Google announced late Wednesday that its Maps app is back for the iPhone.
Google Maps had been the default navigation service on the iPhone since the phone was first released in 2007. But earlier this year, Apple kicked the app off its mobile device and replaced it with its own mapping program, Maps. Many iPhone users balked at the notoriously inaccurate Apple navigation program and the loss of Google Maps, saying they would wait for Google to resubmit its app to the Apple store.
The addition, however, doesn’t let Apple off the hook for improving its own Maps, which is playing catchup with Google as it tries to gather the amount and quality of navigation data it needs to bridge the gap between the two apps. Google Maps is known for being more comprehensive and generally more accurate than the other navigation apps out there.
Google’s new iPhone mapping app adds features that some Apple users have been coveting from Google’s Android, such as turn-by-turn directions for walking, mass transit and driving and a smooth integration of Google’s Street View technology. Navigation on the app is quick and intuitive.
Tapping an unobtrusive menu on the right side of the screen allows users to toggle overlays for traffic, satellite imagery and, in some places, public transit routes. (Washington, unfortunately, is not one of those places.) Google Maps also pulls transit information from several sites to make it easier to plan trips. In Washington, users can choose whether they want to go by bus, Metro or some combination of both and get clear route instructions with station names and clearly labeled bus stops.
Also new: When users look for businesses— for example, “Starbucks” or “coffee shop” — Google serves up those results along the bottom of the screen. Users can swipe to navigate through the results list or tap on one of the hits for more information. In most cases, Google supplies the business’s phone number, along with Street View, reviews and the option to share the information. In some cases, the app allows users a look inside the building of a store or restaurant.
In this latest version, Google also makes it easier for users to flag the service if it gives the wrong directions. A shake of the iPhone triggers a dialogue box that offers the option to report errors or bugs directly to Google. To disable this feature, users have to sign in with their Google accounts, which also gives access to past and favorite searches for reference.
There is at least one feature from Google Maps for Android that’s missing from the iPhone: the ability to save a portion of a map for offline use, which comes in handy when the phone’s battery runs low.
The Google Maps app is free for the iPhone and iPod Touch. The company has yet to release an iPad-optimized version of the app, though a blown-up version of the phone app will run on the tablet.
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