I’m fascinated with maps. I love maps. If I see a paper map around, I never hesitate to look at it, even if it’s of a city in the U.S. I’ve never heard of, or streets I’ll never visit. On my iPhone, I use maps all the time, every chance I get — my sense of direction is laughably bad. So my eyes and brain have become familiar with Apple Maps over the past few months.
I was in San Francisco last weekend and I used maps for everything—to get around, to find restaurants and other points of interest. Yelp integration is wonderful, and directions were always spot on. I’ve never actually had a problem with Apple Maps, to be honest. I’ve used the service and it’s worked out fine. It’s never steered me the wrong way, or lead me into a dangerous situation. But I always felt like the experience was lacking a certain polish, a focus—too much show, not enough substance. When a CEO openly admits the company missed its target, you know all’s not well.
With all that in mind, I’m really glad to see Google maps finally available for iOS. It’s something that I intend on using as my main tool for navigation, even if I didn’t necessarily run into any glaring issues with Apple Maps. I’ve used Google’s newly reimagined effort for multiple nonstop hours, and the experience thus far has been pretty amazing. I’m not looking back. Customers will no longer cry out in agony.
The mere presence of Google maps on iOS, in truth, has to be pretty embarrassing for Apple – especially since the original breakup was because the two couldn’t reach terms over turn-by-turn directions. Now Google, well, is basically giving Apple a big middle finger by including voice-guided turn-by-turn directions. This is the kind of detailed, feature-rich experience iOS owners deserved all along. Only, it didn’t come from Apple, it came from a rival that actually knows what it’s doing.
Google Maps for iOS isn’t the app iPhone owners used to have all those months ago—this is a full-fledged reimagining from scratch and is the very best way to explore and navigate the Earth digitally. Streets are detailed, transit information is there, and Google’s wonderful Street View lets users see the world closeup. The only thing I find lacking so far is integration with my contacts, which is a pretty big inconvenience.
Searching for points of interest is awesome. The app brings up a small information bar (complete with Zagat rating) at the bottom of the screen. Here, you can either swipe between all the search results, or tap on the driving icon to get directions right away. You’re shown multiple cards of different routes, along with miles and estimated time of travel with traffic conditions in mind. Additionally, you can see directions for public transit, or walking routes. If you don’t like a route you chose, tap on the search bar on top and you can easily choose a different one. Or, simply tap on the different routes displayed on the screen, and it’ll give you complete information on that route.
Starting up the app, you’re given the option to sign in. Do it, because it’s one of its best features. This allows you to sync between your computer and phone, and it shows you your Home and Work addresses (if you’ve saved them). Oddly, I didn’t see any of my saved places sync over to my phone from the desktop, which is definitely an annoyance, but isn’t a humungous deal. I’ll keep an eye on it to see if something changes. It worked for our own Todd Haselton, however.
If you do click on a particular POI, you get an at-a-glance view of information, allowing you to save, call or share a specific location. Photos are there as well, along with store hours — simply tap or swipe down from the top to bring the information card back to the bottom. It’s really up to you how much or how little you want to interact with information onscreen.
I wasn’t really able to put voice guided turn-by-turn through its paces — I traveled a route from my girlfriend’s to my house, which is only a few miles — but it seemed to work out just fine. It alerted me ahead of time what I was supposed to do, and accurately pronounced street names. If you sleep your phone in the middle of a route, the app will push notifications to your home screen so you always know what’s ahead.
There’s also a little tab at the bottom right that can be swiped over (or you can swipe with two fingers anywhere on the screen from right to left) that allows you to bring up Traffic, Public transit, Satellite view and a direct link to Google Earth. I always found Apple Maps to lack traffic data, so I’m really glad to see Google Maps’ up-to-date reports back on my phone—this is especially useful when I’m heading home after work.
When you do jump into Street View, you’ll wonder how you managed without it. If you’re unfamiliar with a particular city, or spot you want to visit, it’s extremely helpful, and lets you get a lay of the land. I’m pretty good at getting around by remembering landmarks, so it’s a feature I use quite a bit. And it’s actually better than on the desktop, because you can use your phone’s compass and accelerometer to see precisely where a location is in relation to where you are.
Everything so far seems quick and sharp—this wasn’t just a thrown together attempt to get a few downloads. Google is rubbing Apple’s nose in the whole maps fiasco, showing the company how things are done. There is more data, the app itself is elegant and easy to use, syncing between computer and phone is amazingly convenient and it’s pinpoint accurate when I press the My Location button—scarily so.
It’s biggest downfall is that it doesn’t integrate with contacts, but you can’t call Google out for that. Just like you can’t call Google out for being unable to make Google Maps the default mapping application on your iPhone (from the 3GS on up to the 5).
I downloaded this app last night around 9 p.m. PST and I already know that I’ll use this forever. The fact that I can sync, the fact that it shows useful traffic information, and more information as a whole, is enough to make me file Apple Maps in a folder I’ll never open. It’s fast, beautiful, and man, Street View is great. Very great.