Google Maps have found their way back to the iPhone, and the new alternative was already the top-ranking free app in Apple's Australian iTunes store on Friday, beating other popular free apps such as Angry Birds.
All not lost for Apple map app
Despite the early flop of Apple map, and an agreement to put Google Maps app back on its devices, Apple will continue to develop its own.
The world's most popular online mapping system returned late on Thursday afternoon with the release of the Google Maps' iPhone app, allowing users to replace a glitch-ridden Apple program panned for omitting key landmarks and sending people in wrong directions.
Its release came as Samsung appeared to mock problems in Apple's own mapping app with the launch of a guerrilla marketing stunt in Sydney and Melbourne on Wednesday after Victorian police urged users to avoid using Apple's map app when travelling to Mildura.
The Samsung stunt in Sydney involved a muddied 4WD with a tent and other camping supplies next to a sign saying "Ooops, Should have got a Samsung Galaxy SIII. Get navigation you can trust". A similar stunt involved a different vehicle outside Southern Cross Station in Melbourne with the same sign. Samsung said the vehicles would stay where they were until Friday.
The release of Google Maps for iPhone comes nearly three months after Apple replaced Google Maps as the device's built-in navigation system and inserted its own maps into the latest version of its mobile operating system, iOS.
"It's embarrassing for Apple to reuse Google's map application as it suggests Apple failed to meet market expectations," Hwang Min-Seong, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Samsung Securities, told Bloomberg News. "This shows how much harder Apple had to push itself to come up with great innovations, only for it to end up as a big mistake."
Greg Sterling, an analyst with Sterling Market Intelligence who contributes to the Search Engine Land blog, said the new application "is better than Google Maps for Android because it has been built or rebuilt - from the ground up - and didn't grow by accretion".
But he added that "it's also not 100 percent satisfying" because it is not integrated with Siri, Apple's personal voice-assisted program, to allow a user to speak and obtain directions.
By 10.40am AEDST on Friday, users in the US iTunes store had chimed in with more than 13,450 ratings of the Google app. Nearly 90 per cent gave Google maps a five-star rating — the highest possible grade. A further 9644 US users wrote reviews of the app.
"Google Maps for iOS" was a top trend on Twitter, and users and analysts immediately welcomed the news, some with satire.
"Now Google Maps for iOS is back, we can finally find our way out of this asteroid field near Alderaan that totally appeared from nowhere," said one tweet.
Another said: "Just installed the new Google Maps for iOS and confirmed what I've suspected for days: this is definitely not my house."
The app now sits in a special section of the Australian iTunes store promoted on its front page called "Find apps for your iPhone".
Apple declined to comment about Google's map app, but it approved the technology before its release.
Apple's maps application proved to be far inferior to Google's, turning what was supposed to be a setback for Google into a vindication.
The product's shoddiness prompted Apple CEO Tim Cook to issue a rare public apology and recommend that iPhone owners consider using Google maps through a mobile web browser or seek other alternatives until his company could fix the problems. Cook also replaced the executive in charge of Apple's mobile operating system after the company's maps became a subject of widespread ridicule.
Among other things, Apple's maps misplaced landmarks, overlooked towns and sometimes got people horribly lost. In a particularly egregious example flagged this week, Victorian police derided Apple's maps as "life-threatening" because the system was steering people looking for the city of Mildura into a sweltering, remote desert 71 kilometres from the desired destination.
NSW Police wouldn't be drawn into commenting on Apple Maps specifically, but said modern vehicle-mounted GPS devices should be used only as an aid to navigation and not as a navigation system.
Google is hailing its new iPhone app as a major improvement from the one evicted by Apple.
"We started from scratch," said Daniel Graf, mobile director of Google Maps. Google engineers started working on the new app before Apple's September 19 ouster, Graf said, though he declined to be more specific.
The additional tools in the free iPhone mapping app include turn-by-turn directions. Google's previous refusal to include that popular feature on the iPhone app — while making it available for smartphones running on its own Android software — is believed to be one of the reasons Apple decided to develop its own technology. The friction that has developed between Google and Apple as they jostle for leadership in the increasingly important smartphone market also played a role in the mapping switch.
Google's new iPhone mapping app also will offer its street-level photography of local neighbourhoods, as well as three-dimensional views, public transit directions and listings for more than 80 million businesses around the world. The iPhone app still lacks some of the mapping features available on Android-powered phones, such as directions in shopping centres and other buildings.
There still isn't a Google mapping app for Apple's top-selling tablet, the iPad, but the company plans to make one eventually. Google, which is based in Mountain View, California, declined to say when it hopes to release an iPad mapping app. For now, iPad owners can use the maps in an iPhone mode. That won't be the best experience, but it still may be better than Apple's maps on the iPad.
The return of Google's map app may even encourage more iPhone owners to upgrade to Apple's latest mobile software, iOS 6. Some people resisted the new version because they didn't want to lose access to the old Google mapping application built into iOS 5 and earlier versions.
Graf said Google isn't hoping to make Apple look bad with its new mapping app. "On maps, we have a friendly relationship," he said.
The Associated Press, AFP, Bloomberg and Fairfax Media