After a few hours of testing, it sure seems like Google Maps for the iPhone is an absolute smash hit.
I reserve the right to change my mind after weeks of testing, but my initial reaction is that Google nailed it.
Unlike a lot of people, I didn’t think Apple’s maps are all that bad. They look great, and in the New York area the turn by turn directions work well.
However, there’s no denying that they’re flawed. When searching for addresses and stores or restaurants you have to be very exact. After being spoiled by Google’s search for the last 10 years, this is something I’m not accustomed to. With Google, you don’t even have to spell things correctly and it knows what you’re looking for.
And then there’s the public transit problem. In New York, you’re going to need to take the Subway from time to time. Apple’s maps have subway locations listed, but there’s no station labels. So, I might see a train station on the map, but I don’t know if it’s the N, 3, 4, or 5 train’s stop.
Anyway, we all know Apple’s Maps app has problems. So, let’s get to what’s good about Google’s Maps app.
First, and foremost, it’s Google’s mapping data. There’s a reason Google’s maps became the most popular maps on the Internet. They look good, work well, and are very accurate.
Searching is fantastic. There’s a soup and sandwich place named “Cafe Medina” near our office. If I type in Medina with Apple’s maps it takes me to Saudi Arabia. If I type in Medina on Google maps the first result is Cafe Medina.
That’s pretty basic stuff, and we expect Apple to improve that over time. Where Google excels is with the user experience which feels more intuitive than Apple’s maps, and better than Google’s own Android maps app. This is supposed to be Apple’s strong suit. Surprisingly, Google whups Apple here.
When it finds Cafe Medina, there’s a white banner at the bottom of the screen that says “Cafe Medina.” If I pull up on the banner, I get options to call, save, or share the location.
I also get Street View, which is something Apple doesn’t have, and probably never will because it’s just so much work to have street views. It’s hard to believe Apple is going to pay people to drive around with cars with cameras taking photos of neighborhoods around the world because Apple doesn’t care about mapping data like Google does.
Street View on the Google Maps app is great. There’s an option to use the gyroscope and accelerometer in the iPhone so that if you move your phone around, left, right, up, down, you can see the full street scene. It’s dorky touches like this that I love. It’s something to show your mum, or a normal.
If I keep pulling up on the card of information I get the cafe’s website, its menu, hours, and then reviews.
Compare that to Apple’s maps. When I finally find Medina, I have to press on a small blue arrow which gives me some of the same information. But there’s no menu. And if I want reviews, I have to press on a new tab for reviews. And then, I only get some reviews before having to launch a new app, Yelp.
In short, Google is one smooth move, whereas Apple is a bunch of steps for less information.
Then, to get directions to Medina, I just press on the car icon next to its name on the banner at the bottom of the screen. This gives me driving, walking or transit directions. It’s very smooth, very simple.
One other touch that’s nice on Google’s maps is swiping from the right to the left brings Traffic, Public Transit, Satellite, and Google Earth. For those kinds of options on Apple’s maps you peel up from the right corner to find stuff hidden. That sort of interaction was cool when the iPhone first came out. But today, five years later, a swipe from right to left just feels better and more intuitive.
In conclusion, Google has hit a home run. For a long time, the knock on Google was that it designed for robots, while Apple designed for humans. After using this app, that knock no longer works. The maps app is a great, easy to use, easy to understand application.
Google has already taken a lot of market share in the smartphone war thanks to its strategy of offering free software on low-cost phones. If this level of design and user experience is a foreshadowing of what’s to come for Android overall, then Apple should be very scared. Google has a chance to make not only the most popular mobile software, but the best software.
Google’s Maps app is a big fat warning shot to Apple.
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