Google Maps for iPhone review
Google Maps for iPhone is back on the iOS App Store, and available for download now. Our Google Maps review looks at how it compares to Apple Maps, and the previous version of Google Maps for iPhone.
Apple's iOS 6 software update saw the Apple-created implementation of Google Maps removed and replaced with Apple Maps. Despite introducing a raft of new features, it turned out to be a highly controversial move on Apple's part. Stories of Map inaccuracies, missing information, and incorrect search results spread across the Internet. The general consensus: Google Maps was better and it was a rare step back for an Apple product to make. Tim Cook, Apple CEO, apologised for the move and promised that Apple work strive to improve the product.
Google also makes the rival Android operating system, so there was initially some doubt as to whether it would release an iOS replacement. But Google has clearly decided that it's better in business on the iPhone than staying away, and here we have a compellingly feature-rich implementation of Google Maps that is manifestly better than the Google Maps app that Apple created and removed, and arguably better than Apple Maps (at least on the accuracy front).
The first thing to note is that this is an iPhone app, and Google hasn't released a iPad version of its Maps software. It makes sense for Google Maps to focus on the iPhone rather than the iPad to start with. And the iPhone is the device you're most likely to be using when out and about.
The good news is that Google Maps is a free download and Google is releasing an SDK for developers to integrate Google Maps back into their apps (if they'd prefer it to Apple maps). Aside from Siri and Address Book integration (which is deeply embedded into Apple Maps) you could drag the Apple Maps app out of your home screen, drop in the Google Maps app and you're back to where you started before iOS 6 happened.
Google Maps vs Apple Maps interface
The first thing you'll notice as that both apps are surprisingly similar. A lot of this is that an Map app is a map app and most of it is displaying, obviously, a map. The Google Maps interface seems slightly less cluttered to us, but this because it hides more location items until you zoom further in. The default Locate me button for Google Maps zooms further in by default than it does on the Apple Maps app.
There's no doubt that Apple cartography is visually nicer than Googles, the icons for businesses and the textures used to define different areas are much cleaner. Apple Maps also feels snappier to us.
Google Maps has a familiarity to it based on years of usage: blue roads are motorways, green roads are major A roads, orange is smaller A roads and B roads, white is small C and D roads. So you can quickly see which are the main thoroughfares in the spaghetti mess that is the UK highway system; Apple Maps has roads (white) and motorways (orange).
Google Maps are more colourful with A roads identified with Green and Orange markings. Apple Maps only identifies motorways in a blue colour.
The Google Maps interface is slightly more detailed than Apple Maps, but on the whole extremely similar. On the top is a Search Box, Directions icon and Profile icon. The bottom left has the Location icon. The to right is a Slider app that enables you to choose Traffic, Public Transit and Satellite view (and there's also a link to the Google Earth app).
A nice touch is that search offers Favourites, and Recently Searched places that are near your current location.
When you select an item (a pin or a location landmark) the information appears in a bar at the bottom of the screen rather than in a pop-out box. This is marked departure from both the Apple Maps app and Google's Android app. Tapping this opens up further information such as photos, address, telephone number, website and reviews. And it also sees the return of – drum roll – Street View.
Google Maps Street View back on iPhone
One welcome relief is the return of Street View to the iPhone. Although the interface doesn't have the same visual swish as the iPhone version that Apple created, it is every bit as useful and functional as before. You can pan around with one finger, and zoom in with a pinch to zoom command. One slight oddity is that it is still using the two arrows to move around, whereas the Android version has gone for a 'Drag The Yellow Man' icon approach that is more similar to the tap anywhere to move approach of the Google Maps website.
On the whole though we can just breath a sigh of relief that one genuinely useful feature that was missing from the iPhone has returned.