A few months back, Apple dropped Google Maps from its iOS operating system in favor of its own Maps app—but now, Google Maps is back as a free download in the App Store. After using both Apple Maps and Google Maps on my iPhone 5 for a number of days, I found that Google Maps outshines its Apple competitor in many respects, including offering built-in public transportation info and other features Apple Maps lacks. However, you pay a price for the new Google app no longer being integrated into the Apple operating system.
Apple has clipped the wings of the app by blocking access to contact info and other data contained within iOS apps. For example, you can't save businesses you find in Google Maps to your contacts. And you'll have to retype the address if you decide to use Google Maps' GPS navigation feature.
Here's my take on the Google Maps app:
It's slimmed down. Google Maps has been streamlined to work better with the Spartan controls of iPhone, with fewer menu options and features. For example, there's no navigation option for cyclists, and no pictures of building interiors. I suspect few people will miss these feature. Map views are comparable to Apple Maps, with easy options for traffic, satellite and conventional and conventional map views.
Search beats Apple. In the few days I lived with both Apple and Google Maps on my iPhone 5, Google's version was more adept at finding local businesses. For example, a search for Home Depot in Google Maps quickly summoned stores near my Yonkers, NY location. The same search on Apple Maps presented more far-flung stores in New York City.
Another Google Maps plus: Restaurant searches come back with Zagat reviews, in addition to reviews from Google users. Apple's restaurant reviews are limited to Yelp! user reviews, but you have the advantage of being to add to your contacts any business or other point of interest that turns up in your searches.
Direction are fine—as they are on Apple Maps. The Apple Maps app has often been criticized for occasionally leading its users off in the wrong direction, though neither our cars testers nor I have encountered such problems in the four months we've been using it. It's true, though, that taking a call while using the navigation app on a Verizon or Sprint iPhone can befuddle the app, requiring an app restart (you can't use simultaneous voice and data on CDMA iPhones). Directions for both apps are clear and straightforward.
You get the good news, too, on traffic. Google Maps excels in reporting. It shows freely flowing traffic in bold green lines. Apple Maps doesn't highlight roads where traffic is flowing well, and the red dashes and yellow overlays of roads meant to indicate stopped or slow traffic aren't nearly as vivid and readily interpreted as those in the Google app. The bottom of the screen conveniently shows the ETA to your destination.
Also, Google Maps allows you to easily turn the traffic overlay on or off while in navigation mode, so you won't miss your turns. To view traffic data in Apple Maps, you have to back out of navigation, into Maps view.
Bottom line: The Google Maps app is a great additional search and navigation app. But it could be much better if Apple would allow its impressive functions to mingle with the personal data you've already stored in iOS—a privilege Apple has granted to Facebook, Twitter, and other third-party apps.
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