Google unveiled a new version of its Maps app for Android, and in the announcement it detailed new features and said an iPhone/iPad version is coming "soon." I'm thinking it will likely be available within hours or days. Perhaps the most important feature is the apps offline features, letting you cache data for accessing the app while out of range of Wi-Fi or data. In a previous post, I noted how useful this feature in Apple Maps was during a recent trip to Germany. Also available in the new version will be automatic traffic rerouting based on congestion, accidents, etc.
I've just recently returned from a 10-day vacation in Tübingen, Germany, a university town with a remarkable and picturesque old city and castle. Many of the buildings in the old city date back to the 15th and 16th century. In preparation for the trip, I spent more than $50 on Tom Tom's navigation app for Europe, wanting to make sure I could get where I wanted to go in the city. Its offline feature was the most important for my needs, mapping info on my iPad without requiring an Internet connection. I have a Verizon LTE iPad and could have paid for data service, but it would have entailed some extra charges, and it seemed like Tom Tom, while expensive, would ultimately save me money. (Long story short: I'm currently grandfathered into a $20/month data plan with Verizon, but would have had to forego that plan if I signed up for service in Germany, and would have been forced into the $30/month data plan forever after.)
I remember when Apple premiered its version of maps. It wasn't pretty. People were upset, really upset, and I couldn't quite figure out why, because unlike the majority of my iPhone-toting brethren, I'd never used Google Maps. I first moved to Los Angeles in 1997 to pursue an acting career. I was armed with a Thomas Guide and a prayer. As a directionally challenged individual who had taken one too many a wrong turns and ended up in Compton on more than one occasion, I bought the first GPS system the moment it came on the market. Tom-Tom, Garmin, I've used them all.
Apple has been hard at work improving its Maps app, and people are noticing. The company hired more engineers to work on the app, and yesterday The Loop reported that Apple is frequently and significantly updating Maps. In recent months it's updated Flyover, which offers a 3D view of a city's buildings. The feature is meant to compete with Google Street View.
Earlier this week Google released its first major update to Google Maps (free),with new features including integration with Google Contacts. So now, if you’re navigating to the address of someone in your contact list, Google will retrieve the address from your contacts, eliminating the need to manually enter the person’s address. And as CNET points out, the contact information doesn't necessarily need to be stored on your phone; it just needs to be stored in Google's system.