Google Maps arrives: voice turn-by-turn directions, transit directions, vector graphics

What a nice Christmas present. As my fellow blogger James Rhodes noted, Google Maps (free) arrived late yesterday and has the best of everything. It includes crucial features missing in Apple's original app based on Google's technology, and it includes features missing in Apple's new Maps app that arrived with iOS 6. Unlike the earlier version, it now has voice-guided turn-by-turn directions and vector graphics. The latter means that the maps are created on-the-fly mathematically instead of using images. This makes the app much more efficient and flexible and faster, and lets you quickly zoom in and out. The lack of these two features in the earlier offering was a main reason that Apple dumped Google Maps in favor of its own. As of now, the app is iPhone only, and includes a version tailored to the larger screen of the iPhone 5. 

The app also includes features such as local transit directions (train, bus, subway) and Google Street View that Apple's Maps app doesn't have. And Google's effort is likely more accurate than Apple's Maps, which still needs a lot of tweaking. 

Of course, not everything is perfect. Even though it's getting high ratings in the App Store, some users are complaining about the lack of integration with your Contacts. Also, there's no voice search. I have to admit, I like being able to simply ask Siri for directions. That one feature alone would likely make me prefer Apple's Maps. And of course Apple's Maps app offers Flyover.

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Other features this new version of Google Maps includes that weren't present earlier are: indoor panoramic images of over 100,000 businesses worldwide and 3-D representations of buildings that can be viewed from different angles.

According to a BBC article, a Google manager said that Google Maps for iPhone will eventually include all of the feartures that are available in Google Maps on Android devices. These include voice search, the ability to download maps so that they're available even if you don't have a connection, and indoor maps.

The app also integrates with your Google account, such that you can save your favorite places as well as access your searches and directions done on your desktop computer. Your Google account automatically syncs this information among your devices. Other features include live traffic updates, a local search function that gives you access to places and businesses around the world, and local ratings and reviews.

Some had wondered whether Apple would approve this app, given that it competes with Apple's own effort. As the BBC article notes, the accuracy of mapping apps depends on the feedback of users. Google's app is more accurate, in part, because it's had many more years of feedback. And now if every iOS user were to switch to Google Maps, that means fewer users contributing to the accuracy of Apple's effort. But as the article says, Apple is more interested in selling phones than winning the competition for best maps app. And now that Google has been forced to bring features to its offering that it had withheld in the past, iPhone users benefit. And ultimately, Apple benefits.

David Pogue of the New York Times has posted a great 1-minute demonstrating the new app.

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Jim Karpen holds a Ph.D. in literature and writing, and has a love of gizmos. His doctoral dissertation focused on the revolutionary consequences of digital technologies and anticipated some of the developments taking place in the industry today. Jim has been writing about the Internet and technology since 1994 and has been using Apple's visionary products for decades.