Google Maps app on iOS6.
Google Maps is finally available for iOS6.
One of the biggest frustrations in upgrading to iOS 6 would have to be losing Google Maps as a native app, in favour of Apple's half-baked Apple Maps which really should have been declared a beta. Using Google Maps in the Safari browser offers a cumbersome workaround, but Google has finally released Google Maps as a standalone app in the app store. A whole heap of iPhone users just breathed a collective sigh of relief and Mildura is now back alongside the Murray River where it belongs.
The new Google Maps app comes with a significant interface redesign and new features, but also a few limitations. The new interface is a lot cleaner, but not a direct port of the Android interface. It's actually cleaner than the Android interface, with many of the options across the bottom of the screen now accessed from a menu which pops out from the right -- using Android's trademark three dots icon to indicate access to extra menus. This new design lets you make the most of the iPhone 5's extra screen real estate. From the pop-across menu you've got access to traffic details, satellite images and public transport details, along with the ability to launch the Google Earth app and zoom in on same location you were looking at in Google Maps.
Unfortunately there's still work to be done. Click on public transport and I'm told "information is not available for this region", while Google Maps on Android happily finds the nearest tram stop. Meanwhile access to public transport routing -- telling you how to get from A to B via public transport rather than driving or walking -- depends on where you live. It looks like Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, Canberra and Cairns enjoy Google's public transport routing, but not Melbourne or Brisbane.
Little touches help make the app more user-friendly, for example the search option now automatically offers options as you type. The revamp also offers easier access to Street View by simply flicking upwards after a search result, letting you see a photo taken from the street. Alternatively you can tap on the car icon to call up a list of possible routes to get there from your current location. You've also easier access to user reviews, photos and details such as business opening hours.
The most significant new feature is obviously the inclusion of turn-by-turn satellite navigation with spoken instructions, similar to the Google Navigation features on Android devices. Like most free sat-nav offerings it's rather spartan compared to the bells and whistles of something like the paid TomTom and Navigon apps, but it could satisfy the needs of many people. The ability to remember your home and work locations is a nice touch, as is the ability to see recently saved and shared maps on your iPhone or in your desktop browser (although it's not as seamless as it could be).
On the road, the iOS and Android apps are almost identical, tested on an iPhone 5 and a Samsung Galaxy S III. They use the same female American voice and the same terminology as well as the same maps, symbols and navigation logic. The only significant difference appears to be that Android lists the name of the street you're driving along across the bottom and the name of the next street across the top. The iPhone doesn't display the name of the current street across the bottom.
While it's great to have Google Maps back with a few new features, the key limitation is that it's no longer the default mapping application and there's no way to override this as you might on a desktop computer. Click on an address in Contacts or Calendars and you're taken to Apple Maps. It's also impossible to save a Google Maps search location as a contact on your iPhone, once again because it requires interacting with the native apps. When you click on an address in Google search in Safari, your iPhone will launch Google Maps in the browser rather than the new Google Maps app. Whether it's possible to change this depends on Apple's restrictions on the way apps interact with each other -- an issue that's perhaps now more sensitive than ever as Google tries to reclaim its place on the iPhone.