For the first time, Google Maps has turn-by-turn voice navigation on the iPhone, and with that, automatic recalculation of routes whenever you make a wrong turn. The feature had been available on Android phones since 2009, but Google’s previous refusal to bring it to the iPhone is believed to be a key reason Apple decided to develop its own technology.
Interface, Map Graphics, and POI Search
In some ways, the new Google Maps app is actually smoother, more attractive, and more fun to use than the previous version. Fire it up and you’ll see a 2D overhead map view of your current location. The little blue icon still pulses with light when it has a lock on your GPS location, but it’s more subtle now, without the rings that emanated from it in earlier versions. Across the top is a search bar. To the right is a small icon that gives you fast access to your saved destinations, both from here and your regular Google desktop account.
Map and satellite graphics look fantastic on the iPhone 5’s large Retina screen, with 3D buildings appearing in Manhattan as you zoom in closer, thanks to the new vector-based rendering engine. You can tip the view over from 2D to 3D even in pedestrian mode. Google’s famed Street Views for major cities make an appearance as well. Tap the small vertical bar of dots on the bottom right, and a panel opens up giving options for real-time traffic, public transit, satellite view, and a shortcut to the Google Earth app (if you have it installed). Highlight a point of interest, and Google will display its identity on screen. Then you can swipe up to see the location, reviews, contact information, and other relevant data.
Inputting destinations for navigation is simple; you tap the navigation icon near the top, which looks like a junction arrow that splits in two directions. You can type in anything: a street address, a point of interest, a search term, whatever you want—and then select it from the resulting list below. The app also presents you with alternative routes in each mode, with a visual of how they look on the map, so you can choose whether you’d want to take a given highway or subway. There’s no way to tell it up front if you want the fastest or shortest routes, or to avoid highways, though. Regardless, during my tests, everything I searched for resulted in the correct answers, just as you would expect from Google.
A perk for both platforms: voice-assistant Siri can help users out with directions via Apple Maps, while Google’s platform also features voice guided turn-by-turn navigation. This was rumored to be a big point of contention in why Google Maps was kicked off iOS in the first place, but now both services have it — an effective draw.
One of the biggest gripes about Apple Maps was that it didn’t come with public transportation directions. Google Maps not only provides detailed instructions on how to get from one point to another, it also gives estimated times of arrival for the next train and pinpoints when you will arrive at a destination.
Google Maps has made a poignant effort to become a destination spot on the iPhone. Typing in the name of a business not only reveals directions on how to get there, but additional information that may be of interest. For example, Google has partnered with such as Yelp and Zagat to provide users with a full look at restaurant reviews, menus, photos and making reservations. This capability is not yet available via Apple Maps.
While Apple Maps excels in some ways (3D rendering in particular) there are just too many arrows in Google Maps’ quiver — especially now that it’s brought turn-by-turn navigation to its iOS app. Public transit, street view and easy searching propel Google to a clear victory — for now.
- Smooth, vector-based map animation.
- Accurate routing and POI data.
- Equally adept at pedestrian and car navigation.
- Beautiful satellite data and Street Views.
- Includes public transit navigation in major cities.
- No road speed limit display.
- No lane assistance.
- Few configuration options.
- No iPad version (yet).
Google Maps brings free, accurate GPS-enabled maps back to the iPhone, and even throws in free voice navigation on iOS for the first time.