’ factor. Google offers Street View, which is quite useful.
Image below: Google Maps satellite view L, Apple satellite view R
When you get under way, Google provides a very clean understandable voice as does Apple. Turn warnings are well in advance. Google offers a list view of the route, or the more typical 3D view from above and behind your vehicle. I think Apple Maps look nicer while driving, but that’s down to opinion.
There are still some negatives to the Google Maps offering. Google Maps has no access to your address book, which is a major limitation. Almost all 3rd party apps can do it, so I expect it will come to Google Maps. Of course Siri doesn’t talk to Google Maps at all, they aren’t even friends, so that option is out. [Note: There is a way to trick Siri into talking to Google Maps, as MacStories points out. – Ed.]
Still, it’s easy to enter data in Google Maps and as I said, you can do it by voice once the app is running. You can say things like “Where is the nearest pizza” and Google will parse it and make suggestions. If you have a Google account, you can have access to your search history from other devices.
Google Maps is an excellent addition to your iPhone. (There isn’t a dedicated iPad version as yet.) It has the strength of Google’s incredible data, and Street View which I used to think was a nice feature but now I rely on it. Lack of contact access is a real downer, and there is no way to make this app the default map app on iOS (although Google’s API will make it easy for developers to use it instead).
I really didn’t have any big issues with Apple Maps, but it wasn’t a full navigation solution. Google Maps isn’t either, but it comes closer. The two companies should kiss and make up and give the customers a hybrid app that is best of breed.
Google Maps has lower hardware requirements than Apple Maps. Turn by turn directions work all the way down to the iPhone 3GS, and the app requires iOS 5.1 or later. That’s also a pain point for Apple, and something Apple could have offered (the theory being hardware sales would suffer). Google Maps is available in several languages, and since it gets most of its data via cellular or WiFi connection, the app is only 7 MB.
Let us know your thoughts, and how Google Maps is comparing to Apple’s offering.